For 20 years, Mexican activist Lydia Cacho has been waging war on human trafficking in Mexico. In 1999 she launched CIAM Cancun (the Comprehensive Care Centre for Women), a shelter for battered women and children that has been threatened with closure due to lack of funding.
The organisation was created in response to the sexual violence against women and children that is rife in Mexican culture. It's a refuge in a country where trafficking is seldom punished.
The perpetrators include the so-called arbiters of justice: local and state officials, policemen, and the army militia. She acknowledged that CIAM faced resistance from government agents when it opened and this trend has resurfaced.
"Some local donors have refused to help," she said in a letter to supporters that was shared with rabble.ca. "We think that since we have helped a lot of minors who were being trafficked -- and compromised some very delicate business interests -- they are punishing us or at least trying to."
CIAM has had difficulty weathering the economic storm like many not-for-profit agencies. In 2010 a few official donors suspended their support due to the financial downturn.
She has managed to pay the salaries of staff with her journalism work, but it's not a viable, long-term solution. But her biggest concern is that the victims will return to the begging and prostitution networks that enslaved them.
Ms. Cacho, 47, has articulated the afflictions of this oppressed constituency for two decades and has been repeatedly threatened for her outspokenness. In 1999 a man in a bus station bathroom brutally assaulted and raped her, but she did not pursue the case. "I did not want to be news," she said in a 2007 Washington Post article. "I just wanted to keep going."
She said that before the rape she had encouraged sexually abused victims to file police reports. Afterwards she realized that recovery was most important, but it is an ongoing process.
"Along with millions of Mexicans, every day I explore my ability to listen, to understand, to question, to be truthful, to be ethical," she said. "I develop ways to add insight and perspective to the coverage of human tragedy. I also fight -- as many of my colleagues do -- to stay alive."
She inherited her strength of character from her family. Her French grandmother opposed the Nazis during World War II in Europe and eventually migrated to Mexico. Her mother became a women's rights activist. She would tell her daughter that bearing witness made you bear responsibility -- it's a lesson that. Cacho took to heart.
In 2005 she exposed child abuse and pornography rings in Cancun in her book Demonios del Eden (or Demons of Eden) based on victim testimonies and a hidden-camera video of those responsible.
She implicated prominent politicians and a Puebla businessman, Kamel Nacif Borge, in the protection of Jean Succar Kuri, a Cancun hotel owner, who was alleged to be involved in one of the rings.
In late 2005 Nacif Borge sued her for defamation. State police arrested her in Quintana Roo and extradited her from state to state, reportedly threatening her with rape and murder for hours.
On Feb. 14, 2006, the Mexico City daily La Jornada revealed telephone conversations between Nacif Borge and Mario Marín, the governor of the state of Puebla. They discussed her imminent imprisonment and the possibility of having her beaten to force her silence. With this incriminating evidence, she was acquitted of all defamation charges in early 2007.
In April 2008, the Attorney General's Office issued arrest warrants for five public servants, including a minister and criminal justice officials, for her illegal detention. However, the investigation was closed two months later, because of insufficient evidence. Ms. Cacho alleges that her file was tampered with.
Indeed, Mexican authorities have struggled to address the rampant misogyny within their ranks. Although the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico has extensively documented abusive practices, it has failed to foster reforms. These delays have been costly for the victims and their families.
Despite the strong-arm tactics of her government, Ms. Cacho has chosen to stay and exercise the livelihood that has made her a target of intimidation and brutality.
"I find myself in the uncanny position of a heroine just for exercising -- with dignity -- my right to freedom and justice," she said.
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