by Amanda Kloer
La Cabana, a Mexican restaurant in Atlanta suburb Woodstock, GA, was famous for two things — the beef tacos in the front of the house and the young women and teen girls selling sex in the back. That’s because this Mexican restaurant was a front for a human trafficking operation from Central and South America to metro Atlanta. Selling ethnic foods by day and human beings by night is a trend among traffickers all over the country.
At La Cabana, women and girls as young as 15 were smuggled from Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador into the U.S. While the restaurant was open, they served customers plates of Hispanic delicacies. But after the kitchen closed, the restaurant became a gentleman’s club, and they serviced the mostly Hispanic male audience sexually. In a back room, the women and girls were forced to engage in prostitution to pay off their smuggling debt. Interestingly enough, none of the news reports I found on this case called it human trafficking. But if this isn’t human trafficking, then I’ll buy Rush Limbaugh’s greatest hits tape.
Keeping trafficking operations within one cultural, racial, or ethic group are one technique traffickers use tp avoid detection by the police. The philosophy is that operating a criminal enterprise within a community of “friends” is safer. This happens often with suburban brothels in private homes that sell cater exclusively to Korean men, Hispanic men, East African men, etc. But large numbers of men going in and out of a private home at odd hours might look suspicious to neighbors. Therefore, an ethnic restaurant provides an ideal cover for the traffickers. Plus, they have two sources of income from the women they are exploiting: their labor in the restaurant and their sexual exploitation. In this case, fortunately, the police were a couple steps ahead.
The La Cabana trafficking ring got busted because someone, presumably who lived in the area, called in a tip about the loud music late at night and Hispanic women going in and out of the building frequently. This is one more example of how people like you, just by being aware of your surroundings, can help trafficked people to safety. If you see something suspicious, don’t trick yourself into believing you’re the Dark Knight and go running in guns-or-video-cameras-blazing. But do call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888 or call local law enforcement.