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Casa Del Jardin’ Offers Girls A Life After Prostitution

Aired 1/14/14 on KPBS News.

Underage girls who are victims of human trafficking have one place to go in Tijuana where they can start a new life.

— The 19-year-old woman has a baby face covered in heavy makeup. Her voice is hesitant and toneless as she discusses her experiences in the past year.

An old friend of hers showed up in her life again, she says. He asked her for help, again and again, until she agreed. That's when he kidnapped her and took her to Mexico City, where he forced her to work as a prostitute.

"During those seven months," she said in Spanish, "I lived under threats, beatings, and offenses."

She means rape.

With lessons over, a teenage girl living at La Casa del Jardin draws on the whiteboard. The curriculum includes English lessons, as well as music, art, and yoga.

"I had sex with twenty to twenty-five men a day," she said.

Zuria, not her real name, finally managed to escape with the help of a friend. She now lives in Tijuana, at La Casa del Jardin.

La Casa is a Tijuana shelter. Zuria lives there and works there, and it's run by Eastlake resident Alma Tucker, who crosses the border nearly every day to so do. She sees her work as a way to heal this generation, and save the next.

The San Ysidro crossing is one of the most-traveled international borders in the world, with hundreds of thousands of people crossing on foot or in their cars every day, contributing to vibrant commerce and culture. But despite exponential increases in security over the years, the border remains is a place where humans, especially girls, are bought, sold, and forced into labor or sex in both Mexico and the United States. Human trafficking in both countries continues to be a very real problem.

Mexico is called a Tier 2 country by the State Department, and that means that the country is stepping up its efforts to stop human trafficking but lacks sufficient federal and state co-ordination. There's also the issue of what to do with the victims. Many were kidnapped and sold by close friends or family members, or left home because of family problems, and the Mexican government as yet has few resources in place for those who have been rescued and have nowhere to go. There are only two homes for the underage girls who have been victimized in all of Mexico -- one in Mexico City, and the other is La Casa del Jardin.

"If those girls are not treated right, as adults, sometimes they can turn to be victimizers, then it's one circle," Tucker said. "Then we, as a community, as authorities, we need to stop that circle. We need to give the opportunity to heal."

Alma Tucker sits in her office at La Casa de Jardin. The girls in her shelter are Mexican nationals, rescued by authorities in both the United States and Mexico. It is one of only two such group homes in Mexico.

Tijuana is Tucker's hometown, although she has lived in San Diego now for more than twenty years. She first became aware of the issue of trafficking when she was working for the Department of Protection in San Diego's Mexican Consulate. After she left, she vowed to do more to help its victims, and started the International Network of Hearts in 2010 and opened La Casa del Jardin (The Garden House) in Tijuana in June of last year. Now, she takes in girls who are sent to the house after they're rescued by authorities in Mexico and the United States. She takes a multidisciplinary approach to the group home. In addition to regular classes, the girls get music, art, and yoga -- and medical treatment and therapy.

A few miles north, in Chula Vista, city councilmember Rudy Ramirez is one of Alma Tucker's biggest champions. He helps her put together events to raise awareness and funds for new beds and additions that La Casa del Jardin desperately needs. It's a large building, but there's always demand for more room. Ramirez says that awareness-raising is particularly important because the issue of human trafficking is difficult to grasp.

"It's not the sort of thing that you expect happens any more, right? You think this happens somewhere else some other continent somewhere, so it is surprising to hear that it happens here."

Ramirez also says that "human trafficking" can mean so many things and its scope is so vast that it becomes difficult to understand.

"I mean it happens in lots of ways, where, in some cases because of issues in the home these young ladies will leave their home, and as a result be taken in by somebody who just wants to exploit them, basically, and enslave them," he said. "And they do, in the sex trade or in other work, domestic work -- there are all kinds of different cases that you hear about."

Photo by Brooke Binkowski

On a recent visit to La Casa del Jardin, Baja State's First Lady (and President of Patronato DIF, or the state's System for Integral Family Development) Brenda Ruacho de Vega, stopped in to speak to Alma Tucker and the girls.

People might keep slaves in their homes as maids, keeping them from escaping by threatening to tell the authorities that they have no papers. Or, like Zuria, they might be forced into prostitution.

The issue of trafficking is many-pronged, and as such, requires an approach from a number of different fronts, says Alma Tucker. With a stronger economy, cultural changes, more of a voice for young people, more government involvement, and better security, human trafficking and slavery might become things of the past. But for the present, she has a lot of work to do.

"They don't choose what they go through," she says. "They are victims and they need to be rescued. All those girls that are there, and all those girls that are already victimized, they deserve a better life."

Zuria, the teenager who once was forced into prostitution, says she gets through her life day by day. But she thinks her experiences have made her stronger. It also helps her to be able to share it with others, she says, who have had similar things happen to them.

She hopes one day to be either a bilingual secretary or to get a job in law enforcement, working on the issue of human trafficking.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 14, 2014 at 12:54 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

The Mexican journalistand author, Lydia Cacho, has exposed these trafficking rings and their connections to businessmen and politicians of the PRI. She has been threatened and jailed once for her efforts.

Many of these women come from the states of Puebla and Tlaxcala. Pimps working for larger organizations, are sent out to meet young women, befriend them if possible, grow closer to them and even marry them. Then they bring them to border states where after they reveal who they really are and why they moved there, put them on a corner in a red light District. In other words, the "husband" becomes the pimp. In fact, Tlaxcala served a sort of pool reserve for prostitution even in pre-Hispanic times.

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Avatar for user 'winston1952'

winston1952 | January 15, 2014 at 5:04 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Trafficking for any purpose is a human rights travesty. It needs to be stamped out and the victims helped as they are here. However conflating trafficking with sex work is wrong as well. As pointed out in the article people are trafficked for every possible reason. If sex work were legal there might be less reason for trafficking for sex. Rarely do criminal enterprises compete with legitimate business and that would hold true in sex work.
Why is prostitution against the law? Where is the crime when two adults agree to have sex in exchange for money? This isn’t trafficking, which isn’t a sex crime but is a human rights abuse. Those forced into sex workshould not be charged with prostitution but should be rescued from the traffickers. These laws allow too many dehumanize sex workers. If they aren't looked on as having the same rights as the rest of society then those who prey on women find easy targets in sex workers. This attitude needs to change we need to see sex workers as people with the same wants and needs and rights as the rest of society.
Prostitution has been around forever and will be with us forever as well. We need to change our approach. Many escorts are in the business voluntarily and are contributing members of society. They pay taxes raise children and contribute to the economy. Yet they are forced to live outside of society. They live at risk of robbery assault rape (yes rape) and murder without recourse to protection under the law.
Legalizing will allow escorts the opportunity to contact police when they need to. Right now they can't because no matter why they call they are subject to arrest. Believe me escorts who are in the business for themselves are as against trafficking as you are. Legalization will allow escorts to be removed from the criminal element.
If you want to learn more about escorts watch the documentary "American Courtesans" This is a movie where sex workers, their families and even customers have a chance at speaking unscripted about their lives. It is powerful and fascinating and has been shown in film festivals all over the world including the ECU festival in Paris and Women's International festival in Miami and won awards for best editing and best documentary.

Kristen DiAngelo is also a voice for the rights of all sex workers and has launched The American Courtesans Project to bring light and humanity to the world of sex work. She is giving lectures at Rutgers and San Francisco State later in the year.

American Courtesans is available on-demand in over 100 million homes across the US and Canada -- including the largest cable systems in the country - and iTunes. It is also available on DVD and BluRay on, amazon, and ebay.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | January 15, 2014 at 10:04 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

winston52 you just want hookers.

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