From Development to Deviance: Sexual Exploitation in Tenancingo, Tlaxcala, Mexico


Tlaxcala-Puebla Metropolitan Area

(“Puebla-Tlaxcala (Metropolitan Area, Metropolitan Areas)”)

In extending conversations on Reproductive Health to discuss realities affecting girls and women around the world, it is important to discuss sexual exploitation, especially in the context of development. Sexual exploitation — or, more specifically, commercial sexual exploitation, or prostitution — is a practice that occurs across the world: from New York City, to Tlaxcala, Mexico, to Worcester, Massachusetts. In applying a gender lens, sexual exploitation as a whole disproportionally affects women. While it certainly not only women that contribute to the estimated statistic of 20.9 million sexually exploited persons per year (“Global Sex Trafficking Sheet” 1), girls and women make up 98% of sexually exploited individuals (“Global Sex Trafficking Sheet” 1).

But before discussing how this manifests in Tenancinco, I want to introduce some contemporary discourse around sexual exploitation. Recently, Amnesty International has been known for its call to decriminalize all aspects of “sex work” (Murphy 1).While the organization has firmly stated that it does not ally with “sex work that … involve[s] coersion, sexual exploitation, or abuse” (Murphy 1), the article “Sex Workers’ Rights are Human Rights” features very little discussion on the fundamental power differences involved in sexual exploitation in the vast majority of instances. That is, victims of exploitation are subject to abuse or an unfulfilling lifestyle, in which they are led to believe that prostitution is their only choice. In some cases, people are physically enslaved; held captive to the sex trade industry. Other times, “pimps” will inflict emotional and verbal abuse, leading the victimized person to believe that they do not have any viable options if they were to exit “the life” of prostitution. In any case, sexually exploited individuals are reminded that there will always be a demand for sex each time they are purchased — a moral discussion that Amnesty International directly avoids.

What I want to make very clear is that, while there may be an argument to be made for people who make the informed, enthusiastic choice to engage in “sex work”, the majority of the time, people do not choose to exploited.

Coming back to the theme of the blog, sexual exploitation is worsened with the pressures of development and globalization. A prime example of this takes place in Tenancinco: a small city within the state of Tlaxcala, Mexico — about eighty miles southeast of  Mexico City (Pearson 1). Otherwise surrounded by mountainous areas (“Puebla-Tlaxcala”) consisting of poorer, rural populations (Lakhini 1), Tenancinco is near the metropolitan area of Puebla-Tlaxcala; an area that has been industrialized in the past half-century. The state of Tlaxcala is a major producer of “textiles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, machinery, automotive parts, handicrafts and other goods” (“Puebla-Tlaxcala”).

However, the conditions in Tenancinco worsened as factory jobs throughout the Tlaxcala region proved to be undesirable (OECD). As time went on, more and more of the town’s economy was sustained by sex trade (Pearson 1): first throughout Mexico, and now in New York as well. Today, there are generations of boys that grow up “aspiring to be traffickers” (Pearson 1). The Guardian writes: “This improbable crime story began in the 1950s after industrialisation, when working-age men returned home from neighbouring states to find few opportunities beyond badly paid factory jobs. Pimping and trafficking, which they had seen while working away, was a way to get ahead, and many set up small, family-run sexual exploitation rings” (Pearson 1).

As mentioned before, Tenancinco is surrounded by impoverished regions, extending into Southern Mexico and Guatemala (WBUR). Many of the people in these areas identify as  indigenous; a facet that is not indicative of privilege in Mexico (Lakhini 1). A common practice is for a family of traffickers to send a young man to these neighboring communities, particularly, a man that is trained to entice young women with promises of a better life: more money, a better lifestyle, and love (Lakhini 1). The young women are then brought to Tenancinco, where they are sexually exploited, while physically and emotionally enslaved (Lakhini 1).

Prostitution is so embedded into the culture of Tenancinco, traffickers seem to have no problem with visibility. Across the landscape of modest, working-class dwellings, families of traffickers will have built extravagant properties, adorned with excess decoration, some say in order to block the windows (Moreno-Taxman 20). Additionally, on highways leading out of Tenancinco, “nighclubs and motels” are conveniently placed as areas for “motorists” to solicit sex (Lakhini 1). Even public celebrations will feature “revelers as caped pimps”, that outwardly “parade their prostitutes” (Pearson 1). While Mexico has attempted to take legal action, the culture of sexual exploitation is so prevalent, it has become fairly accepted (Pearson 1).

Recently, sexually exploited individuals have been trafficked into the United States: particularly to the neighborhood of Queens in New York City (WBUR). Since then, United States law enforcement has been involved in the criminalization of families in Tenancinco (Lakhini 1). But once again — is the United States doing the right thing? After all, it is because of powers in the United States that communities in the Pueblo-Tlaxcala area cannot find desirable and sustaining work. While I believe that any trafficker should be criminalized, it is important to look at the societal implications of sexual exploitation.

What would happen if industrialization was never implemented in Mexico? How many girls and women would be saved from sexual exploitation?

Works Cited

“Global Sex Trafficking Sheet”. Equality Now. Equality Now, n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.

Murphy, Catherine.”Sex Workers’ Rights are Human Rights”. Amnesty International. Amnesty International, 14 Aug. 2015. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.

Lakhani, Nina. “Tenancingo: The small town at the heart of Mexico’s sex-slave trade”. The Guardian. The Guardian, 4 Apr. 2015. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.

Moreno-Taxman, Karlene. “Human Trafficking Mexico: International Human Trafficking Victims from Mexico to Your Community”. Eastern District of Wisconsin. United States Department of Justice, n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.

OECD. OECD Territorial Reviews: Puebla-Tlaxcala, Mexico 2013. OECD Publishing, 2013. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.

Pearson, Erica. “Small Mexican town of Tenancingo is major part of sex trafficking pipeline to New York”. New York Daily News. Daily News, 3 Jun. 2012. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.

“Prostitution Pipeline To U.S. Begins in Tenancingo, Mexico”. Here & Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson. WBUR, 30 Jun. 2014. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.

“Puebla-Tlaxcala (Metropolitan Area, Metropolitan Areas)”.  Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática, Mexico. City Population Data, n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.



The Politics of Underwear: Access and Attitudes on Sexuality in Sri Lanka


          Last week, I introduced the topic of reproductive justice in a globalizing world, stressing time and time again the importance of looking at the movement as intersectional with race and nationality. This week, I will be incorporating race by specifically discussing the cultural tensions between white, American women and Sinhalese women in Sri Lanka.

Additionally, last week’s post loosely revolved around themes of sterilization and long-term birth control. However, it is important to keep in mind that the control of pregnancy and birth are not the only facets of the movement. Instead of merely focusing on birth control, conversations about the reproductive justice movement in Sri Lanka will focus on attitudes about sexuality as a whole.


             In a chapter titled The Politics of Underwear in Caitrin Lynch’s Juki Girls, we learn about how globalization and the implementation of export-processing zones comes into conflict with Sri Lankan attitudes on sexuality. The chapter is central to ahinsaka, or “good girls” in Sri Lanka (Lynch 93) — an identifier that is challenged by juki girls, or female workers in EPZs, especially when manufacturing underwear. Lynch claims that in Sri Lanka, the colloquial use of the word underwear is loosely translated to “unmentionables” (Lynch 94). The product is a taboo, and is often made at home rather than purchased (Lynch 94). In connecting to globalization, Lynch claims “the implication was that innocent girls, who should simply be associated with local traditions, were now working in the global capitalist industry. Worse yet, they were sewing immoral products for white women” (Lynch 93).

This is a direct connection for how the influences of powerful nations hinder reproductive justice. Not only has the United States had a hand in implementing the factories that directly conflict with Sri Lankan values, but furthermore, it has served as a place in which the people are a taboo, not just the product. Suddi, or white women, are “hypersexualized figures” in Sri Lanka (Lynch 94). That is, there is a combination of women from a culture with a lack of sexual discourse, combined with both a product and a population that is seen as very sexual.

This conflict of cultures manifests in horrific ways for workers in EPZs. In 2014, one of Sri Lanka’s headline newspapers, ColomboPage, wrote an article on the increase of rape and assault in the country. Often times, sexual assault will occur within the factory, operating on structures of power. One women says “‘I am in search of new work, but I am afraid to take a job at another garment factory. There is no protection for women,’ she said. ‘I was not the first to be raped and I am scared that it will happen again'” (ColumboPage 1). In 2011, the United Nations claimed in a special report that a goal around the world is to “eliminate the exploitation of workers and protect their labour rights through fully enforcing national legislation on labour standards and promoting decent working conditions” (United Nations 6).

However, maybe that is not what Sri Lanka needs. Instead of continuously implementing these factories (and strategies to manage them), superpowers in the United States can stop having underwear produced in Sri Lanka. This is where I recognize my own biases: from a Westernized perspective, my first thought was that Sri Lanka should learn to embrace discussions around sexuality, or at least educate the populous on the idea that “underwear” and “white women” does not necessarily equal “sexuality”. At the same time, though, the Western world seems to generally not care. In my own research, in which I searched “Sri Lanka reproductive health” and “Sri Lanka assault” on BBC, nothing concerning the power dynamics inside and outside the factory appeared. Rather, there was one article on a specific instance of rape and murder (BBC 1).

This goes to suggest that a discourse on sexuality in Sri Lanka cannot be instigated by the Western world, which as a whole, is only doing so for means of production. Instead, I believe that the answer is to fully recognize each factor of the United States’ imposed attitudes of sexuality, whether they are implicit or explicit. It must be looked at an angle in which the reproductive justices of women are more important than manufacturing underwear.

What do you think?


Works Cited

Lynch, Caitrin. Juki Girls, Good Girls. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. 2007. Print.

“Outrage in Sri Lanka over teenager’s rape and murder”. BBC News. British Broadcasting Company, 20 May 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.

“Rapes surge in Sri Lanka amid weak laws”. ColumboPage. ColomboPage, 17 Aug. 2014. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.

United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality. Gender Equality and Trade Policy. United Nations, 2011. Web. 26 Mar. 2011.