The Drug Trade: A link between Sex Trafficking and National Security

When people ask me what I want to do after I graduate, I tell them that I want to work in national security and anti-human trafficking. Then, I will usually get the question of how these two relate to each other. It definitely differs according to the region, but a common connection between the two in North America is the drug trade. Mexican cartels will smuggle drugs and women across the US border and then sell them to buyers in America. This causes strained relationships between the two countries and infringes upon US security as transnational crime enters our country. The female slaves in the drug business do not receive enough attention, so I compiled together some basic information in the hopes to raise awareness of the victims.

What causes cartels to traffic women?

For those involved in organized crime money is the prime motivator. Drug lords and pimps do not care about the harm they inflict on society as long as it pays well. The drug trade has accumulated billions of dollars, but recently, drug lords have discovered that selling women for sex can give them even more money. Drugs are a one-time deal-once you sell a batch of drugs, you cannot resell it. But, as Teresa Ulloa, director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean, stated, “The cartels know that drugs can only be sold once, but women can be sold again and again and again” (1).

The only way to convince yourself to sell women is to dehumanize them, which often occurs because of gender inequality. In Mexico particularly, many still do not view women as equal in value to men, which causes violent harassment and makes it easier to exploit them (2).

What are the practices surrounding cartels’ use of girls?

These girls do not enter the trade willingly-some cartels kidnap them, while others lure them in with the false promise of visas or job opportunities. One cartel in western Mexico comes to people’s homes demanding for their daughters and then uses rape as a means of terrorizing its victims. Resistance is futile-the cartel will not let the villagers stop it from obtaining the “capital” needed to make more money (3). Once in the hands of the cartels, the girls are forced to smuggle drugs over international borders-sometimes having bags of heroin forced down their throats so as to slip past Customs agents undetected. This creates problems between countries in trying to limit crime, but also for the victims because being in a foreign country makes the whole ordeal much scarier.

What is the current strategy to counter the trafficking problem in the drug trade?

Most policymakers worldwide aim anti-trafficking policies towards suppliers. In Mexico City, the local government has spent countless hours attempting to stop the pimps associated with both the drug and sex trafficking industry in their country. In May 2013 alone, law enforcement was able to complete 86 raids on hotels, massage parlors, and bars, rescue 118 women, and charge 62 people for trafficking (4). Nevertheless, the heads of the operations usually walk away from any justice and continue their business, leaving many law enforcement agencies stumped.

What else can be done?

Busting down doors, rounding up pimps, and rehabilitating victims are important aspects of anti-trafficking policies, but I think we should also focus on policies that can prevent trafficking from reaching extremes. One way to accomplish this is to target buyers-if there is no demand, the suppliers have no customers. One strategy could be to scare them, but that often requires heavy law enforcement which many not be possible in every country/region. In these cases, policymakers would need to take a different approach.

Since trafficking usually happens because of gender inequality, we need to make the very thought of buying and exploiting women repulsive to those who would otherwise associate themselves with the trade. As Teresa Ulloa also said, “If we could create policy on human trafficking that has gender equality at its core, then we would be tackling demand. If there was no demand for slaves, there would be no supply” (5). When creating plans, policymakers need to respond to the locals and figure out what works best for them-maybe the media is influential in some countries while education about gender equality works better in other situations.

When asked about the best policies to combat the drug trade, many people feel stumped. Some believe that no matter what the United States does to try to counter the power of the cartels, drug lords always seem to be three steps ahead of policymakers, which results in drugs and slaves continuing to cross the border in mass amounts. Yet, even if we cannot completely stop the entire drug trade, I hope that we can still take steps to limit the amount of sex trafficking occurring and help to protect the girls in countries plagued with cartels.




(1) Grillo, Ioan. 2013. “The Mexican Drug Cartels’ Other Business: Sex Trafficking,” Time, July 31. Accessed September 6, 2014.

(2) Cota, Isabella, 2013. “Central America’s drug cartels turn their attention to trafficking people,” The Guardian, July 4. Accessed September 6, 2014.

(3) Amy Dunckel-Graglia, Taylor & Francis, SMS, 2013. “‘Pink transportation’ in Mexico City: reclaiming urban space through collective gender-based violence,” Gender and Development. Accessed April 8, 2014.

(4) Grillo, Ioan. 2013. “The Mexican Drug Cartels’ Other Business: Sex Trafficking,” Time, July 31. Accessed September 6, 2014.

(5) Cota, Isabella, 2013. “Central America’s drug cartels turn their attention to trafficking people,” The Guardian, July 4. Accessed September 6, 2014.


2 thoughts on “The Drug Trade: A link between Sex Trafficking and National Security

  1. SJ says:

    This is such an important issue! I love how you point out that implementing strategies to combat human trafficking will only succeed if we figure what strategies are more effective in different areas. Great post!

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