Category Archives: Street Gangs

Kidnappings in Mexico Top 105,000 In 2012, 99% Go Unreported

Mexico Kidnappings

Maria Teresa Ramos, grandmother of Jerzi Esli, kidnapped with other 11 people from a bar in May, reads a newspaper on August 23, 2013, in the popular neighborhood of Tepito, in Mexico City. The victims were kidnapped from a downtown bar in broad daylight on a Sunday morning three months ago in a case that raised concerns about security in Mexico City, which has been relatively immune from the country’s drug cartel violence. AFP PHOTO/RONALDO SCHEMIDT | Getty

By Roberto A. Ferdman @robferdman

Few crime statistics are as sobering as the ones coming out of Mexico these days.

The latest public security report, (pdf, Spanish link) released by Mexico’s statistics bureau (INEGI) earlier this week, reveals the extent of the country’s rampant and virtually unpunished kidnapping problem. According to the report (p.21), a mind-boggling 105,682 kidnappings were committed in Mexico last year, of which an incredibly small 1,317 were reported to local or federal authorities. In other words, 99% of kidnappings in Mexico flew under the radar last year.

Many kidnappings are drug-related, and therefore often kept from authorities because victims involved in the drug trade want to avoid backlash or crackdowns on other offenses. But a good deal of the 100,000+ abductions went unreported on suspicion that nothing would be done, or worse, that more harm would come to the involved parties, according to local digital news site Animal Politico (link in Spanish). A survey taken by INEGI and included in the statistics bureau’s report found that millions of crime victims simply considered reporting crimes “a waste of time.”
Mexico’s local police are famously negligent when it comes to identifying, pursuing and reporting crimes. A study in 2011 (link in Spanish) found that Mexican police investigated a mere 4.5% of crimes. Even when detained, criminals are rarely convicted because of the country’s broken justice system—one which the US has been trying (and failing) to help Mexico with for years. Only 31% of those arrested on drug charges between 2006 and 2011 were actually convicted, according to a report (link in Spanish) released by Mexico’s attorney general’s office last year.
Mexico’s government is equally ineffective with murders, disappearances and other serious crimes. Less than 20% of roughly 4,000 disappearances in 2012 were reported, and 98% of murders last year went unsolved. The federal government only investigated 6% of all crimes in Mexico last year.
Understandably, Mexicans tend to look behind their back in public places. Take a look at this chart:


Thanks to fallout from the government’s continued crackdown on the illegal drug trade, the country’s crime rate—the number of crimes committed per 100 heads—is above 34, a near historic high. According to local security and justice watchdog the National Citizen’s Observatory, Mexico’s crime problem is at its worst since at least 1997. No wonder Mexicans are more concerned with security (p. 12) than they are with unemployment, inflation, corruption or even health.


Virgin Auctions: Colombia’s Street Gangs Entrap Girls as Young as 10, Sell Them to Drug Lords, Tourists

Street gangs are recruiting 10 to 15-year-old girls and auctioning off their virginities

Street gangs are recruiting 10 to 15-year-old girls and auctioning off their virginities

09 OCTOBER 2013

“Take care of your daughter, or she will be sold.”

It is a phrase now commonly heard in the hillside slums of Medellin, Colombia. The warning – or threat, depending on who is talking – is literal.

The street gangs that rule the slums known as comunas are recruiting 10 to 15-year-old girls and auctioning off their virginities to drug lords and tourists.

The girls are selected for their looks, and then approached by gang leaders or other girls already involved in the gang life, who act as recruiters.

“They start drawing them in with perks from a culture of high consumerism,” says Luis Pardo, Director of NGO Corporacion Consultoria de Conflicto Urabano (C3), which has been investigating the phenomenon over the last year. “They offer them brand-name clothes, trips to luxury restaurants, top of the range whisky and cocaine, and the girls end up as part of this network.”

Once in the sphere of the gang’s influence, the girls fall under their protection. “When it is decided that a girl is to be auctioned off, no man in the neighbourhood can touch her, no one can hassle her and, most of all, no one can take her virginity,” says Pardo.

The girls’ families are caught in the classic bind of organised crime. If they accept the overtures of the gangs, they receive financial help to ease the desperate poverty of life in the comunas. If they refuse, they can either leave their homes and join the ranks of the more than 10,000 people displaced within the city each year, or they can wait for the bullet fired from the back of a passing motorbike, or the knock on the door that will signal the last time they are seen alive.

Reporting the advances is rarely an option as it is the gangs and not the state that are the true authorities in the comunas. The gangs not only control criminal activities, they also regulate day-to-day life, even resolving disputes between neighbours and charging their own taxes in the form of the daily or weekly “vaccination” – local slang for extortion fees.

The gangs operate as the foot soldiers of Medellin organised crime, controlling territories on behalf of one of two warring mafia networks; the remnants of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s criminal empire, now called the Oficina de Envigado; and the narco-paramilitary army known as the Urabeños. These associations ensure the gangs’ reach stretches far beyond the neighbourhoods they control and even extends deep into the state security institutions, where corruption is rampant. The gangs’ connections not only facilitate the movement of the girls through criminal networks, they also all but guarantee the silence of the victims.

“People are scared to report it, even talk about it because of the fear of these armed actors,” says one youth worker in the city’s violence-torn Comuna 13 district, who has seen girls under his care disappear into gang life, and who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals. “Silence has become an accomplice.”

Victims said that since the revelations in the C3 report, gangs had issued them warnings that they would be killed if they talked about their experiences.

With the families powerless to intervene, the girls are prepared for auction. Some are offered up for the orgies thrown by the drug lords and mafia kingpins that control the Colombian underworld, continuing a tradition begun by Pablo Escobar, whose demand for teenage virgins was notorious. Once sold off, few return.

“This is a girl’s first [sexual] experience,” said Pardo. “They pass from the hands of one capo to other capos and by the end they have become prostitutes.” Many are sold to foreign tourists. The security improvements of the last decade, which have helped change Medellin’s international reputation from that of a war zone ridden with drugs and extreme violence to a thriving cosmopolitan city, have opened it up to tourism.

However, with the city’s reputation for beautiful women and Colombia’s lax laws on prostitution – which is legal if the women are 18 or over and no intermediaries are involved – the dark underbelly of the influx of foreign visitors has been a boom in sex tourism.

As the city’s murder rate dropped, sex tourism networks quickly sprang up, many of them run by foreigners, who illegally guide tourists through the city’s brothels and red-light zones. The city sex trade itself is overseen by the larger street gangs or specialist sex-trade rings.

According to C3’s investigations, trusted clients are contacted through these networks and are offered brochures of the children on the auction blocks – either physical booklets containing a small selection, or online catalogues of up to 60 girls.

Customers are passed a secret PIN number, which grants them access to the auction website. Clients can then bid on the girls, with C3 registering prices as high as five million pesos (about £1,600) for the right to take the child’s virginity. When the auction is completed, the sites are taken down, and the brochures destroyed.

After the experience, the girls very rarely return to family life, and instead get drawn ever deeper into the Medellin underworld.

“What happens is the girls begin to have a different life because they have access to money and with this money they have access to drugs,” says the youth worker. “They end up far from home, involved with gang members – their way of life is changed from a very young age.”

The gang’s recruitment and abuse of young girls is not just a security issue, it is also cultural, according to Clara Ines, the director of Medellin women’s rights NGO Vamos Mujer. “In the context of the war, and in the context of the ‘narcotisation’ of the culture, women have gone from being thought of as sexual objects to becoming merchandise,” she says. “Women have become the spoils of war.”

The Medellin authorities say they are aware of the practice but their efforts to tackle it are limited by the silence that surrounds the issue. They also say they are hamstrung by the fact that many of the children being groomed for the sex trade enter into gang life voluntarily.

“From a very early age they look at it as something natural, something normal,” says Jesus Sanchez, the Medellin human rights ombudsman. “There are cases where the parents call attention to it, they ask the state to intervene, but the child says they don’t want to be part of a protection program, they want to stay in the environment and belong to the group.”

However, many of those working with the victims say the response of the authorities has been weak.

“This phenomenon exists and it is getting worse every day, but there is no state or police action,” says Pardo.

Pardo believes the situation is a clear example of the growing gulf between the facade Medellin now presents to the world, and the reality of poverty and violence still rampant in the comunas, where child prostitution and virgin auctions are just another daily horror to endure.

“This has become part of the landscape, part of the cruel reality of the other Medellin – the one that is not visible, the one that does not appear in the media, that does not involve grand construction projects and fancy restaurants,” says Pardo. “In the comunas it is lack of opportunity and poverty that reigns.”


Sunday People Investigation: “My two sisters are sex slaves to Asian gangs”

TV investigative reporter Tazeen Ahmad on why brave Safia is the first to speak out over vile exploitation of young women

Safia sobs for the sister she lost to a sex gang

Safia sobs for the sister she lost to a sex gang

Gangs of Asian men who groom white girls for sex may also be targeting British Pakistani kids. Reporter Tazeen Ahmad, who has investigated sex gangs, has long known that these girls have been victims but that their fear of dishonour, scorn and ­retribution has kept them silent – until now.

Shaista Gohir, director of Muslim Women’s Network UK, has been told about 35 cases of ­exploitation but is sure that is “just the tip of the iceberg”. Safia is the first woman of Pakistani descent brave enough to speak up. Here is her story…

Courageous Safia’s life has been destroyed by evil sex gangs who have enslaved her two sisters. The young woman wells up with tears as she tells the heart-wrenching story of how she lost contact with her elder sisters.

Safia is convinced they are being exploited by Asian sex gangs and fears for their lives.

She said: “It’s a living nightmare what they’ve done to my sisters. They’ve torn us apart with their violence and aggression. Now it’s just me and my mum, the only ones who didn’t fall into their sex slavery.”

Safia is in her mid-20s and moved to Lancashire from Yorkshire. To give more identifying detail may put her and her mother’s life in danger.

After the death of Safia’s businessman dad in 2002, the family, living in a traditional Asian ­community without a patriarch, was left vulnerable.

Safia said: “Having no men in your family, that’s hitting the jackpot for the gangs.”

Safia noticed her eldest sister started changing after she began going out with a Pakistani man. She said the sister was taken from their home at all hours, would sleep all day and became secretive, aggressive and hostile.

The boyfriend’s sisters would give her gifts and pick her up so as not to arouse suspicion, said Safia. “My sister would bring back expensive jewellery, necklaces, rings and I’d wonder, ‘Where did she get that from? She can’t afford that’.”

The eldest sister, who had been quite Westernised, started ­wearing traditional Asian clothes and covering her head. Safia said: “She would get scared every time her phone rang and she’d be out the door like a shot on his command.

“Her voice would shake when she was on the phone to him. She’d go out all day, come back for a short bit and then unexpectedly be gone again. I suspected she was drinking and was ­borrowing large sums of money, her credit rating was disastrous as she had taken out so many bank loans for him.

“After three years, she had changed completely and was totally in their grip. She’d say his sisters had hurt her and complain his uncle was also violent. They were intimidating and scaring her to make her comply. He had a really posh car and he would take her to London and elsewhere.”

Safia suspects the car was used to traffic her sister around the country for sex.

“When I saw her with him she was always submissive and quiet, her head would hang down. He’d insult me in front of her and watch to see if she defended me.” Safia suspects this was a tactic to drive a wedge between them.

“Her language was vulgar, my two sisters would fight like animals and the eldest would walk the streets at night and didn’t care it was inappropriate behaviour for a Muslim woman.

“Her health was horrendous and she was on lots of medication. She changed her name, started wearing a headscarf and traditional Asian clothes and stole money from us.”

One day she even kicked Safia in the stomach. Safia believes her sister’s captors orchestrated this attack to divide the family.

“She also started coming back with injuries – bruises around her neck – which she covered up. On some occasions she came back ‘high’ and one of these times I saw so much blood coming out of her in the toilet that I wanted to call an ambulance.”

Tazeen Ahmad

Tazeen Ahmad

“She put two locks on her door and hid all her underwear so there must have been blood on them too.”

Safia’s mum moved the family but the eldest sister left a year later. They found dozens of condoms in her room. Safia said: “One time she ended a phone conversation by saying, ‘Now I have to go be a prostitute’.”

But while all eyes were on one sister, the other was also changing. Safia’s middle sister started showing a similar pattern of troubled behaviour.

“She didn’t turn up for work. She was up all night. She was progressively aggressive. I couldn’t get a hold of her for days at a time. Then she told me, out of the blue, she wanted to be crushed by a lorry.”

Safia and her mum say she started coming and going at night and became extremely secretive. Eventually she too moved out. What has happened in Safia’s family is shocking but not surprising. Shaista Gohir believes groomers will target females of any age with obvious weaknesses – a difficult family life, a disability, living alone, even someone looking to get married. In this case the absence of male protectors made the family easy prey.

Safia, who is now wary of all men, reported their fears to Lancashire police in February 2011, but claims they neither cared nor  understood about their problems. In frustration, in August 2011, they filed a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The police also told them Safia’s eldest sister was fine. The police met with them again in May 2012 after the women ­instructed lawyers.

The police’s response was that the sister told them she was fleeing a forced marriage by her family. Safia strongly denies this saying there is no history of arranged marriages in the family and her parents wed for love.

She has not seen or heard from her eldest sister in over two and half years. Her middle sister is now trying to break off contact.

But despite all their heartbreak Safia says she and her mother will not move. “What they’ve done to my family is ruthless. But if no one is here to say enough is enough, they’ll just carry on.”

A spokesman for the IPCC confirmed a complaint had been filed. A Lancashire police spokesman said they were unable to comment about the case but encouraged anyone with concerns about sexual exploitation or grooming to come forward and they would be treated seriously.