The MS-13 gang got its start among immigrants from El Salvador in the 1980s. Since then, reports NPR, the gang has built operations in 42 states, where members typically deal in drugs and weapons. In the Washington, D.C., suburb of Fairfax County, Va., one of the nation’s wealthiest places, authorities have brought five cases in the past year that focus on gang members who have pushed women, sometimes very young women, into prostitution.
“We all know that human trafficking is an issue around the world,” says Neil MacBride, the top federal prosecutor. “We hear about child brothels in Thailand and brick kilns in India, but it’s something that’s in our own backyard, and in the last year we’ve seen street gangs starting to move into sex trafficking.” One MS-13 member nicknamed “Sniper” recently was sent to prison for the rest of his life. Another will spend 24 years behind bars for compelling two teenage girls to sell themselves for money. Usually, investigators say, gang members charge between $30 and $50 a visit, and the girls are forced into prostitution 10 to 15 times a day. It’s easy money for MS-13 — thousands of dollars in a weekend, with virtually no costs. Often, the activity takes place at construction sites, in the parking lots of convenience stores and gas stations.