Mexico City to decriminalize sex work aiming to fight human trafficking
"We want people to know that we have rights too, and the fact that we are sex workers doesn’t give them the right to threaten, attack, or kill us,” commented Rogelia, a prostitute with 20 years of experience - Photo: Moisés Pablo/CUARTOSCURO.COM

Mexico City to decriminalize sex work aiming to fight human trafficking

08/06/2019
15:22
Newsroom
Mexico City
David Fuentes/EL UNIVERSAL & Reuters
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The meeting was held in the framework of the International Sex Worker Day

Mexico City lawmakers have given the green light to decriminalize sex work in the capital, hoping it will be a first step to a crackdown on sex trafficking that traps thousands of Mexican women and children.

Lawmakers in Mexico City’s Congress on Friday voted 38-0, with eight abstentions, in favor of a bill to remove a line in the Civic Culture Law which said prostitutes and their clients can be fined or arrested if neighbors complained.

Temistocles Villanueva, a local representative with the ruling center-left Morena party, said the new law recognized that people had the right to engage in sex work.

“It’s a first step that has to lead to regulation of sex work, to fight human trafficking and strengthen the rights of sex workers,” he said.

“Exercising sexuality in our country is still a taboo topic that few of us dare to talk about.”

Sex work is allowed in much of Mexico but states have different and sometimes unclear rules, meaning workers frequently operate in legal vacuums which can leave them vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking by crime gangs.

Mexico is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, with Mexican women and children the most at risk from sex trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department.

Mexico is listed as a Tier 2 nation in the U.S.’s Trafficking in Persons Report, meaning it does not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but it is making significant efforts to do so.

The report said observers had made links between women’s disappearances and murders and trafficking by organized criminal groups.

Elvira Madrid, founder of sex work rights group Brigada Callejera said the change to the law was welcome, but now there needed to be a legal framework that protected workers.

Debate over the legal status of sex work in Mexico and elsewhere is controversial, particularly among some anti-slavery groups who argue that decriminalization provides a cover for human traffickers.

But sex worker and other human rights groups in Mexico say criminalization only sends the problem deeper underground, and exposes an already vulnerable group to abuses by police and organized crime.

Friday’s bill came after an earlier version was criticized by sex worker and human rights groups. Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum’s office sent it back to Congress with suggested modifications which were taken up.

Eduardo Santillan, also a Morena Mexico City Congressman, said that now that sex work was decriminalized, anti-trafficking public policy should be strengthened.

“We think that the big challenge of this Congress will be making both of these fundamental principles compatible,” he said.

Nevertheless, independent sex workers in Mexico City gathered last week at the Puente de Alvarado avenue, one of the city’s well known locations for prostitution, to demand that their work be respected. They asked to put an end to discrimination and lethal violence against women, notably trans women.

Likewise, they asked local deputies, as well as Mexico City authorities, to take them into account as part of their evaluations of street prostitution, alleging that only some groups and organizations had managed to divide sex work into sectors, while women who work independently have been excluded and ignored.

In this sense, they called on law enforcement authorities to stop the criminalization of their work, and claimed that in some cases they even arrested women just for standing at “tolerance points” and submitted them to so-called inspections in which they were often subject to sexual abuse.

“The first thing we want to say is that the authorities and local legislators have not taken us into account. We see that there have been some efforts to regulate laws on prostitution and that’s fine, but they haven’t even asked for our opinion. They don’t know what we need or how we feel about it,” they complained.

We want them to stop criminalizing and stigmatizing us street workers. We want people to know that we have rights too, and the fact that we are sex workers doesn’t give them the right to threaten, attack, or kill us,” commented Rogelia, a prostitute with 20 years of experience.

The meeting was held in the framework of the International Sex Worker Day on June 2, an event that they used to speak up and demand respect. “As you may realize, there aren’t that many of us present today. That’s because they’re scared to come out in broad daylight and having people know their identity. It is exactly the kind of stigmatization we want to avoid,” said one of the attendants.

“If they don’t take us into account in government decision-making, then we are left defenseless before society and local authorities,” stated Margarita, another sex worker who attended the event.
 

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