Insight with Lydia Cacho: Slavery Inc.

By Jim Treadway

In Mexico over the past decade, several dozen journalists have been killed, abducted, and tortured.  Crime flourishes, and ties between cartels and politicians are deeply intertwined.

Yet journalist Lydia Cacho has persisted in uncovering these networks, risking her life to tell the stories of their victims and reveal the businessmen and politicians involved.

She was raped and beaten in 1999, an act alleged by some to be retaliation for her reporting; she was abducted and tortured by police for 20 hours in 2005; her car wheels were tampered with in 2007, nearly leading to a fatal crash; and she has received numerous death threats, the most recent of which appeared to come from a very high-level military or cartel source.

On Friday evening, she came to the Frontline Club to discuss her latest book: Slavery Inc.: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking.

Cacho spent five years documenting the global sex trade, at times playing roles such as a nun, prostitute, pole dancer and client.

“I found it incredible how similar the culture in Vietnam is to the culture of Mexico,” she reflected.  “Families that are living in extreme poverty … [coming] from generations of people that have never had a real chance, they never had a break.”

The story seemed universal: sex traffickers promising poor families to employ their children as maids in a big city, giving them an education, income, and chance at a better life.

“Which parent wouldn’t want that to happen?” Cacho asked.

But the price that sex workers pay – giving up their sexual subjectivity, and with it their integrity, to a clientele of mostly older and more powerful men – Silvio Berlusconi famously among them – is nearly always demanded when they are too young, and too deprived, to recognize the transaction taking place.

Throughout the world, Cacho lamented:

“People are becoming commodities … trained that it’s alright to become an object, [because] you know, this is just a business.”

On 30 April of this year, Cacho’s friend and fellow journalist Regina Martinez was found beaten to death in her home in Xalapa. Martinez, too, had made a career of exposing crime and corruption in Mexico.  Still, Cacho continues.

“I know my job is useful,” she explained.  “Sometimes it’s hard.  And sometimes it’s really good, when you get a [criminal] sentence, or when you get the time to go salsa dancing, and have some tequillas, and just laugh about everything, including the death threats, and just remember that there are a lot of good things in life:  love, and good sex, and all that.  Then you just combine the whole thing.”

“One thing I learned after I survived jail and torture was … I would never give these Mafias my happiness.”

As the event concluded, Cacho was met with a standing ovation.

Watch the event here: