California-Mexico Coalition Helps Women and Girls in the Sex Trade ‘Zone of Tolerance’

TIJUANA, Mexico – On a warm and bright January afternoon, women on the streets of Tijuana’s red light district, the Zona Norte, lean against the walls of ruined hotels or “gentlemen’s clubs.”

Some are alone, looking down at their smartphones amid whistles from passersby. Some, without masks, stand together and talk.

The business of selling sex continues day or night — pandemic or non-pandemic — in the three-block area.

Within the clubs, underage women and girls are available to fulfill requests, Project Rahab members told The Epoch Times. Project Rahab is a coalition against human trafficking; most of its members are from the northern part of the Mexican state of Baja California and southern California.

With a fairly short drive from Los Angeles and Orange counties to this red-light district, many customers are Californians, although the clientele comes from all over the world. On the way from the US border, billboards promote men’s clubs with suggestive images of women.

A man walks with two women near a strip club in Zona Norte, Tijuana, Mexico, on January 16, 2021 (John Fredricks / The Epoch Times).

The group is concerned about exploitation in Tijuana’s unofficial “tolerance zone” for the sex trade, and offers help to those seeking to break ties. Although prostitution is illegal in Tijuana, the police ignore it in this area. The Epoch Times saw the police standing next to their cars in the North Zone.

Drug cartels keep the human trafficking business going, Project Rahab members told The Epoch Times. It is difficult to collect data on the extent of the problem due to the threat from the cartels, they said.

Hello Friend

A Baja resident who has helped women in the Northern Zone for more than four years spoke with The Epoch Times, requesting that we use the pseudonym Maria.

“I say ‘Hello friend, how are you?’ You speak to them as if they are your neighbor and you are trying to show them the love of Jesus, ”Mary said.

“I treat them like myself or my friends. … They are like us. When you talk to them, when you try to connect with them, that’s the attitude you should have.

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Mary has a BA in psychology and attended formal theology training at a Christian learning institution in Northern California to establish houses of worship. She served as the director of a safe house in Southern California for some time.

He regularly receives participants on short-term mission trips to the Mexican state of Baja California. Many of the participants in your outreach are from Orange, San Diego, and Los Angeles counties.

Mary said her ministry came together first to worship and encourage those who work with people in need in this area. Then the ministry expanded outreach as the natural next step, to help victims of the sex trade in this part of Tijuana.

Provides essentials such as food, feminine products, and health items. It also provides meals, haircuts, and other services. Counseling and spiritual encouragement are an important part of your mission.

Magdalena Esperanza

Doug Bennett, founder of the nonprofit Magdalene Hope religious ministry, regularly facilitates what he calls “outreach on the street.”

“The overall goal is to share a message of hope and love through Jesus Christ and let women know that there is a way out,” Bennett told The Epoch Times.

“We distribute backpacks to women in the red light district who are selling. The backpacks consist of everything a woman would need over the course of a weekend while being trafficked.

His ministry is based in Bakersfield, California, and has a chapter in Orange County. Bennett said she has been helping women voluntarily quit their forced sex work for 11 years.

Photo from The Epoch Times
Photo from The Epoch Times
A statue of Jesus looks out over a small coastal town in the state of Baja California, Mexico, on January 16, 2021 (John Fredricks / The Epoch Times).

In addition to her work in Tijuana, Bennett’s ministry provides women emerging from trafficking a safe haven for a year in Bakersfield, including counseling, therapy and restoration in a faith-based setting.

“We have met women in the red light district from all over Mexico, including Mexico City, who have been brought to Tijuana to be sold,” Bennett said.

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“These traffickers transport women down Interstate 5 from city to city, and it is not uncommon for these women to have seen us [Magdalene Hope] in a different city because the traffickers move the women to different regions to sell them, keep a fresh product for the men to buy, and keep law enforcement guessing or confused about their whereabouts.

His involvement in Project Rahab began when the project was first formed three years ago.

Rahab project

In February 2018, Project Rahab brought together the few people – mostly untrained and under-resourced – dedicated to ending human trafficking, founder Adam Stieve told The Epoch Times in an email.

It started with just a handful of people, almost exclusively Mexican. But many Americans eventually joined in, providing more resources and training. Now includes more than 25 organizations.

“Most of the names of these organizations are unrecognizable,” Stieve said. Well-funded American organizations are not there. Sadly, little attention is paid to this area which is just a few miles from San Diego. Until now, it has been largely ignored and forgotten, except by a few brave people.

He added: “Only by uniting these devoted servants do they have any chance of fighting the forces of evil, including the powerful cartels of Mexico.”

On January 16, Project Rahab began the first in a series of training seminars.

This first was for existing caregivers who put their hearts into healing and reintegrating victims, Stieve said. About 70 people attended.

“The Rahab Project is involved in all areas of the fight against human trafficking, including prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership,” Stieve said.

He said that training for caregivers would help them identify the different stages of PTSD in victims and provide them with the appropriate treatments to help stabilize them initially.

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Additional training will include identifying the signs of human trafficking, working with authorities to combat it, how to teach victims life skills to reintegrate into society, and how to access and share resources.

Among the experts who provided training at the first seminar was a counselor from Fort Worth, Texas, who detailed therapy approved by the American Psychiatric Association and tailored for victims of commercial sexual exploitation, including children.

Many victims have only known fear and hopelessness, Stieve said. The training will help caregivers establish a safe environment for themselves.

In addition to being trafficked, many victims are also recovering from drug addiction and the trauma of domestic violence, Stieve said.

“The journey begins with detoxification and ends with home ownership and a real job,” he said.

Stieve is also the founder of Las Aves del Paraíso, the first safe house in Baja designed specifically for adult women and their children. He has been involved in anti-human trafficking initiatives in California and has worked in Mexico since 2016 helping to build homes, medical clinics and orphanages; distribute food and other basic products; and provide other forms of care.

For most Americans, Tijuana is a city notorious for being contained by the border, Stieve said. “But just on the other side of the wall there are thousands of victims trapped in an endless nightmare.”

“Californians should be aware that the cross-border sex tourism trade continues to fuel this illicit industry. A ‘quick trip’ across the border has consequences.

He said they are working to educate people in Mexico to prevent them from becoming victims, especially their children.

“This job is not for the faint of heart, especially in an area controlled by the cartel,” he said. But this binational effort is growing in strength and in numbers. The coalition is making a difference ”.

For more information, email Adam Stieve [email protected]

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