Nashville raid ends girl's captivity as a sex slave

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Crossposted from MyBlog.
She is known in federal court documents only as "S.M.C."
At the age of 13, they say, she was smuggled into the U.S. from Oaxaca, Mexico, the first leg of a horrific journey that led her to a Harding Place area apartment.
There she was beaten, raped and forced into a life of prostitution — an ordeal requiring her to have sex with as many as 40 men a day.
This week federal authorities said they arrested two people and charged them with the sex trafficking of children. Juan Mendez and Cristina Andres Perfecto, both of Nashville, were named Thursday in a complaint filed in federal court in Memphis.Federal officials in Memphis, who began the investigation, and Metro police, who assisted in a raid at the Harding Place area apartment last week, said it is the first case to their knowledge involving children smuggled into the country to be forced into the sex trade.
"Obviously, we're concerned about it, and it's certainly our intention to keep this investigation going," said Lee Anne Jordon, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Memphis.
Investigators will be as aggressive as possible to stop the trafficking, Jordon said.
Federal authorities said it's too early to tell how large the ring was or whether all perpetrators have been found.
The girl, now 15, is the only juvenile victim identified, Jordon said. However, court documents say the victim's cousin and other women also have been forced to sell their bodies. Like the teen, officials said, they were lured to this country by a promise of honest jobs in the U.S. so they could send money back to their families.
In an interview Friday, Mendez's wife said she didn't know anything about the charges and that she had not seen her husband in more than a week.
"I'm not sure what's going on, but I'm not going to let him run around with other women," Maria Rita Hernandez said through an interpreter outside her apartment on Hickory Trace Drive in south Nashville.
She said she has lived in Nashville for the past five years and that she and Mendez have two children, ages 5 and 1.
It was a series of raids at Memphis brothels that led federal authorities to Mendez and Perfecto, FBI agent Randy Thysse said.
After the raids, a man the girl had befriended who ran a brothel in Memphis tipped off federal authorities about the trafficking ring and about the girl.
They found her after Smyrna police received a tip. Afterward, she was taken into the custody of the state Department of Children's Services.
She is now in a foster home of Spanish-speaking people and will get counseling and any other treatment she needs, DCS spokesman Rob Johnson said."Under the circumstances, given all that's happened, this girl's doing well — all things considered," he said.Eventually the goal will be to reunite her with her family, but DCS investigators will be looking closely at the circumstances that led her to this country, he said.
Court documents say that in August 2005 Perfecto went to the girl's family of farm laborers in a rural area of Mexico. She told them that Mendez, her boyfriend, could help the girl get a job as a waitress in a Nashville restaurant.
She assured the girl's family that she would make enough money to send some back home.
Perfecto, authorities said, told the girl that she and Mendez would have to pay smugglers $3,000 to get her into the United States and that she would have to repay that once she started working.
Perfecto and the teenager were captured twice by the U.S. Border Patrol but eventually were able to make it to the United States. Once in Nashville, she met Mendez and was taken to an apartment at 5099 Linbar Drive.There, court documents allege, Mendez raped her and threatened to kill her family if she did not work as a prostitute. She was 14 at the time.
The girl told investigators that she was a virgin when she arrived in Nashville and described the rape as very painful.
Two weeks later, court documents say, Mendez took her to a Kentucky brothel and forced her to have sex with 14 people on the first day. Afterward she was sick with a headache and severe pelvic inflammation and had to be hospitalized for several days.
Mendez let her rest for two weeks after her release from the hospital but then forced her to work as a prostitute in Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, Birmingham, Ala., and other cities, the federal documents say.
She was never allowed to leave unescorted and never ran away because she was afraid for her family, the account says. Authorities arrested 29 people, 10 of whom have been indicted, federal officials said.Last Saturday agents with the bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement took Mendez and Perfecto into custody.
A 2004 federal Department of Justice report estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 people annually in the U.S. are victims of human trafficking, either forced to work as prostitutes or laborers.
An international relief organization with a hub in Nashville will begin training Metro police next year to investigate sex trafficking.
"It's very new for us to have on our radar in Tennessee, but" sex trafficking is "not a new thing," said Amber Beckham, coordinator for World Relief's Network of Emergency Trafficking Services. • From the Tennessean.
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