Between the ages of 12 and 16, Karla Jacinto, was forced to have sex more than 43,000 times.
She was lured away from her dysfunctional family home, in a small town near Tenancingo, Mexico, and into the dangerous sex trafficking ring by false promises, expensive gifts and kind words.
“I started at 10 am and finished at midnight,” Jacinto told CNN’s Freedom Project. “Some men would laugh at me because I was crying.”
“I had to close my eyes so that I wouldn’t see what they were doing to me, so that I wouldn’t feel anything.”
Now, at 24, Jacinto has dedicated her life to saving sex slaves from the trafficking industry, waiving her right to anonymity to help raise awareness about the “growing” issue.
“I never imagined that the girl who used to stand on the corner wearing high heels, who was considered a prostitute, would feel so strong,” she said, referring to the transformation she’s gone through. “Nowadays many people listen to me.”
Among them, Pope Francis.
Jacinto met with the Pope during a conference in July, to talk about the reality of modern day slavery. She also shared her story with the United States Congress in May, which was later used as evidence in support for H.R. 515, or Megan’s Law, which obliges US authorities to share any information relating to American child sex offenders when these convicts attempt to travel abroad.
Human trafficking has become a trade so lucrative that it knows no borders, linking small towns like Tenancingo with cities like Atlanta and New York.
Many of her clients, Jacinto shared in her testimony, were foreigners visiting her city “looking to have sexual interactions with minors.”
She revealed that in this dark underbelly of society, some of her worst abusers were even authority figures, including on-duty police officers.
“She had clients that were judges, priests, pastors, police,” Rosi Orozco, a former Mexican congresswoman who now fights human trafficking, said. “So she knew that she could not run away to go to the authorities.”
Each year, an estimated 800,000 women and children are trafficked across international borders, according to Soroptimist, a global volunteer organization working to improve the lives of women and girls. And that figure doesn’t include the amount of women and girls trafficked within their countries.
“If women experienced improved economic and social status, trafficking would in large part be eradicated,” the organization explained on its website.
Global Citizen campaigns on holding these criminals accountable, and stands with survivors of sex slavery. You can join us by taking action here.
In the years since she escaped with the help of a client during an anti-trafficking operation, Jacinto has gone from being a victim to a champion for women and girls who have suffered from the same fate.
“It is up to us, both governments and non government organizations to work together to prevent this crime, punish those who commit them, to look for and rescue those who are already caught in the web, and to provide the care necessary for their healing and reintegration to a healthy society,” she said. “Not one person can do it by himself or herself. We are all responsible, we are all affected, and we can all do something.”