Prostitution: A Growing but Silenced Issue

Since I started to think about my research project, there is one question that has unbearably revolved in my mind: Why do we, Latin Americans, decide to do research on and about our own countries? I am from Bogotá, Colombia and I came back here to do research on prostitution. To a certain extent, the reason why I chose coming back had to do with the fact that “First world” countries still intervene not only in defining Latin America, but also in reconfiguring it.

During the last decades, Colombia’s social inequalities have massively increased. With its more than half a century long armed conflict and the recently signed TLC with the United States, the effects of its eternal colonial history are not only becoming more evident, but also more unlivable for its citizens. A remainder of this reality is the amazing increase in street prostitution. Nevertheless, as everything else that publicly denies or contests the discourse of neoliberal progress, this has been a nationally silenced issue. 

During my first week in Colombia, it was impossible to talk to my contacts; everybody was busy when I tried to reach them by e-mail or by phone. It was not until I went to the LGBT mobilization (supposedly celebrating “gay pride,” but massively criticized in the global south because of its white, high-class origin and meaning) that I met someone that will be key to my research.

A. is a woman that has worked with sex workers for more than 15 years. Her interest on this subject started when she worked at the Secretaría de Integración Socialthe district’s institution that is in charge of actions regarding prevention, identification and attention to people who exercise prostitution.  A. told me that with the administration of the current mayor of Bogotá, issues of prostitution were being transferred to the recently-created Secretaría de la MujerAccording to her, this is problematic because there are also men and LGBT people involved in prostitution. There are also wider networks, such as taxi drivers, brothel administrators, hotel owners and clients that must be considered within policy making, particularly because they are also the perpetrators of many violent actions against sex workers.

After our conversation, A. told me that she was going to put me in contact with a sex worker. She believes that there are many voices that feel authorized to talk about prostitution, but that nobody, not even the government, had been really concerned with the vertiginous growth of the sex worker population.

Posted by Laura Vargas- MA Candidate at CLACS/NYU

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