You've probably heard of the gang known as Mara Salvatrucha, or more commonly MS-13. They've been around since the 1980s but have been making headlines over the last few weeks after President Trump vowed to destroy them during a law-and-order speech in Long Island. One of the scariest things about MS-13 is how they recruit innocent young women with the aim of converting them into hardened criminals.
MS are an international criminal gang who formed during El Salvador's in the 80s, many people left for safety to places like Los Angeles, however safety wasn't waiting for them. The Salvadoran migrants formed a violent gang. Many were deported back to El Salvador, taking the the gang with them.
Today there is so much violence in El Salvador that it's said one person dies on average every hour, most of the killing is over territory, although unfortunately innocent members of the public are often caught up in the violence.
MS-13 is now estimated to have around 10,000 members across the United States and beyond. The gang's criminal network extends into Canada, Mexico, and Central America as well as many parts of the US, most notably in Washington, D.C. and Long Island, New York.
The gang, who were labeled as "animals" earlier this year by President Trump, are known for their use of violence and for their characteristic tattoos which cover their bodies and often faces too.
Of course the violent attacks and murders are scary enough, it's believed MS-13 were responsible for 17 murders between n the first four months of 2016 in Long Island alone, but another thing that makes the gang so terrifying is how they target young girls and trick them into joining their numbers.
Gang members usually trick teenage girls into joining the gang with parties and drugs. At first this all seems very innocent so as not to scare the girls away, and so as not to rouse the suspicions of the target's family. The gang members generally play on the target's emotions, they will pretend to like her, make her feel popular, all the while trying to get her hooked on free drugs.
Gradually things get more sinister as the girls are introduced to more and more of the gangs' way of life, the once a girl starts to feel comfortable within the gang, they make their move to trap her and claim her as one of them.
One of the first things the gang do to assert their power over the girl is to talk her into getting a gang tattoo, from this moment on she is branded as one of them, it's a stigma as people in the community and in rival gangs will recognise that marking, already she is at risk and isolated.
Next the real initiation begins, this can include them being made to carry out violent acts to prove their loyalty. These act can be things such as attacking innocent members of the public, carrying out "hits" on rival gangs, or luring rival gang members into situations where the gang can carry out violent attacks. The initiation can also include a process known as "sexing in" where the are encouraged to sleep with multiple gang members.
From this point on their are limited outcomes for the once innocent girls, they are either forced to work in the sex trade to earn extra revenue for the gang, attracting their customers online or the streets. Some girls may be sent around the world, never to see their families again, to assist the gang's drug traffic efforts and for other girls the only outcome is prison.
Prison can be tough for girls who have been inducted into a gang, their tattoos identify them to fellow inmates who maybe in rival gangs, and can be at the mercy of more senior female gang members.
At the end of July 2017 President Trump traveled to the New York suburb of Long Island, where MS-13 gang members have been increasingly wreaking havoc. The president gave a speech to local police officers, vowing to "destroy the vile criminal cartel".
In the speech, which came just one day after over a hundred suspected MS-13 gang members were arrested by Salvadorian authorities, Trump said, "they kidnap. They extort. They rape and they rob, they stomp on their victims. They beat them with clubs, they slash them with machetes, and they stab them with knives. They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields. They're animals"