Sexual exploitation Statistics that the UN says amounts to slavery is forcing girls and their families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to seek refuge in Mexico
Sara Rincn was walking home from college in the capital of El Salvador when she was confronted by three heavily tattooed gang members who had been harassing her for weeks.
The groups leader a man in his 30s, with the figure 18 etched on to his shaven head threw her against a wall, and with his hands around her neck gave her one last warning.
He said no woman had ever turned him down, and if I refused to be his girlfriend, he would kill me and my family. I didnt want to leave home but after that we couldnt stay; we left for Mexico in the middle of the night, said Rincn, forcing a smile through her tears.
Increasing numbers of women and girls are fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras amid mounting evidence that criminal gangs are systematically targeting adolescent girls as sexual slaves.
More than 20 years after peace deals were signed to end vicious conflicts between the regions leftwing guerrillas and US-backed dictatorships, the three countries of the so-called Northern Triangle are still struggling with the consequences of war.
Corrupt security forces, international drug cartels and warring street gangs have helped turn the Northern Triangle into the worlds most dangerous region outside an official war zone. And the threat of sexual violence against women and girls has become a growing factor behind the refugee crisis that is quietly unfolding on Americas doorstep.