Nine Guatemalans were indicted for allegedly sex trafficking young women and girls from Guatemala into the US, the US Department of Justice announced Thursday. The case against the defendants concerns 12 women and girls -- some as young as 13 years old -- who were lured to the US with promises of legitimate and high-paying jobs. Upon arrival in the US, however, they were forced to work as prostitutes in order to repay exorbitant debts. Authorities say the victims were threatened with violence and harm to their families in Guatemala, the Associated Press reports. The Guatemalan defendants, who pleaded not guilty, face charges of sex trafficking of minors; sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion; violating federal laws prohibiting interstate or foreign transport of minors for prostitution; and importing and harboring undocumented immigrants and harboring them for prostitution, reports the AP.
"These young women were enticed into coming to this country by promises of the American dream only to arrive and discover that what awaited was a nightmare," Robert Schoch, a special agent for US immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles, said to the AP.
Thousands of desperate women and children from countries including El Salvador, Korea, Mexico, and China are trafficked into the US annually, according to a Ms. investigation conducted earlier this year. Lured to the US with the promise of a good job and security, many are instead forced into prostitution and subjected to psychological abuse.
The US Department of Justice says that human trafficking is one of its top priorities, though the federal response to the sex and labor trafficking crisis in the US over the last seven years has been inadequate, according to Ms. Despite the trafficking of thousands of women into the US each year, the Department of Justice has only prosecuted 360 traffickers since 2000.