As the political system of Venezuela continues to collapse, the country’s women and girls seeking asylum are being trafficked at increased rates, according to a new report obtained by Fox News.
Refugees International’s report, “Seeking Safety: Confronting Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Venezuelan Women and Girls,” claims that many of these victims are placed right in the crosshairs of traffickers because there are not enough “legal pathways” for them to seek asylum in neighboring countries like Colombia and Ecuador. They are then forced into fleeing their country through illegal means within the black market, making them susceptible to traffickers looking to place them into forced sex work or labor.
“As the situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate, we see more human trafficking because people are desperate for money for survival, transportation, and/or safety—sometimes all of the above,” Devon Cone, co-author of the report told Fox News.
“Given that women and girls are generally a group more vulnerable to exploitation than some others, it is not surprising that with more people fleeing the country, so too more women and girls are being trafficked,” she added.
Cone and her team carried out field research on Venezuelan refugees and migrants in countries like Columbia, Ecuador, Trinidad, and Tobago, and Curaҫao. They discovered that many Venezuelans do not have enough viable options provided to them to claim asylum and were there through illegal means, which have placed female migrants at a greater risk for falling prey to exploitive situations, doing whatever they can to earn money.
Cone said it is difficult to determine a concrete number as to how many women have been trafficked but it’s clear that the problem is rampant.
“[T]hose figures don’t really exist---certainly not accurate numbers,” she said. “Given the fact that Venezuelan women and girls have been trafficked within the country domestically and to half a dozen other countries outside of the country, there is no one number that captures it all.”
Traffickers often advertise directly to Venezuelan woman and girls that they can gain a job and legal status within another country, but once they arrive, they find themselves either working for no pay or forced to engage in sex work.
“Venezuelan women and girls targeted by traffickers are usually trafficked for sex work, but trafficking for the purposes of forced labor is also high,” Cone said. “Many of the women and girls are indeed trafficked both for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor, often a combination of both even within the same case.”
Cone adds that the experience among Venezuelan female victims of trafficking varies but can be especially horrific in certain circumstances.
“Many are forced to engage in sex work, some being forced to service dozens of men a day,” she said. “Some are beaten if they don’t do as they are told and their traffickers or ‘employers’ threaten to kill them to keep them silent.”
“We heard reports of others that were locked in houses with their movements restricted. Finally, some are told that if they report the abuse, their families will be hurt. This can lead the victims to fear the repercussions their families might face at home if the women talk to the authorities.”
More than four million Venezuelans have fled the troubled nation since the Crisis in Venezuela began, according to a separate UN report. Due to the nation’s economic collapse, basic necessities like food, water, and medicine have become scarce and many of its citizens have fallen prey to widespread crime and targeted political persecution.
The surge in trafficking is likely due to the fact that many of the countries that take in Venezuelan refugees cannot handle processing the sheer amount of claims for asylum. This has made hard for those fleeing to do so through legal channels.
“Countries in the region each have their own mechanisms for Venezuelans to remain in their countries legally, such as offering residence permits, work visas, etc., but key protection for many Venezuelans lies in being able to register and seek asylum,” Cone said. “When countries make it difficult for Venezuelans to enter legally and claim asylum, it just pushes them to rely on smugglers, some of which take advantage of the situation and turn the relationship into human trafficking.”
“[A] common practice is for human traffickers to promise transportation out of Venezuela, a job, and legal status in a safer country, but instead the women and girls are trafficked.”