Rosa* was about to cross the United States-Mexico border when her coyote, or human smuggler, ordered the 22-year-old to have sex with him and told her that the promise of a job in computers or modeling in New York was a trick to force her into prostitution. Tracy*, 18, a product of the Boston foster care system, had been sold from one pimp to another until she was arrested for prostitution on Long Island; she told her story to investigators and was admitted to a shelter for human trafficking victims.
Rosa is staying in a group home where authorities hope that she will one day get to testify against her traffickers.
Tracy checked herself out of the shelter three days later and hasn’t been seen since.
The two are but a glimpse of the untold number of victims swept up in the global and domestic sex trafficking trade—mostly women under 25, one-third of them minors—who have been forced, coerced or duped into a life of selling sex. Up to 200,000 are reportedly U.S. citizens, in addition to more than 17,000 Hispanic, Asian and Eastern European immigrants, but experts say such statistical estimates are virtually impossible to verify. The approximately $9.5 billion human trafficking trade is among the top three criminal markets worldwide alongside illegal drug and arms dealing, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.