The pandemic increased prostitution and… it ignites the debate in Mexico!

MEXICO.- Rosa María Rodríguez has not had an easy life. Her mother gave her as a newborn to an unknown family. When she was six years old, her stepfather raped her and her adoptive mother kicked her out of the house. She thus became a street girl. She cleaned businesses in the Historic Center and even begged for alms.

But she was never forced to work in the sex service, as happened in times of the pandemic. She at 60 years old.

Two years after this experience that took her to a corner of the red zone of the Mexican capital, Rosa María is grateful because she got ahead, she was able to eat, she had a roof over her head and the dignity to fend for herself. Still, she doesn’t want her on anyone.

The support of the Brigada Callejera Elisa Rodríguez, a civil society organization that supports sex workers, was vital: He gave her the love she needed because she doesn’t get along with her children, without recognized parents and always threatened by society: I was so aggressive!

Rosa María Rodríguez in the Brigada Callejera offices. Photo: Gardenia Mendoza.

Elvira Madrid, president of the organization, says that the pandemic pushed thousands of women into prostitution. Some without previous experience, others who had retired and returned. More those who resisted.

“When the coronoavirus arrived in Mexico, we had 7,200 women accounted for and to date there are 15,200 on public roads in the most important points of this city,” she says.

These points were the usual areas: the La Merced market; the avenues Circunvalación, Tlalpan, Puente de Alvarado. Now there are new places like Xochimilco, Azcapotzalco and Tláhuac.

Sex service in Mexico City is tolerated as unpaid work. It is allowed since Brigada Callejera promoted an amparo and a judge ruled in its favor in sentence 112/2013.

The city government then agreed to give them some cards that give them fiscal identity. and avoids extortion by the police, although from time to time they take advantage of the rookies to fall on top of them and ask for money.

“The sentence applies to the 16 municipalities of Mexico City, but in some of them they do not want to give them because the authorities do not want to lose the business of extorting the girls. Everybody wants to exploit sex service”, denounces Elvira Madrid. “

The activist gives as an example the closure of transit hotels by the hotel authorities at the time of the greatest contagion of covid. “They opened other clandestines where they recorded the girls and then threatened to publish it on networks if they were not paid.”

Rosa María Rodríguez was not filmed. Instead, she took some beatings in mid-2020, when the raids derived from the healthy distance policies tightened.

For a decade she had been a chambermaid at a hotel that closed due to the pandemic. She was then left without sustenance or support of any kind because she lives alone.

“Water, gas, electricity, rent, telephone…there were so many bills to pay!” he recalls.

She took a deep breath and courage to dress with sensuality that an elderly woman can aspire to. She carefully put on her makeup and combed her hair. Lipstick, mascara, painted nails. He chose a corner near the Merced market, known for its tolerance of prostitution and there he found from time to time some clients. When he didn’t have enough he asked for money, he asked for money on the street.

At first there seemed to be no problem. All of a sudden the policemen fell and hit him hard with the baton. They dragged her. When she went through the apartment she remembered that she had once seen on television that there was a group that supported sex workers so that they were not victims of abuse. asking here and there arrived at Brigada callejera without knowing how to read or write.

They were violent times. The organization gave him a pantry and a brochure: the Coronasutra.

She didn’t understand the letters, but she did understand the pictures.

The “Coronasutra” manual ¾a play on words that evokes the Kamasutra and the coronavirus¾ illustrates the sexual positions that represent a lower risk of contagion because there is no face-to-face contact and the prevention measures so that sex workers can continue working and decrease the risk of contagion by Covid-19.

Rosa Maria did not use it for a long time. She soon became involved in social activism for the rights of the Brigada callejera sex workers, where she continues to work for a salary. She helps distribute information to the younger sex workers and with the logistics to coordinate lawyers, psychologists and volunteers.

At the same time, she took out her birth certificate and in April she will be baptized, confirmed. She will make her first communion. She all at once in a ceremony where she will have two godmothers. The mothers she never had, she says through tears of emotion.

“I feel like family, they have taught me to treat others better because I was always mistreated and I treated people the same.”

The idea of ​​Brigada Callejera, which has been operating since 2004, is that sex services be regularized to avoid trafficking and stigmatization. A fight against the current in Mexico.

Even worse?

The model of regularization of prostitution in Mexico City with special permits has recently been replicated in Mérida, the capital of the state of Yucatán. But it has faced strong opposition in other states, mainly from feminist groups that prefer the abolition of sex work to prevent human trafficking.

According to the figures that it recognizes the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System, in the first year of the pandemic, 1.8 victims of human trafficking were registered in the country. According to other organizations, the figure is much higher because there is a sub-registration. The state of Guanajuato and Durango, for example, officially register zero victims despite the fact that the local press has reported arrests of pimps.

Teresa Ulloa, from the National Network of Journalists, Communication and Information, one of the feminist groups that opposes regularization and pushes for abolition, argues that many of the exploited women are in the “zone of tolerance”, where they are “regularized”.

“It is enough to have contacts in politics for them to give you the credential,” he says.

Ulloa cites the Regional Coalition against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean, which “has witnessed hundreds of cases” that are far from a sweet and comfortable scenario in which a woman simply “opts” to trade with his body.

It illustrates with the case of “Paty”, a girl who came to the Coalition as a kidnapped victim, transferred to Mexico -in the midst of countless episodes of violence-, until she falls into the hands of one of the most dangerous drug cartels. powerful, in whose power she remained for several years, captive and enslaved.

Every day she was exploited in several “table dances” (without payment), she had to sell 250 drinks, 20 “private” and 20 sexual services per day.

She was forced to smile, appear to enjoy her work, or else she was beaten. When she finally managed to escape, the only thing she had with her were physical and psychological ailments, several of them with permanent consequences… and not a single penny.

Elvira Madrid does not rule out that situations of this type may occur in the areas where it is regularized. However, she considers that there is a greater risk of it happening where there is no control or identification of the sex workers.

“This has already been tested,” he says. “Here, with everything and the permits, in the pandemic extortion against sex workers who do not know their rights increased 30%.”

Street Brigade activists take care of the baby of one of the sex workers. Photo: Gardenia Mendoza.

With an acknowledgment at least they can denounce the abuses without hiding, he adds. at the beginning of the year, members of Brigada Callejera marched to the cry of “total respect for sex work” and “the corner belongs to those who work it.”

Then, dozens of sex workers denounced that organized crime wants to take over sex work in Mexico City with extortion fees of between five and 25 dollars in the equivalent in pesos despite the fact that after the pandemic income fell by up to 70%.

One option

Claudia sees sex work as a last option in times of despair. This is what happened 23 years ago when she had two children from an irresponsible couple who left her alone with the upbringing. And that’s how she saw it in March 2020 when the health alert was decreed and her husband lost his job.

Since then, she gets up at 6:00 in the morning to prepare food for her partner. “So you don’t spend”, she thinks. She then takes a bath, gets dressed and takes public transportation to Avenida Circunvalación, where her work corner is from one to five in the afternoon.

“Part time to help with household expenses,” he says in an interview with this newspaper. Her partner recently found work.

The routine is repeated from Tuesday to Friday. On weekends he studies. She resumed classes at the National Institute of Education for Adults to obtain the certificate of primary and secondary.

He thinks that, given his conditions, he is lucky to live in Mexico City while the whole world is torn between abolishing and regulating.

In Europe, after Sweden abolished the persecution of sex service, the issue has been gaining strength.

The Swedish abolitionist model seeks the protection of people in a situation of prostitution without criminalizing them. It discourages the demand through sanctions and fines to the client or the employer and education in equality.

Sweden was the first country in the European Union to adopt an abolitionist prostitution policy.for this reason it is known as “the Nordic model” because it focuses on the client or the pimp.

The prostitution law in Germany, on the other hand, specifies duties of prostitutes and also their working conditions. In the event that they are employed, whether in a brothel or a prostitution company, tax withholdings or medical insurance are the same as for a worker in any other economic activity.

If they are independent workers, they declare on their own, something that is currently happening in CDMX, although less orderly because it has not yet been legislated.

Brigada Callejera is committed to reaching this model that today also has Spain on its head after Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez promised a law to ban prostitution.

According to a 2016 Scelles Foundation report, it is estimated that some 350,000 women are prostitutes in Spain, although there are no official figures.

In Mexico there is no agreement on this. A case documented by this newspaper through the testimonies of victims in the city of Toluca, revealed that women are not willing to admit that they work in sex services for fear of going to jail.

Jorge Javier, a hairdresser who worked in a whorehouse doing the girls’ hair, says that in a raid they arrested the “madame” because all the prostitutes were in home services.

“When the pros were called to testify, they said they had been forced, that it was against their will, but it was not true: they all came from Morelia because they were paid between 2,000 and 3,000 pesos per hour (about 100 or 150 dollars). Half for them and the other for the house.

Meanwhile, Claudia takes the debate in stride. Next year she thinks it will be brighter. She will start high school and leave prostitution once and for all. The husband has been tolerant, before he was her client until they fell in love and she left the street for 20 years. Then the pandemic came and they had no choice.

“My partner sees this as just another job,” he acknowledges. “But I don’t see myself with more than 45 years working on this. Now I’m 42 and I don’t want to anymore. I want to be a lawyer and help the most vulnerable girls.”

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