Sex slavery is generally regarded to be an international crisis but the arrest of Maria De La Luz Menjivar last week for allegedly running a sex slave ring in Anaheim serves as a reminder that it is a domestic issue as well.
According to a report in Friday’s Los Angeles Times, three Latina women that had been allegedly coerced into prostitution by Menjivar told Anaheim police that were being forced to prostitute themselves, working from hotels surrounding Disneyland.
According to the Times, most of the customers of the alleged sex slave ring were Latino day laborers.
Police officials said that the women took the rare step of calling the police because they were "fed up with threats from her [Menjivar] that if they stopped, she would expose to their families that they came to the United States to do prostitution."
Officers arranged a sting operation which resulted in the arrest of Menjivar as well as the Nareshkumar Patel, owner of the motel that the alleged prostitution ring was working out of during the bust.
Patel was charged with running a brothel and has been released on $500 bond. He denies any knowledge of the alleged prostitution ring.
Menjivar would lure women to the United States by offering to front smuggling fees of women in Mexico to get them across the border, assuring them that they would be able to get legitimate jobs in the United States to repay her.
The Times reports that tens of thousands of women from other countries are forced to work as sex slaves in the United States, with deportation and the shame of their family’s finding out being the primary threats used to coerce women into prostitution.
The women who reported the alleged sex slave ring are being treated as victims, not illegal immigrants. The U.S. now offers 5,000 visas a year to trafficking victims to allow them to apply for residency. Other prostitutes working at the same hotel were arrested for prostitution, though it is not known if they were involved in the sex slave operation.
Menjivar is facing charges for running a “house of ill fame,” a felony charge of pandering and a misdemeanor charge of running a prostitution ring and may be prosecuted by the federal government for smuggling.