To most people Pancho Villa is a legendary character from Mexican history, but to Ruth McDonald, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, Villa is a real man who hurt her family when he kidnapped her great aunt in the early 1900s from the family ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Given her family’s experience of violence and injustice against women, McDonald has devoted her career to educate students and the public about the plight of women who live on the Mexico side of the border and on human trafficking.
“Majority of these victims are runaway or thrown-away youths who live on the streets and become victims of prostitution,” she said. “These children generally come from homes where they have been abused or from families who have abandoned them. Often, they become involved in prostitution to support them financially or to get the things they feel they need or want (like drugs).”
According to McDonald, sex trafficking victims are not usually found during raids or serious investigations but instead are “discovered when a stranger, who was knowledgeable about trafficking, has suspicions and tips off law enforcement. “Public awareness is incredibly important, tips come from normal people who just see strange things, and then law enforcement steps in and solves the case,” she said. “One of the most important things people can do is just be vigilant and that could save thousands of lives, literally.”
El Paso is listed as one of the top 20 human trafficking locations in the United States, according to the Department of Justice. Other cities where sex trafficking is as common as riding the bus include Houston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, Miami, Las Vegas, New York, Long Island, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Phoenix, Richmond, San Diego, San Francisco, St Louis, Seattle, and Tampa.
According to McDonald, victims of sex trafficking can be women or men, girls or boys, but the majority are females. “There are a number of common patterns for luring victims into situations of sex trafficking, which include a promise of a good job in another country, a false marriage proposal turned into a bondage situation, being sold into the sex trade by parents, husbands, boyfriends and being kidnapped by traffickers,” she said.
“Sex traffickers use a variety of methods to condition their victims,” she said, adding that the methods include starvation, confinement, beatings, physical abuse, rape, gang rape, threats of violence to the victims and the victims’ families, forced drug use and the threat of shaming their victims by revealing their activities to their family and their family friends.
Human trafficking generates $9.5 billion yearly in the United States, according to a United Nations report, and approximately 300,000 children are at risk of being prostituted in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. A pimp can make $150,000-$200,000 per trafficked child each year and the average pimp has four to six girls working for him, according to law enforcement and advocacy groups. The average victim may be forced to have sex up to 20 times a day.
“This form of cruel modern-day slavery occurs more often than many people might think. And, it is not just an international or a national problem—it also is a local one. It is big business, and it involves a lot of perpetrators and victims.”
Learn more at Patricia Acosta’s Borderzine article: The specter of Pancho Villa drove UTEP professor to investigate sex trafficking along the border.