Violence in Mexico is cruel to sex workers

In 2015, only a handful of local media reported the disappearance of more than 40 sex workers in Tamaulipas, one of the most violent states in Mexico. They refused to pay “rights to the floor” to organized crime. So far it is unknown what happened to them.

Like this case, there are many more. Stories that do not appear in the media or in official figures of femicides or attacks against women and minors due to a corrupt system that makes sex work invisible, even though it benefits from it, concludes the report “Indicators of gender violence in the world of work of sex workers in Mexico.

We made the report ourselves because there is a lot of violence behind sex work. It is worrisome that it is mainly exercised by the State. How will we end it, if we do not make visible what is happening?” This is the question asked by Elvira Madrid, president of the “Elisa Martínez” Women’s Support Street Brigade, the NGO author of the study, which describes 30 indicators of the problems suffered by this sector, of which 22 are caused by servers and public institutions.

systemic violence

The evidence is the testimonies of 45 women, who narrate -between pain and panic- their experiences with clients, pimps, partners, employers, police officers and others, in 14 states of the country, plus its capital. DW spoke to some of them, whose identities have been changed.

Made in coordination with the International Secretariat of the Global Alliance against Trafficking in Women, the publication documents all kinds of violence: sexual, labor, psychological, physical, economic and patrimonial, as well as family, social and institutional.

The stories are from sex workers from 20 to 68 years old., coming from countries like Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and mainly Mexico. Among them are five trans women and nine Mexican and Guatemalan indigenous people. In parallel, they outline the constant violation of their basic rights, impunity and collusion between aggressors.

“They portray a case of systemic violence, sponsored by the structures of the Mexican State, which favors the profit-making of businessmen and politicians and which ignores its responsibility to guarantee them a life free of violence,” the document says.

lives that don’t matter

“This report is a joint cry of ‘Ya basta’ because they are killing us and nobody does anything,” says “Alondra” during the presentation held in Mexico City, on the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women ( 25.11.2022).

“Where are the compañeras murdered on the street, in bars or hotels, who will no longer see the light or return home, raped and killed by police officers and pimps?” adds the transgender woman, who says that Hate crimes against people of your sexual condition are alarming in the country.

Street Brigade assures that the 11 femicides reported daily in Mexico are more, since the murders of sex workers or the product of trafficking in girls and young people are hidden.

“Mariana”, mother of seven children, fears for her life. Her partner, a merchant from the Mexican capital “who feels protected”, brutally beats her, threatens to harm her little granddaughters, takes her money, if she does not submit to her will . When she tried to file a complaint, the authorities “did not want to proceed because of who I am. They are letting us die, even though they buy our services”, recounts the woman. “No one does anything to stop so many dead girls or women, it’s worth it. I don’t want them to kill me. We are worse than ever.”

Public servers

According to the report, 73 percent of those responsible for attacking sex workers are public servants in the health and judicial sectors, ombudsmen, security or human rights institutions, among others.

“María”, almost 60 years old, affirms: “They don’t give us scholarships or government aid (for single mothers and older adults), officials hinder that support. They also deny us care in hospitals when they know what you are.” The same is true of other free services such as HIV and Pap smear tests, condoms, access to education or legal assistance.

In the opinion of Elvira Madrid, a sociologist who 33 years ago decided to fight for these women, “no one wants to lose the profits from extorting the compañerasmuch less the owners of businesses such as hotels, rooms, canteens, bars and associated places because the money is gone ”.

From the American dream to paid sex

Migrating to Mexico, with or without papers, has led many women from Central and South America to resort to sex work. Some seek to reach the United States, others are just escaping poverty or conflict in their country.

From November 17 to 20, 2022, the National Institute of Migration reported the detention of more than 16,000 migrants, the majority from Latin American countries.

“Carmen”, 55, arrived five years ago legally in Tapachula, Chiapas, where Brigada Callejera has another headquarters. She fled Honduras, threatened with death by the same gang members who murdered her husband, to steal from her. She left behind six children, in the care of her mother. She started as a helper in a kitchen, closed due to the pandemic. Later she was robbed of her documents, but she gave up on renewing them because (the immigration authorities) “charge for everything, money that I don’t have. Nobody hired me for being illegal”. In order not to starve and send money to his family, he sells sex, enduring beatings and extortion from “la migra”.

The report also calls for the abolition of three fundamental pillars of workplace violence against sex workers in current Mexico, that is, health control, the loss of parental authority of their daughters or sons under 12 years of age, and the prohibition of sex work.

The case of “Claudia” is a sample. The father of two of her children took them from her nine years ago. Despite the fact that the Mexican never legally recognized them or maintained them, she managed to get the official institution for the protection of children in Mexico to grant her guardianship “just because of what I do,” says the 31-year-old Salvadoran.

Before being a sex worker in a park in Chiapas, she was a domestic worker, then a waitress. However, receiving 90 pesos (4.5 dollars) a day for 12 hours of work was not enough to feed the family. “A waitress friend convinced me to work on it on my day off because she earns better”, 200 pesos (10 dollars), plus a hotel. After her, “Claudia” met an electrician who got her pregnant, but other sex workers, jealous of having competition, forced an abortion on her.

The pandemic doubled sex work

A 2019 diagnosis, carried out by Brigada Callejera, estimated 7,500 sex workers on the streets of the Mexican capital. After February 2020 the figure has doubled. To date, explains Elvira Madrid, “we have counted 15,200 because many women lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. About 40 percent were fired from clothing stores, stationery stores, restaurants, and businesses.”

In the collective imagination, many social stigmas prevail around this profession, to which more than 800,000 women are dedicated throughout the country, according to the NGO.

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