How I saved my daughter from human trafficking

Australian Women's Weekly
18 hrs ago

When 15-year-old Karen failed to return from a trip to a toilet block in her home town of Mexico City, her mother Elizabeth immediately knew something dreadful had happened.

"I just knew it, I had an anguish that I'd never felt before. I searched the streets, called friends and family, but no-one had seen her," says Elizabeth in a BBC report.

"She'd gone to the public toilets with nothing - no money, no mobile phone, no clothes We thought she'd been kidnapped."

Elizabeth searched for three hours, finding no evidence of her daughter, so she went to the police to report her as missing. In Mexico, police refuse to file a report for 72 hours even with a child.

Beginning their search the only way they knew how, her frantic parents scoured her social networks for clues.

"When we got into her Facebook account, we realised that she had a profile that we didn't know about, with more than 4,000 friends. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, but there was one man who caught our attention. His was photographed with girls wearing very few clothes and big guns, and was friends with lots of girls about the same age as our daughter," says Elizabeth.

"This man rang alarm bells: he talked like a drug trafficker, about territory, about travelling, that he was coming to see her soon. He'd been in contact with her a few days before she disappeared, and had given her a smartphone so they could stay in contact, and we hadn't known," says Alejandro.

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This information terrified the family as it fit the profile of the human trafficking that dominates the Mexican news.

An estimated 20,000 people are trafficked annually in Mexico, with a majority of the girl forced into prostitution. The family knew they were racing against time to bring Karen home.

Using the evidence they had uncovered to get the authorities on board, the family also hung missing posters in every bus stop and toll booth in an effort to get someone to come forward.

For two weeks the desperate family was tireless in their efforts.

Upon seeing the publicity her kidnapper panicked and dropped Karen and another missing girl off at a bus shelter. The girls reported that the man was taking them to New York.

Why would a 15 year-old-girl leave her home with a strange man and move to another country without telling her parents?

"This man had promised her travel, money, a music career and fame. He manipulated her really well, and in her innocence she didn't understand the magnitude of the danger she'd been in," says Alejandro.

Her parents were relieved to be reconciled after the ordeal, but Karen did not feel the same way. She was angry that her parents had ruined her chances at her big break in America.

Her mother took her to meet trafficking survivors and then Karen finally understood the severity of the situation she had put herself in.

This story is not an unusual story in Mexico State the state in which Mexico City is nestled. The state has been named as the most dangerous state in the country for a woman to live.

In 2011 and 2012 a shocking 1,238 women and girls were reported missing. Fifty-three per cent of the missing were under the age of 17.

There are no reports on how many of these mothers and daughters have been found, either dead or alive, or have never been found at all.

Since the return of their daughter, Elizabeth and Alejandro now work with desperate families in an effort to bring their missing daughters home too.