Lydia Cacho, the first woman in Mexican history to trail an organized crime ring involved in child pornography and trafficking women, arrived in Turkey in mid-September to receive her award from the Hrant Dink Foundation.
She has interviewed hundreds of victims of human trafficking around the world, including Turkey, and has put her life at risk for her investigative work. She has written several books about the issue and has been honored by many prestigious institutions, the most recent being the Hrant Dink Foundation, established in 2007 after the Jan. 19, 2007 assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
Cacho came to Turkey two years ago and stayed for a month to investigate human trafficking. As she followed the trail of the Russian mafia, she discovered that it had links to the British mafia and that Turkey is a transit route.
“Turkey is very similar to Italy, where the mafia is well-known and intertwined with the state. Drug dealing in the mafia is controlled by the state in both Italy and Turkey,” she told Sunday’s Zaman in an interview in İstanbul.
She told the story of a Croatian woman to demonstrate how women, especially young ones, are conned.
“A pretty 17-year-old woman from Croatia was hired to provide some nursing assistance to an elderly woman in İstanbul. But upon arrival she was put in a small house downtown and they told her that she no longer had a job and should pay for her trip back through prostitution. She was exploited every day and, after six months, an immigration officer came to raid the brothel with police and she told me that one of the policemen in the raid was a client. She was then deported back to Croatia,” she said.
After interviewing women around the world, Cacho wrote the book “Slaves of Power: A World Map of Sex Traffickers.” She also interviewed many women’s rights activists and academics in Turkey while writing the book.
“Many female academics in Turkey do great academic work, but I am surprised that there is not a big women’s movement here. They all told me that they know women trafficking is a big problem in Turkey, but why isn’t that issue in the media?” Cacho asked, adding that it is obvious that women’s studies departments at universities have increased in Turkey, but young women are not yet political.
“Young women are not politically visible,” she said in regard to Turkish women, as opposed to women in her home country of Mexico. She noted that 8,000 women and girls are being sold as slaves in Mexico a year. The drug lords in Mexico and Colombia are not just involved in drug dealing, she said, they are also involved in the trafficking of women.
“They are making more money from selling women than selling drugs,” she added.
About her connection to investigating the trafficking of women, Cacho said she has some early childhood memories. “My mother told me when I was as young as 7 years old not to go to certain places in the city to avoid getting abducted,” she said, but she has no personal attachment to the issue beyond being a curious journalist.
She has been imprisoned for her work and faces continued threats on her life.
“A month ago, I received an email and phone call threatening me. I used to have three federal agents protecting me day and night. One mobster wanted to kill me, so the government gave me protection, but I was suspicious that the agents might be involved in the mafia so I have no guards anymore. I take care of myself. I take safety precautions all the time,” she said.
Cacho’s work has touched many people’s lives. She founded a high security shelter for battered and sexually exploited women and children in Mexico. Defamation laws were also decriminalized after she was jailed when one of the pedophiles she named sued her. Because of her work, new laws were passed against sex trafficking and child prostitution and pornography in Mexico.
Cacho stepped into the public spotlight after exposing a pedophilia ring in Cancún, Quintana Roo, with her book “Los Demonios del Edén” (Demons of Eden). Cacho became renowned for both her refusal to back down from those in power and her staunch defense of freedom of the press.
Her latest book “Slaves of Power” was released in Mexico last September and in only seven months the book has been translated into French, Italian, German, Swedish, Croatian, English, Dutch and Portuguese and has also been published in Spain, Argentina and Colombia. It will soon be published in Turkey and Japan. She is a member of the Red Internacional de Periodistas con Visión de Género (International Network of Journalists with a Vision on Gender), which is dedicated to addressing gender issues within journalism.
Big reaction to Hrant Dink’s assassination in Mexico
Lydia Cacho recalls that Mexican journalists and the Armenian population in Mexico reacted strongly to Hrant Dink’s assassination, which remains unsolved after almost five years.
The public prosecutor recently linked a cell of Ergenekon -- a clandestine underground network accused of inciting chaos and plotting to overthrow the government -- to the defendants in the case. However, Dink family lawyers point out that the prosecutor has still not called for testimonies from a significant number of public officials to determine their involvement in the preparation and perpetration of the Dink murder or their efforts to conceal and tamper with evidence afterwards. Dink, founder and editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, had become a target for the General Staff after writing an article. He was charged with “insulting Turkishness” and sentenced to six months in prison, despite an opposing expert opinion, and became a target of negative mass media propaganda. The Hrant Dink Foundation states that the International Hrant Dink Award is presented to “individuals, organizations or groups that work for a world free of discrimination, racism and violence, take personal risks for their ideals, use the language of peace and, by doing so, inspire and encourage others.” This is the third year that the award has been given on Dink’s birthday, Sept. 15, when it was presented to the Taraf daily’s Editor-in-Chief Ahmet Altan and Mexican journalist Cacho. “I first received an email over the summer and replied that I knew Hrant Dink. It was so magical that I published my book and then got the award,” Cacho said.