For nearly eight years, Mario Garfias, his younger brother Enrique, and their mother Esperanza trafficked young women for sexual exploitation in Mexico City. It has been two years since the family has been released from prison for their crimes, and their story gives rare insight into how traffickers lure and control victims.
Speaking to Thomson Reuters Foundation, Mario says he never thought twice when he pulled out his baseball bat, nicknamed Panchito, to beat the women and teenage girls that he forced into prostitution if they didn’t meet their quota or disobeyed rules.
His story also shed light on why violence against women was so normalized for Mario and his brother:
“Obviously I’m not justifying myself but I grew up thinking violence was normal. That’s how I was raised,” Garfias said.
“I was never taught to value women. I saw my mother being hit by my stepfathers. She’d go back to them again and again. So women became worthless.”
For Mario and Enrique, tricking women who they would later abuse was easy — they would pretend to be in love. The brothers said it only took them a few weeks to lure a woman with false promises, showering them with “romantic gestures – a bunch of roses, a teddy bear, or a box of chocolates.”
“Honestly it was so easy. For me the best way was to make her believe that I was in love with her,” said Enrique. “We’d pass a nice house and I’d say: ‘That will be ours soon where we’ll get married and have children.'”
Their mother cooked for her sons and told the women that they needed to work harder. “I didn’t say anything about my sons’ work with the girls because for me it was normal. I didn’t think it was bad because I’d lived it,” she added.
The women were unable to escape as the family threatened their families with violence if they tried to leave. The traffickers even paid bribes to the police and hired watchmen on the street in case any of the women tried to run away. “I’d tell the girls: ‘Watch this, I’ll whistle and see how many people raise their hands.’ Just in one block, two or three hands would go up,” said Enrique Garfias. “You see it’s impossible for you to escape.”
Yet one 16-year-old girl finally did manage to escape in 2003, and her testimony is what led to the Garfias family being convicted.