Editor’s note: Dr. Crouse is heading up Concerned Women for America’s Bridge Project, funded by a U.S. State Department grant, to train Mexicans to battle sex trafficking within their country. This article resulted from her recent trip to Mexico City. For more on the Bridge Project, click here.
On the second night of the week that I spent in Mexico City, 20 people gathered to launch a week of strategic planning as they joined together to lead the fight against human trafficking in Mexico. Each of the people around the table enjoying a formal dinner in that very nice restaurant will be playing a vital role as Mexican pro-family groups join forces in a united effort to combat human trafficking in their home country.
Three specific people at the dinner had a dramatic and life-changing impact on my life. My interaction with them illustrates the importance of the Bridge Project (Phase One-the training session at the CWA headquarters) and the Crossing the Bridge Project (Phase Twothe outreach programs in Mexico City).
Sitting directly across the table from me was a couple that I had met the night before Serena and Fernando.* They had met me at the airport as part of a group of 15 people who constituted my welcoming committee. Since my flight had been delayed, they had been waiting three hours when I arrived after midnight. Eight of the 15 were armed guards there to ensure our safety as we cruised the dangerous streets of Mexico City’s red light district an area ruled by pimps and underworld networks of criminal traffickers in persons. A car with four guards preceded our SUV and another with another four guards followed. At intersections, the cars pulled alongside us. All the guards were armed and carrying open cell phones. The two guards in the front seat of our SUV were in constant contact with the two vehicles in our caravan.
Serena and Fernando were in the SUV. Fernando was in the front seat and Serena in the 3rd seat. Serena, I learned, was a former prostitute and her husband, Fernando, was a former drug dealer. They lived and worked in the area we were seeing and knew it well. Though they had turned their backs on their former lives and were now surviving on Fernando’s income as a fruit peddler, they still lived there in that dangerous area. They were knowledgeable interpreters for the scenes that I saw: Girls lined up along a street where two rows of cars with tags from many different states of Mexico slowly cruised past; open doorways revealing tawdry interiors as mismatched couples entered and left; groups of shady-looking men gathered on dark street corners dealing drugs while their lookouts were staked nearby.
But the scenes that haunt me still are the very young girls (mere children) that watched us go by their eyes too-old and too-weary and their bodies tarted up ala Britney Spears with a hopelessness and emptiness that reached across the cultural divide to grip my soul and wrench my heart.
Fernando and Serena knew what that was all about; they had been there and somehow escaped. An attractive couple, they exuded the happiness that comes from having found hope when surrounded by hopelessness, experiencing joy after a life of mere existence, and having a glimpse of heaven after knowing what it is like in an earthly hell.
Neither of them had said much during the tour and now, during the dinner, both were quiet and very protective of Leesa, a young woman interested in leaving prostitution who sat beside them as an unexpected, but warmly welcomed guest at the dinner. Shortly after dessert had been served, Fernando asked for everyone’s attention so that he could make a presentation. He handed me a red notebook containing photos and descriptions of their home and explained that he and Serena had compiled it because they were giving the home to Casa Subre La Roca to use as a shelter for prostitutes who want to escape their pimps.
Fernando proudly explained that the home was located within the red-light district so that it would be easy for the girls to escape and at the same time be difficult for the pimps to find. Fernando described how the house could be used: (1) The front has secure gates and a warm, welcoming entrance. (2) The first floor has living areas that are comfortable and spacious a living room, dining room and kitchen as well as a work area. (3) The second level has bedrooms (4) and there is a third level that can be developed into a dormitory-like space for the rescued women and children. (5) There is a patio and backyard area that is secure, but open with trees and flowering bushes. (6) There is an open roof area, too, that can be utilized for recreation and fresh air. In short, the place is a perfect refuge with tremendous potential for housing women and girls who need a place to get away.
Serena and Fernando’s generosity and devotion moved me tremendously. I sat there with tears streaming down my face as I realized that they were willing to literally give all that they had in order to provide others the chance to escape the slavery that they knew only too well from their own personal experiences.
Serena and Fernando illustrate the impact that the Bridge Project and the Crossing the Bridge Project is already having and it has only just begun.
* Names have been changed.
Dr. Crouse is senior fellow for the Beverly LaHaye Institute, CWA’s think tank.