Human Trafficking Survivor Karla Jacinto Was Raped 43,200 Times as a Teen—Now She's Telling Her Story to Congress and the Pope

She was forced into prostitution at 12. Now 23, she's becoming an activist.

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(Image credit: CNN)

Karla Jacinto estimates she was raped 43,200 times as a teen. She was forced into prostitution at age 12 by a man a decade her senior and forced to have sex with up to 30 men a day, seven days a week, for nearly four years. Now 23, she's speaking out to raise awareness about human trafficking, a global issue that enslaves 20 to 30 million people (opens in new tab) around the world. 

It all started when Karla was waiting for her friends near a subway station in her hometown of Mexico City. A little boy selling candy approached her, telling her that someone had sent her a piece of candy as a gift. A few minutes later, a 22-year-old man struck up a conversation with her. He was suave and charming, and they exchanged phone numbers. 

A week later, he convinced her to get into his flashy red car and drive away to a nearby city together. Karla didn't know she was about to enter a four-year nightmare. 

"When I saw the car I couldn't believe it," she told CNN (opens in new tab). "I was very impressed by such a big car. It was exciting for me. He asked me to get in the car to go places."

He showered Karla with clothes, shoes, flowers, chocolate, and attention for the next three months. But there were clear red flags from the start: Sometimes, he'd leave her alone in their shared apartment for a week at a time, and soon, she discovered his cousins were pimps.

"A few days later he started telling me everything I had to do; the positions, how much I need to charge, the things I had to do with the client and for how long, how I was to treat them and how I had to talk to them so that they would give me more money," she said.

When one customer gave her a hickey, her trafficker beat her brutally with a chain and burned her with an iron.

She was forced to work from 10 a.m. to midnight in different cities, shuffling around to various motels, brothels, and streets known for prostitution. When one customer gave her a hickey, her trafficker beat her brutally with a chain and burned her with an iron. When she begged to leave, he accused her of falling in love with a customer. 

The police didn't help. One day, they shut down the hotel she was working in, but instead of rescuing her and the other girls, 30 officers forced the girls into compromising positions to shoot videos, and threatened to send the videos to the girls' families.

At 15, Karla gave birth to her trafficker's daughter. Instead of celebrating the joyous occasion, he threatened to hurt or even kill the baby if Karla didn't comply with his wishes.

She was finally rescued at 16, and has spent the past several years healing from her ordeal. In May, she addressed the U.S. Congress to support Megan's Law (opens in new tab), a policy that requires American authorities to share information about American child sex offenders who attempt to travel abroad. In July, she told her story to Pope Francis at the Vatican.

"These minors are being abducted, lured, and yanked away from their families," she told CNN in her heartbreaking interview. "Don't just listen to me. You need to learn about what happened to me and take the blindfold off your eyes."

To report a tip or request services from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, dial the 24/7 hotline 1-888-373-7888. 

Hannah Orenstein
Hannah Orenstein