Combating human trafficking in Guatemala

Published: May. 3, 2017 at 8:14 PM CDT
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In most of the world, prostitution is legal, but that doesn't mean people aren't trapped in a life they'd do anything to escape. The Institute for Trafficked, Exploited and Missing Persons, an arm of the God's Child Project, was founded 16 years ago by Patrick Atkinson.

It's late Friday afternoon in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, a town of about 45,000 located about 25 minutes from Antigua, which is the home base for The God's Child Project.

As tourists, we are encouraged to walk the streets here, past the doorways where prostitutes stand, waiting for customers but our camera is not welcome. The photographer follows in an unmarked van.

We see girls and boys, one or two per door, and lurking in the shadows behind them are their pimps.

This man stands outside with a gun…which could mean the actions inside involve illegal sex with children or kidnap victims. He may be afraid the prostitute will try to run.

"It's called trauma bonding or the Stockholm Syndrome," said Atkinson.

Sophia is 20 years old, and has been a prostitute for four years. She left home thinking she'd find a better life, but soon realized she had few options if she wanted to eat.

"I'm always afraid, because I don't know what's going to happen," said Sophia.

Sophia depends on her pimp to keep her safe, but in turning to him, she gave up her freedom.

"It's not easy because they become the owner of your life, said Sophia.

She says she would get out if she could but believes she can't get away. Atkinson says hers is a classic case of human trafficking.

"If she said she's not afraid she's developed kind of a split personality. 'I love him. I need him, but if I leave him, he'll kill me," said Atkinson.

Sophia does have a dream. She says in a different life, she'd be a veterinarian. But she doesn't think it will happen.

Atkinson says they're already following up on Sophia's case.