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January 01, 2005

Child Sex Workers

Child Sex Workers

Sex work is one of the most common forms of child labor. Worldwide, some 1.8 million children have been forced into pornography or prostitution. The problem is particularly severe in Southeast Asia, but takes place worldwide, including in the United States. Poverty, gender inequality, and misdirected immigration policies often contribute to child sex work and sex trafficking.

The following statements were introduced at U.S. Senate hearings on the international trafficking of women and children. The hearings took place before the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs of the Committee on Foreign Relations on February 22, 2004, and April 4, 2000. The entire text of the hearings is available at

Rosa’s Testimony

When I was fourteen, a man came to my parent’s house in Veracruz, Mexico, and asked me if I was interested in making money in the United States. . . At the time, I was working in a hotel, cleaning rooms, and I also helped around my house by watching my brothers and sisters. He said I would be in good hands and would meet many other Mexican girls who had taken advantage of this great opportunity. My parents did not want me to go, but I persuaded them.

A week later, I was smuggled into the United States, through Mexico, to Orlando, Florida. It was then when the man told me my employment would consist of having sex with men for money. I had never had sex before, and I had never imagined selling my body. And so my nightmare began.

Because I was a virgin, the men decided to initiate me by raping me again and again, to teach me how to have sex. Over the next three months, I was taken to a different trailer every fifteen days. Every night I had to sleep in the same bed in which I had been forced to service customers all day. I could not do anything to stop it. I was not allowed to go outside without a guard. Many of the bosses had guns. I was constantly afraid. One of the bosses carried me off to a hotel one night, where he raped me. I could do nothing to stop it.

Because I was so young, I was always in demand with the customers. It was awful. Although the men were supposed to wear condoms, sometimes they did not. So eventually I became pregnant and was forced to have an abortion. They sent me back to the brothel almost immediately.

I cannot forget what has happened. I cannot put it behind me. I find it nearly impossible to trust people. I still feel shame. I was a decent girl in Mexico. I used to go to church with my family. I only wish none of this had ever happened.

Maria’s Testimony

My story begins in May 1997, in Veracruz, Mexico. I was approached in Mexico by an acquaintance about some jobs in the United States. She told me that there were jobs available in restaurants or bars. I was working as a domestic helper in Mexico and had a job at a general retail store. This seemed like a great opportunity for me to earn more money for my daughter and family. I accepted the job and soon was brought by a coyote to Texas.

Once over the border, I was kept at a safe house. Then I was transported to Florida. Once in Florida, one of the ringleaders told me I would be working in a brothel as a prostitute. I told him he was mistaken and that I was going to be working in a restaurant, not a brothel. He then ordered me to work in a brothel. He said I owed him a smuggling debt of approximately $2,200, and the sooner I paid it off the sooner I could leave.

I was eighteen years old and had never been far from home and had no money or way to get home. Next I was given tight clothes to wear and was told what I must do. There would be armed men selling tickets to customers in the trailers. Tickets were condoms. Each ticket would be sold for $22.00 to $25.00 each. The client would then point at the girl he wanted and the girl would take him to one of the bedrooms. At the end of the night I turned in the condom wrappers. Each wrapper represented a supposed deduction to my smuggling fee.

We tried to keep our own records, but the bosses would destroy them. We were never sure what we owed. There were up to four girls kept at each brothel. We were constantly guarded and abused. If anyone refused to be with a customer, we were beaten. If we adamantly refused, the bosses would show us a lesson by raping us brutally. They told us if we refused again it would even be worse the next time.

We were transported every fifteen days to another trailer in a nearby city. This was to give the customers a variety of the girls and also so we would never know where we were in case we tried to escape. . . .

We worked six days a week and twelve-hour days. We mostly had to serve thirty-two to thirty-five clients a day. Weekends were worse. Our bodies were utterly sore and swollen. The bosses did not care. We worked no matter what. . . Also, at the end of the night, our work did not end. It was now the bosses’ turn with us. If anyone became pregnant, we were forced to have abortions. The cost of the abortion would then be added to our smuggling debt.

The bosses carried weapons. They scared me. The brothels were often in isolated areas. I never knew where I was. It was all so strange to me. We were not allowed to go outside the brothels. I knew if I tried to escape I would not get far, because everything was so unfamiliar. The bosses told me that if I escaped, [the] INS would catch me, beat me, and tie me up. This frightened me. I did know of one girl who escaped. The bosses searched for her and they said they were going to get their money that she owed from her family. They said they would get their money one way or another.

I know of another girl that escaped and was hunted down. The bosses found her and beat her severely. The bosses showed her a lesson by beating and raping her brutally. All I could do was stand there and watch. I was too afraid to try to escape. I also did not want my family put in danger.

I was enslaved for several months. Other women were enslaved for up to a year. Our enslavement finally ended when the INS, FBI, and local law enforcement raided the brothels and rescued us. We were not sure what was happening on the day of the raids. Our captors had told us over and over never to tell the police of our conditions. They told us that if we told, we would find ourselves in prison for the rest of our lives. They told us that the INS would rape us and kill us. But we learned to trust the INS and FBI, and assisted them in the prosecution of our enslavers.

Unfortunately, this was difficult. After the INS and FBI freed us from the brothels, we were put in detention centers for many months. Our captors were correct. We thought we would be imprisoned for the rest of our lives. Later, our attorneys were able to get us released to a women’s domestic violence center, where we received comprehensive medical attention, including gynecological exams for the first time, and mental health counseling.

Thanks to the U.S. Government, some of our captors were brought to justice and were sent to prison. Unfortunately, not all. Some of them are living in Mexico in our hometown of Veracruz. They have threatened some of our families. They have even threatened to bring our younger sisters to the United States and force them to work in brothels, as well.

I would never have done this work. No one I know would have done this work. I am speaking out today because I never want this to happen to anyone else. . . We need the immigration law to provide victims of this horror with permanent legal residence. We came to the United States to find a better future, not to be prostitutes.

If anyone thinks that providing protection to trafficking survivors by affording them permanent residence is a magnet for other immigrants like myself, they are wrong. No woman or child would want to be a sex slave and endure the evil that I have gone through. I am in fear for my life more than ever. I helped put these evil men in jail. Please help me. Please help us.

Stats: Child Labor

  • Estimated number of child workers worldwide: 246 million; percent engaged in hazardous activities such as mining, working with chemicals, and operating heavy machinery: three-fourths
  • Estimated number of children worldwide forced into prostitution and pornography: 1.8 million
  • Top child labor violations in 2003 in Alabama, Iowa, and Wyoming, respectively: roofing, meat slicing and cleaning, and demolition