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MEXICO CITY, Nov 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) Mario Garfias never thought twice when he pulled out his baseball bat, nicknamed Panchito, to beat the women and teenage girls that he used as prostitutes in Mexico City’s red light district of La Merced.
Together with his younger brother Enrique and mother Esperanza, Garfias was a sex trafficker. For nearly eight years, the trio inflicted terror over young women and girls who the brothers referred to as “merchandise”.
“Obviously never in the face because I’d send them to work. But I’d hit them across the back, legs and buttocks,” said Garfias, who like his brother and mother, spent nearly 12 years in prison for his crimes.
Dart pistols were also used against women, while one woman was once tied to a chair with fireworks placed around her genitals, the brothers said.
Two years after the family’s release from prison, their stories offer a rare insight into the methods of sex traffickers how they lure their victims and the violence they use to control them.
They also reveal a cycle of violence that usually starts in childhood an experience traffickers and their victims often share blurring the lines between the abused and the abuser.
Garfias and his five brothers grew up hungry, in a home where domestic violence was everyday.
Their mother, Esperanza, said a neighbour in Mexico City sexually abused her when she was five, while her own mother would beat her.
To escape the abuse, she ran away from home aged 12. Homeless and later pregnant, she then turned to alcohol and prostitution to survive.
The brothers say growing up in such an environment shaped their attitudes towards women and skewed their moral compass.
“Obviously I’m not justifying myself but I grew up thinking violence was normal. That’s how I was raised,” Garfias said.
“I was never taught to value women. I saw my mother being hit by my stepfathers. She’d go back to them again and again. So women became worthless.”
As a teenager, Garfias found work as a cleaner in a brothel for a big time pimp in La Merced.
There he convinced a girl to work for him instead. He poached more women working for other pimps along La Merced’s warren of rubbish strewn colonial alleyways.
Within a year Garfias was running a lucrative business employing his brothers and mother. He earnt up to $1,
000 a day from about 10 women and girls serving about 20 clients a day.
In Mexico, the most common form of human trafficking is women and girls forced into sex work.
Nearly 380,000 people are trapped in modern slavery in Mexico, including forced prostitution, according to rights group, the Walk Free Foundation.
Across Mexico, sex trafficking is often a family run business. Victims usually know their traffickers and live in the same community.
It would take Garfias, now 39, and his brother Enrique just a few weeks to lure a woman in with false promises of a better future. They would shower them with “romantic gestures” a bunch of roses, a teddy bear, or a box of chocolates.
“Honestly it was so easy. For me the best way was to make her believe that I was in love with her,” the younger brother, Enrique, said. “We’d pass a nice house and I’d say: ‘That will be ours soon where we’ll get married and have children’.”
The brothers preyed on women who came from poor and troubled homes where domestic and or sexual violence was rife.
“They were vulnerable. They lacked love. We took advantage of that,” said Mario Garfias, whose neck bears a tattoo of a scorpion and his lower arm one of a chained naked woman.
“There’s nothing easier than tricking a woman who doesn’t love herself, whose self esteem is rock bottom.
First I’d raise her self esteem, and then once they were with me, I’d lower it to the ground.”
The brothers also exerted psychological control over their victims, threatening to harm their family if they refused or tried to escape.
As Mario Garfias courted his victims, they would share details about their family,
such as their parents’ names and where they lived.