For The Madera Tribune
Jesus Raimundo led out by officers of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). Raimundo was arrested last year for allegedly running a brothel.
Girls and young women who have been lured into lives of prostitution in Madera and other valley cities often find themselves working almost like slaves in brothels.
Unlike street prostitution, the brothel avenue of the sex trade preys on the hopes of young immigrants, and after they are smuggled across the border, working in a brothel turns them into the equivalent of indentured servants, having to engage in sex with a revolving door of men — often dozens of johns in a single day, with no rest.
These young victims, some as young as 13, will rarely, if ever, leave the confines of the house, and if they ever try to flee the brothel or quit, they are told they face retribution against their loved ones.
According to Madera Police Sgt. Daniel Foss, the women and girls involved in brothel prostitution are predominantly foreign, most often from Central or South America. These victims, Foss stated, are often aware that they will be made to have sex for money in exchange for passage into the United States, but are kept longer than they were told by the people smuggling them in.
“A lot of them have come here knowing that’s what they’re going to do. They’re not doing it willingly, so much, but it’s indentured servitude,” Foss said. “‘I’ll get you to the Americas, but you’ve got to do this for two years.’ But once you start doing it, you do it until they say you’re done doing it.”
Once inside the brothel, the victim will be made by their pimp to have sex with anyone who happens to come in.
“Those girls would have sex with around 30 guys a day on average, and in some cases it would be closer to 100 guys in a day,” said Madera Police Sgt. Josiah Arnold, who works in the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). “And they weren’t showering in between, or leaving the room in any way in between. They would clean themselves as best they could, and the next guy would walk in.”
The girls may receive a cut of the money, which is then sent back to their families.
Foss said that while the victims of brothels do not typically face the same dangers as a girl on the streets, they have their own risks from pimps and less freedom, often being confined to the house where they are being used.
“In the brothel, the pimps do tend to be more controlling, so they might not be allowed to leave ever,” Foss said. “They do have one room, that they get some sense of individuality of, but they don’t get to leave that room ever.”
Even if a girl in the brothel does flee, she will often have no idea where to run to, or even where she is.
“A lot of those girls in the brothels, especially in this area, are Mexican citizens. They haven’t even seen outside. They don’t know what city they’re in. They’re much more at a loss. If they do try to escape, they have even less avenue of where to go.”
Also, like a girl on the streets, the victims of a brothel are often bought by and sold to other pimps.
Law enforcement in Madera County, however, has been fighting back.
According to Arnold, the SIU has made several raids over the years in which not only were the brothels broken up and the girls rescued, but the pimps themselves were placed under arrest.
The investigations into these brothels were most often prompted by tips from concerned neighbors.
“A lot of times, the complaints come from neighbors because there are so many guys going in and out,” Arnold said. “A true brothel that’s up and running is really, really, obvious. Usually, it doesn’t take a very long surveillance to know what’s going on.”
Unfortunately, after the rescue, it often becomes apparent just how bad things were for the brothel girls. It isn’t unusual, Arnold stated, to find a trash can filled with used condoms next to the bed, and they would typically have to go in five-minute intervals with each john. The intimidation used on the girls was also evident following a rescue.
“Typically, you don’t get an honest answer from these girls, for, like years. And we never had a place to put them,” Arnold said. “The first time we hit a brothel, the girls were very young, they were 18 years old. They told us that they were afraid that if they ever tried to quit, their bosses would kill their families.”
Unlike trafficking found in streets, where prevention can be enacted through education, Foss stated that the situation is different in brothels, as they are from other countries, making it difficult to warn them.
“One way is border security. If they’re not allowed to cross illegally, and they have to go through proper channels, they’re not going to be subjected to these illegal techniques after,” Foss said. “They’re doing this because they crossed illegally. Now they have to pay the (smuggler) who’s using them in this brothel.”
Most of the work to stop this form of prostitution is a matter of breaking up the brothels after they’re discovered.
“In those cases,” Arnold said, “we basically end up saving the girl because of someone calling and saying that something doesn’t look right.”