Once again, Medellín makes the news for all the wrong reasons. Not only do they have a major problem with child sex trafficking from the city to mining camps in rural areas; as Rodrigo Martínez Arango reports in El Colombiano, they also auction off local girls to tourists and crime bosses as though they were cattle:
An investigation by the Central Corporation of Consulting and Urban Conflict (C3) confirms a rumor which is circulating among organizations working for the welfare of women and state entities: in Medellin, there are auctions of virgin girls between 12 and 14 years of age.
In the field study, performed over a period of eight months by an interdisciplinary team of the Corporation, composed of a sociologist, an anthropologist, a social worker, a creative artist, and a popular pedagogue, it was established that the minors are scouted in the barrios on the outskirts of the city by delinquents and chiefs of gangs, who contact the [girls’] families, threaten them, and also guard the little ones so that no one can touch them until the moment they are auctioned off to tourists or the heads of criminal gangs.
Luis Guillermo Pardo, director of C3, said that the most worrisome thing about this phenomenon is that some girls are subjected to these abuses with the consent of parents and families, through menaces or money.
Pardo says the crime was localized, particularly in the neighborhoods of Centro 10, Aranjuez 4, Villahermosa 8, Buenos Aires 9, and San Javier 13.
“When there are international events, such as the Flower Festival, it’s a madness, and they make catalogues offering the little girls. It’s a disgrace. They show virginity, the body of girls, as a source of income,” denounced the director.
The study found catalogues of between 50 and 60 girls, who were being offered to tourists seeking sex in Medellín, and to chiefs of criminal bands.
The unbelievable thing about this phenomenon, Pardo says, is that the delinquents engaging in this trafficking pay bribes to other antisocials so that they allow them to distribute the catalogues and don’t disturb them in their illicit work.
It’s said, he says, that these girls who are the object of this sexual abuse, are later handed off to other delinquents who offer them protection, and end up in prostitution.
He said that it was also observed in the study that, in many cases, these girls are submitted to all kinds of abuses. They are forced to drink intoxicating beverages such as whisky, and they are drugged, especially with cocaine, to increase their resiliency. “They make bacchanals with them, and the little girls are passed from hand to hand,” Pardo concluded.
Clara Mazo López, director of the corporation “Vamos Mujer de Medellín”, said that each year they publish a report on human rights in Medellín, and as of last year, they have been reporting this phenomenon, because in that city they promote sex tourism with the sale of virgin girls which has been propagated.
Mazo emphasized that the authorities must intervene ahead of time, and not “turn a deaf ear” because these are problems of society. This phenomenon is happening all over the city, even in the Centre it is becoming more visible. But wherever one lives there is evidence of the problem, with the appearance of apartments and rooms which are rented as lodgings to foreigners or to powerful persons, in which they can have sex with girls and teenagers without the authorities intervening.
Mazo alerted that the practice is not only with street girls or those from the poor barrios, but that they are also doing it with girls from well-to-do homes, taken from their schools.
An anthropologist who participated in the investigation, but who asked for anonymity, indicated that they detected the problem in neighborhoods very much on the outskirts of the city, with very pretty girls, members of families with all kinds of problems, a situation taken advantage of by gang bosses.
“The heads of gangs or bosses of the block make the approaches. They take charge of economically supporting the homes of the minors, paying rent, services and grocery bills, but they make certain that no one can touch that girl until they find clients who can pay good money for her.”
By way of contacts in sites where tourists arrive, they pass the catalogue with a small number of girls in order to avoid being discovered by the authorities or organisms defending human rights.
“These auctions,” the professional continued, “also take place on social networks, with the help of a PIN. Then they offer them to a closed group of bidders in the exterior, the same which uses this PIN to get into the auction.”
What usually occurs with these girls after they lose their virginity is that they are obliged to prostitute themselves by way of the so-called “pre-pay” system. The structure of the network, says the anthropologist, is an octopus.
The head of the structure, as well as contacting families in need, also extends his tentacles with accomplices in high schools, barrios and even in universities.
“‘I know someone who can help you get ahead, so you can work and collaborate at home’, they say to convince them, and later they turn the girls over to these capos,” said the anthropologist.
The delegated spokesman for human rights in Medellín, Jesús Sánchez, confirmed that last year they heard of a case which has been denounced in a session of city council, and “was that of a mother who came to us to seek protection in order to get her daughter out of the barrio, because the armed group in the sector ordered her, with threats, to hand over the girl, 13 years old, during a weekend, in order to send her to these networks.”
The same mother, continued Sánchez, fearfully asked that the declaration be made with great care, because she was afraid, and that the threat was to seek retaliation against her and the rest of those involved.
“That whole family had to leave the city as displaced persons, and the motive was to protect the girl,” said the spokesman.
“The call could not have been made only to the citizenry to denounce it, the police, the competent authorities also have to activate the mechanisms to identify this crime, which, with the title of ‘Auction of Virgins’, was included in the chapter dedicated to children and adolescents in the human rights report of 2012.”
To parents who may be affected by this criminal phenomenon, Sánchez recommends that they contact the Ombud, who have all the reserve and, in the end, the entity which will make the denunciation to the competent authorities will be the Public Ministry, the Ombudsman of the city, or the Spokesperson Delegate for Human Rights.
A university professor who recently conducted a study on child sexual abuse for the Medellín mayor’s office and who asked that his name not be used, told this publication that in the process of the work, a story came to his attention, told by the rector of a public high school in the city, regarding a 15-year-old girl, who had changed schools three times in one year.
They did a follow-up to find out if there were family problems, difficulties in the neighborhood, or with her peers. The directors of the establishment were tremendously surprised to find out that she was the recruiter of a human-trafficking ring. “This modality of the gangs, of going from school to school, is not only for microtrafficking [in drugs] and to recruit boys [as members], but also to look for pretty girls to hand over, under deceptions and promises, to these prostitution networks,” said the educator.
Luz Aida Rendón, under-secretary of Social Assistance in the Medellín Secretariat of Social Inclusion, informed that the institution has a program called “Growing With Dignity”, for which they send out 13 mobiles specialized in the problems of children, and one of them is to recognize the subject of exploitation and child sex trafficking, which occurs throughout the city.
In the Centre, she says, they have identified 374 minors, most of them girls between 12 and 17 years of age, who are sexually exploited.
With regard to the sale of virgin girls, she says that they have only heard rumors from the street, which are being investigated.
Adriana González, director-general of the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare, consulted over these denunciations, responded that it was the first time she had heard tell of this phenomenon, which caught the attention of the entities who have performed these investigations so that they can make them known to the Instituted with the purpose of activating, with the help of the Prosecutor-General, a network of protection in order to confront this crime.
Colombia’s high tolerance for prostitution, as well as its ongoing reputation as a sex-tourism hotspot, has made this ghastly situation inevitable. As Kajsa Ekis Ekman noted in this interview I translated earlier, there are never enough willing adult women in prostitution to meet the heavy demand for sexual servicing. And since Colombia is trying hard to shed its Cocaine Country image, and using tourism in order to do so, particularly in drug-crime-ridden cities like Medellín, it stands to reason that the ravenous touristic demand for prostitutes — the younger and more virginal, the better — would be filled in this way. The gang infrastructure has been there for decades, as has the poverty that ensures that there is no end of supply — however frightened and unwilling — to meet the demand. As Gabriel García Márquez has noted in fiction and journalism both, the little girls who work in that industry are there in order to eat. And the gangs are well aware of this, and only too willing to “help”…in the way that is most profitable to sex capitalists, of course.