Hondurans Increasingly Trafficked Through ‘Modeling Agencies’

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Honduras, a longtime source of victims for human traffickers seeking to exploit women and children from rural areas, is seeing an increase in trafficking in urban areas, as criminal enterprises lure young Honduran women with promises of success in the entertainment world.

According to the Honduran daily La Tribuna, the country is witnessing a shift in human trafficking activities, marked by an increase in fake talent-seeking agencies posting ads for beauty pageants and modeling tryouts.

Once young women contact the event organizers, they are often told to arrange an in-person “audition,” alone. From there, these women are kidnapped, and frequently taken to to work in brothels in other Central American countries, although sometimes they are smuggled into North America and Europe.

Nora Urbina, director of the Honduran National Action Plan against Commercial and Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, told La Tribuna that her office has documented an increase in the number of young women who fall prey to these trafficking schemes. According to her, more and more women are funneled into human trafficking through their involvement in legitimate modeling competitions and fashion schools, even at professional and university levels.

Although Honduras has a long history of human trafficking, usually the victims come from rural areas and are drawn to the schemes because of the economic incentives attached to them. As the United States Department of State noted in a 2010 report, “Honduran victims are typically recruited from rural areas with promises of employment and trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation in urban and tourist centers such as Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and the Bay Islands.”

The recruitment of urban women from middle-class backgrounds represents a new level of sophistication for criminal groups. By harnessing young women’s aspirations of fame and pop culture’s emphasis on feminine sex appeal, human traffickers are able to hide “in plain sight,” operating in conjunction with dance schools and talent agencies in order to disguise their illegitimate activities.

While human trafficking is on the rise worldwide, it has become an increasingly troublesome issue in Latin America, where recent crackdowns on drug trafficking are forcing criminal organizations to diversify their portfolios. According to a recent report by Global Financial Integrity, trafficked victims earn more than US$31.6 billion for their captors, making human trafficking one of the world’s most most profitable industries.

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