I drive the strip after dark, neon lights flashing through the car window and yellow streetlights spotlighting girls at every bus stop and corner, illuminating stilettos and short skirts.
Looking at these girls, beautiful painted faces clearly visible from only a couple yards away, I do the only thing I can do—I look at them and see them.
I wonder what they were like as little girls, what their dreams were before they turned into a statistic.
I’ve spent my day looking for prostitutes.
I pounded the stained and broken pavement of Mexico City in my dirty Converses, walking sandwiched between my videographer and our local host, keeping an eye out for girls on the corners advertising their bodies.
Most are my age or much younger, but have years ago given up any hope of escape from a hellish life they didn’t choose. Most will never be able to leave.
But a few might, thanks to a little powerhouse Mexican lady named Elena* (above, in downtown Mexico City) and her outreach to victims of trafficking and prostitution.
I came to Mexico to film an awareness video about sex trafficking in Mexico City. One afternoon during our week-long trip Jay, our OMNIvision videographer, and I trail Lety and a couple of volunteers through a maze of market stalls in one of Mexico City’s red light districts. We stay a short distance behind Lety to avoid drawing the attention of ever-vigilant pimps, pretending interest in the contents of nearby stalls.
Lety stops to chat with a prostitute standing outside a shop, a girl whose trust they’ve earned on previous visits. Her name is Jasmine*, and she’s agreed to talk with us.
Only one problem—the pimps are watching.
We move on to avoid arousing suspicion, but Jay walks back to Jasmine and hands her the standard fee—about $11 USD for 15 minutes. They enter the cheap hotel and receive their key and condom at the front desk. Jasmine greets another prostitute, a friend of hers, who is leaving with a man at least twice her age.
“As I was sitting on a broken bed with Jasmine, recording her story on my Iphone, nervousness turned into anger,” Jay said. “Anger turned into shame as people saw me come out of the hotel with her. So many emotions were coming and going.”
Jasmine was scammed into falling in love with a pimp in disguise at age 15 (she’s now my age, 28). She married him, and after two weeks he “lost his job” and insisted she become a sex worker. When she protested, he turned violent, beating and threatening to kill her infant son if she refused.
Her story is very typical of the way young girls end up in prostitution, Lety said. Girls from poor families go to the city to study and fall in love with pimps, or are even seduced in their home villages. They are desperate for a better life, but end up trapped.
Thanks to an act of incredible bravery on Jasmine’s part, her son is now safely in the care of her family. But she continues to work the streets to provide for him, even as she hopes to escape and build a better life. Lety and her team are working to provide Jasmine with the necessary identity paperwork, which was stolen by her pimp, and options to receive training or return home to work with her family.
As I walked their streets and listened to their stories, I couldn’t help but think that if I’d been born in another place to another family, I could have been standing in their stilettos.
Instead of boarding a plane and flying across a vast country and walking into the arms of a man who loves and cares for me on the other side, I would be spending my days and nights lying in the arms of strangers just to earn enough for me and my kids to eat the next day.
And hoping that maybe, one day, I’d get to walk away from those streets too.
*Name changed for security reasons
Special thanks to Jay Schipper for sharing his story and photos of Jasmine.