Girl grew up and came back to seek justice
A Mexican girl sent to America for a better life never saw the inside of a classroom. Instead, she became a human-trafficking victim in Oceanside.
For nearly two years, the 12-year-old was raped repeatedly, beaten, sold for sex and forced to work for no pay by a couple related to her, law-enforcement sources said.
The alleged traffickers, a husband and wife, were arrested Thursday on Brooks Street near Maxson Street by the North County Human Trafficking Task Force. That coalition includes the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Oceanside police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations team.
Inez Martinez Garcia, 43, and her husband, Marcial Garcia Hernandez, 45, were booked on 13 felony counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child under age 14, the sheriff’s department. Both immigrated from Mexico and are legal permanent residents of the United States.
“There have been some real bad cases, but this is one of the worst cases we’ve had,” said Sgt. Joe Mata of the sheriff’s department. “This was so important because there are so many victims and nothing gets done.”
The victim, now an adult, came forward two and a half years ago with details of the abuses she suffered after she was smuggled into the country. Her name and current age have not been released because of the sexual nature of the crime and authorities’ ongoing investigation.
Once at the Hernandez home, she was forced to care for the couple’s three young children, cook and clean, said sheriff’s deputy George Crysler, the case investigator. She was also forced to have sex with Hernandez and occasionally sold as a sex slave, he said.
In addition, the suspects allegedly made the girl lie about her age to get a job at a restaurant and then kept her wages.
The victim was beaten whenever she refused to participate in sex or did not complete her work to her traffickers’ satisfaction, said Crysler, who added that she was “under the constant threat of physical abuse.”
The captivity lasted 21 months before the girl was beaten so severely that someone reported the situation to authorities. Child Protective Services removed the victim from the home and eventually returned her to her family in Mexico, Mata said.
At the time of the trafficking, the child did not have permission to be in the United States. She has legal status today, according to the sheriff’s department.
In the past decade, law-enforcement agencies and nongovernmental groups across the country have focused on human trafficking and strived to increase awareness of the crime. Human trafficking — labor and sex — rivals drug trafficking as the second most profitable criminal enterprise behind the arms trade.
National and international leaders have also been paying more attention to the crime, which they said has ensnared tens of millions of people. A study released this week by a San Diego State University researcher estimated that 31 percent of unauthorized immigrants who were surveyed had experienced labor trafficking, often including sexual abuse.
Experts said foreigners are often lured to the U.S. with promises of a better life, but find themselves sold for sex or working in terrible conditions with little to no pay. Confinement can be physical as well as psychological.
Trafficking victims can also be U.S. citizens — including those enslaved by gangs, which have become involved in sex trafficking in recent years, said Don Stump, executive director of North County Lifeline. His organization provides counseling and mental-health services to victims of trafficking and child abuse, among other clients.
Lifeline is helping the victim in the Oceanside case, but Stump said he could not give specifics to protect the victim and maintain her privacy.
“She has been a very cooperative and forthright client in working with law enforcement because she wants to see some justice,” said Stump, whose organization hosted a daylong conference about trafficking on Friday in Oceanside. “The biggest challenge right now with human trafficking is making sure the services are in place for the victims, but also making sure the community is aware of the specifics of trafficking right in their own neighborhoods.”
Mata of the sheriff’s department said when the young woman returned to the U.S., she was encouraged to come forward by someone close to her. She had begun to experience flashbacks and showed symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
She sought help from the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, which works with trafficking victims. The group, based in National City, helped reopen her juvenile case and notify authorities about the abuse she had suffered as a child.
Marisa Ugarte, director of the coalition, said her organization maintains victims’ confidentiality. She did say the survivor in this case is no longer a client.
“There are many, many cases like this one,” Ugarte said. “The most important part now is that she is here and she is going to get justice.”
One challenge for groups that help trafficking victims is that unauthorized immigrants, including children, are often returned to their native country even though they may qualify for legal status as a victim of trafficking or other crimes. In such situations, including the Oceanside case, the alleged abusers are not prosecuted.
Hernandez and Garcia are in jail and will be arraigned early next week. A spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s office said it is too soon to comment on the case.