Argentine mom rescues hundreds of sex slaves

By Emily Schmall

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 10 2012 10:50 p.m. MST

More than 150 witnesses testified in the trial, including a dozen former sex slaves who described brutal conditions in the brothels.

Veron may have been kidnapped twice, with the complicity of the very authorities who should have protected her, according to Julio Fernandez, who now runs a Tucuman police department devoted to investigating human trafficking. He testified that witnesses reported seeing Veron at a bus station three days after she initially disappeared, and that a police officer from La Rioja, Domingo Pascual Andrada, delivered her to a brothel there. Andrada, now among the defendants, denied knowing any of the other defendants, let alone Veron.

Other Tucuman police testified that when they sought permission in 2002 to search La Rioja brothels, a judge made them wait for hours, enabling Veron's captors to move her. That version was supported by a woman who had been a prostitute at the brothel: She testified that Veron was moved just before police arrived. The judge, Daniel Moreno, is not on trial. He denied delaying the raid or having anything to do with the defendants.

Some of the former prostitutes said they had seen Veron drugged and haggard. One testified Veron felt trapped and missed her daughter. Another said she spotted Veron with dyed-blonde hair and an infant boy she was forced to conceive in a rape by a ringleader. A third thought Veron had been sold to a brothel in Spain — a lead reported to Interpol.

Trimarco's campaign to find her daughter led the State Department to provide seed money for a foundation in Veron's name. To date, it has rescued more than 900 women and girls from sex trafficking. The foundation also provides housing, medical and psychological aid, and it helps victims sue former captors.

Argentina outlawed human trafficking in 2008, thanks in large part to the foundation's work. A new force dedicated to combating human trafficking has liberated nearly 3,000 more victims in two years, said Security Minister Nilda Garre, who wrote a newspaper commentary saying the trial's verdict should set an example.

Whatever the verdict, Trimarco's lawyer, Carlos Garmendia, says the case has already made a difference.

"Human trafficking was an invisible problem until the Marita (Veron) case," Garmendia said. "The case has put it on the national agenda."

But Trimarco wants more. "I had hoped they would break down and say what they'd done with Marita," she said.

"I feel here in my breast that she is alive and I'm not going to stop until I find her," Trimarco said. "If she's no longer in this world, I want her body."

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