On January 14, 2019, a known associate of the MS-13 gang, Feliz Silva-Zuniga, was tried in the Montgomery County Circuit court of Maryland for allegedly paying to have sex with a 14-year-old girl and then subsequently blackmailing her with a video he took of the rape. ABC7 obtained court documents related to this case and found that the girl was trafficked by the Pinos Locos section of MS-13.
This girl was working as a cocktail waitress at Lilly’s Restaurant in downtown Wheaton where she was coerced into selling cocaine and marijuana in addition to serving alcohol. When she attempted to quit on one occasion, she was beaten with a baseball bat with over 25 blows. The situation with Silva-Zuniga started with gang member Willian Benavides-Pena ordering her to flirt with Silva-Zuniga as they met him while walking down the street. In the end, Benavides-Pena told her to go home with the older man and he needed her to “do him a favor” because “this man has a lot of money”.
Silva-Zuniga then proceeded to take her to a home near Wheaton High School and had sexual intercourse with her after she disclosed that she was only 14 years old. After the encounter, he told her that he had recorded the whole thing and would leak the footage if she did not continue having sex with him. Out of fear, she continued having relations with him five to six times after the first meeting.
The Reality of Sex Trafficking in Modern America
This is not an uncommon situation. The sad reality is, America has a sex trafficking problem. A nonprofit organization fighting to end modern slavery called Polaris estimates that the number of trafficking victims nationally reaches into the hundreds of thousands. Since 2007, the National Trafficking Hotline has received 34,700 reports of sex trafficking, with 5,500 in 2016 alone.
Women and children are the most vulnerable. Most people who fall victim to sex trafficking are coerced into it by a friend, family member, or often a romantic acquaintance. There is a shocking number of stories of lonely teens with low self-esteem being “courted” and “romanced” by older men, then being asked to have sex with other men to “help them out”. Runaway children are also extremely vulnerable to trafficking. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimated that 1 in 7 runaways were likely to have been sex trafficking victims in 2017.
How We Can Help
Have you or a loved one been a victim of egregious violations such as these? Contact us at Eichholz Law Firm so we can get in touch and talk with you about your options for getting the compensation you deserve for what you have been through. Our firm’s practice areas cover everything from personal injury and negligence to government and class action cases. These horrendous crimes should not go unpunished.