Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Fernanda Sández, "Women for sale," Noticias Aliadas/Latinamerica Press, June 22, 2006.

Human trafficking associated with sexual exploitation has profound impact on women and girls of the country’s poorest sectors.

"I still don’t know where my daughter is," lamented Susana Trimarco. Her daughter, María de los Ángeles Verón, was kidnapped four years ago by a sex trafficking ring in Argentina.

"I will continue looking for her until I die," she said, adding that the group that kidnapped Marita, as she calls her daughter, drags her from town to town so that she is never located.

De los Ángeles, at the time a fine arts student and married with a three-year-old daughter, was kidnapped in April 2002 in the northern province of Tucuman. She set out in the morning for a doctor’s appointment, and according to various witnesses, she was forced into a car by three unidentified men.

Her family has not been able to make contact with her since, but some women who have managed to escape from this network, say that they have seen her alive.

Crime centers

Tucuman is known as a focal point in the Argentine sex trade, though there are networks throughout the country.

In 2005, several cases were brought to trial that proved the existence of sex trade rings in provinces such as Córdoba, La Rioja, Entre Ríos, Río Negro, Catamarca, Tucumán, Misiones, Salta, Jujuy, according to political scientist and advisor to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Mercedes Assorati.

"It can be said that this is a problem affecting the whole country," said Assorati, who until this past March served as the coordinator of the Programa para el Fortalecimiento Institucional en la Lucha contra la Trata de Personas en la Argentina, a counter-trafficking project funded by the IOM. Assorati notes that there are some provinces known for being places where the young women are taken, while others are used for their exploitation.

"The trafficking of Paraguayan women is the most important in our country after the internal trade," she said.

Trimarco says that there are numerous criminal rings in Argentine provinces and that female victims number in the thousands.

"While I looked for Marita, I got to know many similar cases, young women from the north of the country, marginalized girls who suffer the most from trafficking because no one in their families files reports or even looks for them," Trimarco said.

Trimarco says that girls are often taken from the northwestern province of La Rioja, from where they are then transferred to Spain, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile.

In a desperate attempt to find her daughter, Trimarco ventured into the underworld of the Argentine sex trade, in which women are "valued" at an average of US$700 every time they are sold to a new "owner," bringing in weekly earnings of almost the same amount by stationing themselves in brothels.

Sold as sex slaves

The system is one of sexual slavery, in which women are virtually imprisoned, given only food and clothing. Foreign women caught in one of these trafficking rings, are often told by their captors that they owe so much for having been brought to Argentina that they almost will not be able to pay back in a lifetime.

Many of the pimps run small stores where their prostitutes purchase cigarettes, nail polish and other cosmetics on "credit," further putting them in debt.

Opportunities to leave the ring are few, though sometimes, through a client or during their monthly hospital visits for a venereal disease and pregnancy tests, they could — with luck — get out.

For Sara Torres, Argentina’s representative of the Coalition against the Trafficking in Women and head of the No to Trafficking Network, the current situation is alarming.

"We’re much worse off than we were early in the last century, when the Zwi Migdal network trafficked Polish girls for prostitution in Buenos Aires," said Torres. "The conditions in which the women trafficking victims are living now are really chilling because, after their capture, their documents are taken from them, they’re beaten and humiliated. The traffickers subject them to a system of sexual servitude in which punishments and murders are everyday things."

Executive Director of the Women in Equality Foundation Monique Altschul expressed a similar sentiment.

"Even though our country ratified at least two international agreements in 2002 to take actions to avoid that more people fall victim to these crimes, the truth is that those commitments are not fulfilled," said Altschul. "The state must offer concrete assistance to the women who are able to escape from these rings, giving them shelter, legal, psychological and even occupational assistance, but in practice, none of this happens."

"If the authorities are really interested in ending this infamous business, which is an offense to basic human rights, they will do it," said Torres. "But what is seen now is that the trafficking networks enjoy a level of impunity and protection that the rest of the citizens do not have."
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