I spent five months in Mexico, the United States, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine for this piece, among victims, police, and federal agents and trafficking networks, carrying out what was at times an emotionally and physically harrowing investigation. "The Girls Next Door"-cited by the Overseas Press Club for Best International Reporting on Human Rights Issues and the most requested and widely read NewYork Times story of 2004, and the most thoroughly fact-checked in the history of the New York Times Magazine- sparked a national conversation, and a wave of controversy. The story made people feel terrible, and the attacks against it were organized. And yet the truths the story laid out were incontrovertible. While the controversy was bolstered by little more than blog-esque ad hominem rhetoric and unsubstantiated and at times hysterical disbelief, in the real world-the corridors of power in Washington, D.C.; Mexico City; Rome; and London (among other capitals), and in the streets where girls and young women are "disappeared" inside these networks-the story has had a profound and tangible effect:
Government officials continually report to me the many ways the story changed policy inside the Department of Justice and the Bush administration, which had believed sex trafficking to be a problem in Asia and Eastern Europe but not in the United States. Multiple federal and state task forces and initiatives were established in the story's wake. Two weeks after publication, Mexican and United States authorities performed simultaneous raids on one of the trafficking networks the story identifies. Its victims held captive in New York City and Mexico were rescued and entered into a witness protection program. The infant of one of them-held by the traffickers as collateral in Mexico-was also saved. The principles in the network were arrested and are now being tried in the United States. That same week, a sex trafficking ring operating near Disneyland-another place the story identified-was broken up, its principles arrested. Federal authorities have since surveilled and raided the San Diego trafficking network exposed by the story, rescuing dozens of its captives. Cities such as Los Angeles have begun to train its police officers to recognize sex trafficking when they see it. Embarrassed by the story's revelations, the Mexican government- through its intelligence agency, CISEN-founded a task force to fight sex trafficking in Mexico.
But perhaps most importantly, "The Girls Next Door" sparked a national conversation about sex slavery, the use and captivity of thousands of foreign girls and young women in America. I am frequently buttonholed by NGO experts and government officials- including a number of Justice officials and federal prosecutors, and one high official from the Department of Health and Human and Services-that this article was not only groundbreaking in its accuracy, but represented a watershed moment in the understanding of this barbaric economy.