Each year, as world leaders gather to address shared concerns at the United Nations General Assembly, special interest groups leverage the moment to draw attention to their own agendas. One such group is the Committee to Protect Journalists, which this year has once again issued a list of “countries of concern,” nations where press freedom is threatened and where being a journalist is among the most dangerous professions. China, Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, and Russia are on the 2015 list; rounding it out are two Latin American countries: Ecuador and Mexico.
Mexican journalist, author, and activist Lydia Cacho knows firsthand how dangerous it is to be a journalist in Mexico.
Death threats, but undeterred
Cacho, who began her career working for newspapers in the state of Quintana Roo nearly 25 years ago, has lived with periodic death threats since 2006, the year after her explosive book, “Los Demonios del Edén” (The Demons of Eden), was published. In the book, Cacho exposed the powerful men who underpinned a vast network of child pornography and trafficking, detailing through careful investigative reporting just how pervasive child exploitation is in Mexico.
Her exposé so outraged the businessmen and politicians who were named that some of them, including the then-governor of the Mexican state of Puebla, conspired to have Cacho kidnapped, beaten, and raped.
Since then, Cacho has continued her investigative reporting on sex trafficking and child exploitation, expanding her geographical purview to include several dozen countries, from Cuba to Cambodia.
To gain the trust of both trafficked sources and traffickers, Cacho has posed as both a prostitute (even learning how to pole dance) and a nun. In the process, she wrote another book, “Slavery, Inc.”, which documents the global big business that is trafficking.
And, not surprisingly, she has continued to receive death threats, the most recent of which came just two weeks ago, she told an audience at New York City’s Instituto Cervantes on Tuesday night.
A “postmodern disease”?
The threats do not deter Cacho, who despite having received asylum offers from several countries, including the United States, continues to live in Cancún. It’s there where she carries out the work of another calling, one she feels is inextricably intertwined with her reporting: activism and community-based education.
Cacho, who describes her journalism as reporting rooted in humanism, also organizes education initiatives for young people. These are vital, she says, for weakening the grip of the powerful people who maintain and benefit from sex trafficking.
“There’s this dangerous idea that’s part of the postmodern discourse that says it’s ok to be an object as long as you’re conscious you’re an object,” Cacho told the audience at Instituto Cervantes. But Cacho, who has talked with thousands of exploited and trafficked women and children, says that if you ask any of them as a child what they wanted to be when they grew up, none of them would have said prostitute, slave, or sex worker, a term she finds misleading.
According to Cacho, there are ten times more people enslaved within the network of sex trafficking and child exploitation than were enslaved during the era of colonial slavery. Sadly, she says, we are not yet at a point at which we share a global outrage over the treatment of the most vulnerable and least powerful among us.
Mexico, Cacho said, is a top offender, largely because of its weak judicial system. Federal agents of U.S. agencies, including ICE, she added, have determined that a growing number of U.S. citizens who are known pedophiles are fleeing to Mexico, aware that the country’s prosecution rate for all crimes is incredibly low.
“The end of the line”
As the UN General Assembly considers issues such as poverty, climate change, and the current refugee crisis, Cacho hopes that they will also take time to consider two issues that are most dear to her: sex trafficking and exploitation, as well as international press freedom.
“Adults, governments, society… we aren’t taking responsibility for these issues,” Cacho said. “Traffficking is at the end of the line when it comes to the priorities of governments.” And yet, she concluded, “We are much more powerful than the mafias (trafficking people). We must exercise creativity,” she said, as well as unite to make a commitment to address this global problem.