When, at 14, she called her father in Mexico, begging for help to escape a ruthless husband who was forcing her to have sex with as many as 40 men a day at brothels scattered around West Palm Beach, she said he instead offered to find her a less violent pimp.
But, in her small hometown of Tenancingo, about two hours south of Mexico City, her plight elicited neither sympathy nor outrage. Her father received regular checks for her work. Her three sisters work as prostitutes. Her brother is a pimp.
Indeed, with a sizable portion of its 12,000 residents supporting themselves from the prostitution trade, the town has been dubbed the sex trafficking capital of the world by U.S. government and nonprofit officials who work to curb human trafficking.
But, despite the lack of family support, her young age and her dire situation, Y.B. and other young women helped federal prosecutors build a case against their captors.
On Monday, she was rewarded when her former husband was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the scheme that operated out of houses and apartments in Grandview Heights, near Phipps Park and off Mercer Avenue in West Palm Beach as well as other locations in South Florida.
“It’s just horrific for a man to force his wife into prostitution when she was so young — 14 years old,” Marra said in rejecting Timoteo Reyes Perez’s pleas for mercy. “It’s despicable.”
Marra scoffed at Reyes Perez’s testimony that his young wife wanted to sell her body to help them succeed in their adopted homeland and didn’t want to stand in her way. “That’s astounding that anyone would admit to that,” he said, adding that he didn’t believe him.
Instead, he said, he believed Y.B., who described the beatings, the threats, the sexually transmitted diseases she contracted and her failed efforts to kill herself while under Reyes Perez’s control.
“Timoteo would beat me often and abuse me sexually,” she told Marra, through a Spanish translator. “The men to whom he sold me were very aggressive and they would beat me. Timoteo didn’t care.”
She and Reyes Perez, who is 12 years her senior, stole across the Mexican border into Arizona shortly after they were married in 2007. They went to New York City, where Reyes Perez said his brother also worked as a pimp. It wasn’t until they moved to Atlanta, Ga., to his cousin’s house, that she said, “my nightmare began.”
It continued when they moved to the Miami area. From a home in Kendall, she and other young girls would be driven to brothels and stash houses in West Palm Beach. In brothels, including one across from the Armory Arts Center in the city’s proudly gentrified Grandview Heights neighborhood, up to 40 men a day would pay her $25 for a 15-minute “date,” she said.
The operation unraveled in 2008 when Y.B. and the others were rescued by federal agents. Five other Mexican nationals, pleaded guilty to various sex trafficking charges, and received sentences ranging from five to about 13 years.
By then, Reyes Perez, 35, had returned to Mexico. He was eventually picked up, held in a Mexican jail for about a year before being brought back to face charges. He pleaded guilty in March to sex trafficking of a minor.
His attorney Jonathan Friedman said Reyes Perez was also a victim of the “twisted” culture of his hometown. Reyes Perez apologized for his actions. “I am very much ashamed,” he said.
Y.B., who is now 23, married with two children and living in Washington State, said she ignored her family’s wishes and agreed to testify against Reyes-Perez for a simple reason. “So this nightmare will never happen to another young girl again — an innocent young girl, like I was,” she said.