By Natalia A. Bonilla-Berrios
SAN JUAN -- He sold drugs and robbed people of their social security checks. He dropped out of school after earning from $80 to $120 dollars a day -- as a victim of human trafficking. The problem was he didn't even know he was a victim. How could he? He was only 12-years-old.
In Puerto Rico, this case is not isolated. Hundreds occur nowadays, but it's hard to help victims like the 12-year-old because the state government does not officially recognize human trafficking as a crime.
"We interviewed agency officials and they all said they did not see a pattern," Dr. Rey explained. "When they checked the cases that couldn't be categorized in groups, we found those were the human trafficking ones."
It is a constant challenge that Dr. Rey and other advocates who want to eradicate human trafficking in Puerto Rico face, and which was outlined in a report, based on Dr. Rey's investigation and released in February, titled "Trafficking Persons in Puerto Rico: An Invisible Challenge."
Human trafficking is the third most lucrative illegal business in the world, generating over $32 million annually. Yet, half the battle in combating it is fighting the ignorance of people.
According to the Palermo Protocol, human trafficking involves "the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud".
The U.S. State Department estimates that 600,000 - 800,000 persons are trafficked each year across borders internationally and now, with the publication of the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, the nation recognizes itself as a destiny where this practice happens.
Unfortunately, it's not always easy to detect a human trafficking situation. It's important to understand that the traffickers not only can kidnap the victims -- who are generally women and children -- but they also recruit them with great job offers such as modeling or entering the United States in search of the American dream. But once they have them, they coerce them into prostitution, exotic dancing and working in massage parlors, as well as, performing domestic labor.
During this whole time of forced employment, they make sure to "destroy them physically, psychologically and emotionally," said Mrs. Anna Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
Puerto Rico is often referred to as a transit destiny but what the RMF study discovered is that it's also a destination for sexual tourism. Mrs. Rodriguez warned the authorities to be on alert for any illegal business during the upcoming Central American and Caribbean Games starting on July 17th 2010.
Learn more about Natalia
Natalia A. Bonilla Berrios is a junior at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) majoring in Journalism and minoring in Political Science, International Relations. Natalia has a 3.90 GPA.
She was the former president of the UPR student chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, a member of the National Society of Collegiates and Scholars and was selected for the 'Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges' program, during her freshman year.
In addition, she has worked as an intern reporter for DiÃ¡logo Digital, Puerto Rican Center of Investigative Journalism, served as a staff writer for ParÃ©ntesis newspaper, and as a volunteer reporter for IDentidad magazine.
Bonilla has served as student representative for the Freedom of the Press Center of Puerto Rico and has been selected as one of the UWIRE's Top 100 Student Journalists of 2009.
She was selected for the Student Camp at Unity 2008, the quadrennial Journalists of Color Convention and also, as a volunteer for the 2009 International Year of Astronomy.