During the very darkest moments of her ‘true hell’ as a sex slave, Alicia, a 20-year-old Mexican, was punished severely for attempting to take her own life.
Forced into Mexico’s dark world of human trafficking at just 10, when her impoverished parents sold her for £600, the innocent girl failed on three separate occasions to cut her wrists with a table knife deeply enough to put an end to her misery.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Alicia, who bravely waived her right to anonymity, said of her ordeal: ‘When they found me trying to die, they beat me, starved me and forced me to lie in a bathtub filled with cold water for five days.’
‘They said that if I ever misbehaved again then they would kill my entire family.’
Alicia shared the fate of an estimated 20,000 other minors who were trafficked – bought, transported and sold – in 2015 for sex work and manual labour throughout North America.
Yet Alicia is also a member of a minority, in that she managed to both escape from her hell and see her persecutors imprisoned for their crimes. Around half of human trafficking victims in Mexico are believed to die in their enforced slavery, while less than 10 per cent of those who survive see their oppressors prosecuted.
But Alicia, who cannot read and write, and barely speaks Spanish, has managed this.
Even so, at only 20, Alicia has a terrorised look about her. She turns her head away from every conversation even if she is the person doing the talking, loud noises seem to paralyse her with fear and her slight figure still shows the scars of her six-year ordeal.
One of the indigenous Zapotec people of Oaxaca state in southern Mexico, she hails from the mountain town of Juchitán.
When Alicia was just eight, she was forced to stop attending school by her impoverished parents and work in her aunt’s Juchitán bar.
‘At first I was just waiting on tables, but as the regular clients began to notice me my aunt began to suggest I have sex with them,’ she told MailOnline. ‘I didn’t even know what sex was at the time, and because my aunt told me to do whatever they wanted I had to go along with it.’
After two years of being pimped out to regulars by her own family, a man who owned a larger bar in town noticed Alicia’s potential as an asset for his own business.
The bar owner offered Alicia’s parents 15,000 Mexican pesos (£600) to take her away to work for him. A deal was immediately struck and the next day Alicia began her three year ordeal as one of four ‘house girls’ at Ordaz’s bar, in Juchitán.
‘It was awful,’ she said, ‘I was raped 10 times a night.’
Continuing, trembling slightly, she said: ‘Because the village was so small, I would have to see my rapists in the street during the daytime.
‘They would look me up and down, and leer at me and lick their lips.’
The trafficking of women and children in Mexico is common. Sold or kidnapped while still very young, the victims are taken away from their families and sent to locations throughout the country where they are forced into prostitution.
In Mexico City’s La Merced district, a vast open-air market covering five square blocks, trafficked women sell their bodies for as little as 50 pesos (£2) as their pimps look on.
Others are taken to the city centre’s ‘Green Houses’, where they are imprisoned in cell-like bedrooms and forced to work 24/7 for months on end, until either sickness, loss of beauty or suicide makes them unfit for the work.
‘Since my escape I have met other girls like me who were sent to Cancun, Acapulco, Las Vegas and other popular holiday places,’ said Alicia. ‘Wherever there are a lot of people, there is human trafficking.’
‘Trafficking of women is a disgusting practice that unfortunately is ingrained in the Mexican culture,’ says Rosi Orozco, a nationwide campaigner for womens’ rights who helped Alicia denounce those who made her suffer.
‘It’s all tied up with organised crime,’ she told MailOnline. ‘We are working every day to punish those who make fortunes from this abomination and put an end to it.’
At 13, before she had even had her first period, Alicia became pregnant. The owner of the Juchitán bar forced her to continue working as a ‘house girl’ until she was six months pregnant.
‘When my pregnancy was too obvious to hide he sent me back to my parents’ house,’ she said. ‘By that point I was spoilt goods.’
Three days before her 14th birthday, Alicia gave birth to a son. She says the boy’s father could have been any of 80 different men who visited her at the bar.
Yet three months after giving birth a woman named Margarita Jimenez Lopez, unbeknownst to Alicia’s family, struck a deal with her current ‘owner’ and bought Alicia for 5,000 pesos.
Lopez was not just anyone, however. She was a respected member of society, who was a senior political adviser to Mexico’s leading PRI political party, of which the current president Enrique Peña Nieto is a member.
But, Alicia claims, behind closed doors she was a drug addict with a temper problem – although she didn’t know that when they told her she was going to Mexico City for a holiday.
‘They told my parents that I was going to complete my education in the capital,’ she told MailOnline. ‘They said I had to leave my boy behind because he was too young to survive the journey.’
It was the last time Alicia was to see her son.
The promise of a holiday and education turned out to be lies. Alicia quickly found herself a slave in Margarita’s house. Chained up at night, she was forced to work 18-hour days cooking and cleaning for the woman and her two children.
When Margarita left the house, her son Jorge Garcia Jimenez would rape, beat and force Alicia to consume narcotics.
‘It got to the point where Jorge would bring his friends over to the house,’ she said with tears in her eyes. ‘They would take turns in raping me and beating me. I was treated like an animal.’
Alicia would scream constantly for help, and although her neighbours heard her cries no one ever came to her rescue. She became known as ‘The Crazy One’ in her building, due to her blood-curdling screams, and ‘The Indian’, due the fact that she spoke little Spanish and could not make herself understood in her indigenous Zapotec language.
Two years into her capture, Alicia made an ill-fated escape attempt. In trying to sneak out of the apartment’s unlocked kitchen door, she was seen on the CCTV cameras by the building’s security guards, who beat her mercilessly of their own accord before turning her over to Margarita.
Alicia’s hell ended at 15, when a kind-hearted security guard at her building took pity on her and helped her escape. Five years on, Julio Cesar Robles, 42, is her boyfriend.
‘Alicia weighed just 35 kilograms [five and a half stone] when she escaped,’ he told MailOnline. ‘She was dehydrated, undernourished and terrified of other people. She looked like a ghost for months afterwards’.
‘She still suffers terrible trauma from her experience,’ he said, wrapping his arms around her. ‘She trembles when she has to leave the house.’
On November 11 Margarita Jimenez Lopez and her two children were convicted of human trafficking.
They have been remanded in custody and told they face at least 20 years’ jail when they are sentenced.
It is one of the first cases in Mexico to bring a conviction for human trafficking.
Previously similar cases have brought the lesser charge of kidnap.
A police investigation found Lopez’s government work in Oaxaca state had brought her into contact with Alicia.
They found Alicia had been ‘abducted from her home under false pretences and forced her to work without salary over a period of three years’, according to the charges when she was arrested in February.
‘It’s a step in the right direction,’ says Rosi Orozco, whose women’s foundation funded Alicia’s legal fight for justice, ‘but there’s still a lot more to be done.’
‘This is one of the most horrific cases I’ve yet to see. But there’s always something more awful waiting around the corner.’