Increasing numbers of women and girls are fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras amid mounting evidence that criminal gangs are systematically targeting adolescent girls as sexual slaves.
Elena Cruz, 15, from San Salvador sat silently next to her mother Barbara, 39, clutching a folder of documents to show Comar, (Mexico’s refugee agency).
She told a familiar story: a tattooed gang leader took a liking to Cruz. He started following her to and from school, and sending her threatening messages via a classmate.
“It was always the same, ‘if you don’t go out with me, you won’t go out with anyone’,” said Cruz. “I want to be a doctor but I had to stop school. I was terrified to be in the house as he knows where we live.”
Cruz’s mother moved her four times to live with different relatives, but each time the gang tracked her down. “They would send me messages on Facebook telling me where I was, threatening to come and take me.”
Too scared to go to the police in case the gang found out, mother and daughter packed two suitcases, and fled in the middle of the night, abandoning their home and Barbara’s successful seafood market stall.
“We’re seeking refuge because they’ll take my daughter or kill us if we go back,” said Barbara. “There’s no future in El Salvador, it’s now a crime for girls to be young and pretty.”
Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd. Can be reprinted in Church magazines