By Isabella De Silva
Human trafficking is tied with arms dealing as the second most lucrative illegal activities in the world. One of the nations that has been most affected by human trafficking is Mexico. Its prominence is demonstrated by the 6.6 billion dollar trafficking industry that exists in Mexico alone. Specifically, the trafficking of women is especially prevalent in a country like Mexico where relationships are “largely shaped by the socio-cultural factors in machismo culture, including those which lead men to seek affirmation of certain masculine sexual identities related to vitality and dominance.” This type of behavior “tend[s] to lead to discrimination against women and girls”. Male-dominated societies create vulnerabilities for women that make them susceptible to coercion into human trafficking.
These challenges have deep historical roots that are seen in the ongoing prevalence of male dominance in Mexican society. The male-dominated aspect of this is further exemplified as “issues of significance to women in Mexico, such as abortion rights and domestic violence, have not yet been addressed properly”. These shortcomings are reinforced by Mexican civil codes which dictate that as the head of the household, men are allowed complete control over the women in the family. This creates an asymmetrical power complex that often skews in men’s favor.
The psychological manipulation of vulnerable women by so-called “Romeo Pimps” is a common form of sex trafficking in Mexico. Romeo Pimps prey on women and girls using romance and charm to entice them into an intimate relationship, gaining their trust and eventually exploiting them into the sex trade. They target women by flirting with them and appealing to their emotions and their desires. In a study conducted in Tijuana, several victims of sexual exploitation had been manipulated by Romeo Pimps who were posing as their boyfriends or husbands that later forced them into the sex trade.
Young women are even targeted in public spaces like malls and around schools. Romeo Pimps watch girls and track their movements. While ‘dating’ these girls, the pimps will ask them specific questions in order to determine whether they have the right vulnerabilities, like the lack of a father figure. This gives these pimps an opportunity to use the girls’ desire for the love of a father to foster their attachment to the pimp. This is just one reason why “minors find it almost impossible to leave Romeo pimps”. Further, their connection to the pimp grows as he showers her with gifts, takes her to parties, and tells her he loves her. Their economic and social vulnerabilities contribute to their willingness to trust the pimps.
The towns where many trafficked victims come from are plagued with high levels of “unemployment, lack of education, [and] illiteracy”. When these women are given the idea that they will have a better life with these men and offered financial stability, the women become susceptible to the types of psychological manipulation that these pimps have mastered. It is common for Pimps to “promise jobs in ‘El Norte’”, which is a significant promise for a population that has a job market that lacks much opportunity. A lot of the women who fall victim to this seek to leave their hometowns and go to America—only to be forced into trafficking after reaching border towns where they have trafficking networks.
The United Nations Palermo Protocol aims to use social and economic programs to “alleviate those factors that make people vulnerable to human trafficking, including poverty, underdevelopment, and lack of equal opportunity.” The protocol has been effective in outlining ways in which nations can implement tailored policies to combat the trafficking of women through the tactics of vulnerability targeting, such as those used by Romeo Pimps.
The Palermo Protocol has been effective in India through community empowerment, in Thailand through a program for small cash grants, in Nepal through education and vocational training, and in Russia through women’s centers. A Harvard University study showed how the programs in India created a decline in trafficking during a five-year span. Additionally, these programs create an environment that promotes women’s empowerment — a step that addresses the root of the problem.
Vulnerabilities are present in all of us, and unfortunately these pimps will do whatever they can to exploit these vulnerabilities and gain the trust of women and girls. They become the character that society has told us to trust, in order to fill a role that we are socialized to crave. These men have mastered becoming the perfect fit to fill this vacancy. Women cannot change certain aspects of their lives like what city they were born in, whether they have a stable and supportive family structure, or their family’s wealth — but if given power through economic and social independence within society, women and young girls will be less vulnerable to the psychologically manipulative tactics of Romeo Pimps.
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