The economic crisis unleashed by the covid-19 pandemic has brought Claudia (41 years old) back to the streets to perform sexual services. She had retired 10 years ago, when she met her current partner, but when he was unemployed, hunger and the need for income for the family forced her to make, with resignation, what she considers a difficult decision. “I was calm in my house. It feels ugly to go back, ”he says. Thousands of women have opted for prostitution in these times to obtain money in the middle of the pandemic. A diagnosis made by the organization Brigada Callejera de Apoyo a la Mujer reveals that in Mexico City sex workers have doubled, from 7,700 before the crisis to 15,200 today. “Like me, there are many,” says Claudia, who returned in July to offer her services on the streets of the capital. “I return to see colleagues who had also retired,” she says. “This is very hard.”
Claudia started prostitution when she was 16 years old. Then she had two children of a man who abused her and did not give her money for support. So she left him and returned to sex work, offering her body in La Merced, a populous and dangerous area of the capital. At first, he says, he had problems with younger girls, who fought for space and customers. “No, little man, I already did this before,” he replied. She assures that “she earned very well”, but one day a client fell in love with her. So much so that he asked him to leave. They formed a family that lived for years with what he earned as a gardener and handyman, until the hit of the coronavirus. “Many people took his job out of fear of contagion,” explains the woman. The money was gone and with it the food; the months of rent began to accumulate. “I discussed it with him [el regreso a la prostitución] and he said no. I insisted ”. The man resigned himself, muttering that it was a temporary decision, that he would find work, that he would once again be the breadwinner for his family. “He has cried. He apologizes because I had to return to this job, “he says.
Claudia tells her story between tears. We are at the Brigadas headquarters, in a three-bedroom apartment located in an old building on Corregidora Street, in the center of Mexico City, the capital’s red zone. Here the girls have had support and company. Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, 50 sex workers who were related to this organization died from the covid. Then, Elvira Madrid Romero, director of the organization, launched an urgent and own prevention campaign, which included the publication of a manual to prevent the disease. Among its pages, a crown sutra, an illustrated plate with those sexual positions that represent less risk of contagion because they prevent face-to-face contact. In addition, they were given free gel and face masks.
Still, for Claudia it has been difficult. “There are clients who tell you: ‘I’ll give you a little kiss.’ And if you tell them no, you lose it. There are others who ask you to remove your mask, but we should not do it, because we have to take care of ourselves. When I get home I take off my clothes, take a shower and then wash them, ”she says. She says she suffered from symptoms of covid-19, although a rapid test came back negative. Her husband, the same. His father, 62, and his brother, 39, were diagnosed. Despite the high risk, he regrets that he has no other options. In addition to dealing with his clients, he must deal with the owner of the hotel where he takes them, who charges 100 pesos for 15 minutes of confinement in a room. “That’s not fair. I charge 250 to the client and 100 is left to the hotel owner, who also does not guarantee cleanliness. One of his waitresses died of covid ”, he assures.
Gabriela has also had to make the decision to return to the streets due to economic drowning. At the age of 39, she had managed to rent a small stall in the center of the city where she sold clothes, makeup and jewelry. His clients were mainly his former colleagues. The money gave him to live and raise his two adolescent children, 16 and 17 years old (the older ones, 20 and 22 already have their own jobs), but with the closure of businesses demanded by the authorities as a contingency measure, the woman was seen without a weight. “I went back to work when the hotels opened in July. I never thought this was going to happen. I was sorry, I was very afraid. I’m depressed, because my thought was that I had already managed to get out. I know this is not bad, but I didn’t want it anymore. The pandemic has hit us a lot, “says the woman.
She is also bothered by the abuses committed by the owners of the hotels where she takes her clients, who demand more money from them without security of any kind. He says that they even charge for condoms, which are not commercial brands, but those distributed by Health and should be free. “I’m the one who puts my body in, the one who risks a fucking madman arriving and pulling out a knife, the one who does things that sometimes you say ‘wow,” she explains. “My work is not bad,” he continues. “I don’t consider myself a whore, I’m a sex worker, because if you get me the price I’ll go, it doesn’t matter if you’re very ugly or very handsome. But if you don’t get what I’m asking for, I’m not going. I have a schedule and then I go home. When I put on my tennis shoes I finish and I become a lady ”.
Elvira, the director of Brigades, explains that while doing the fieldwork for their report they came across situations that caught their attention: women, “housewives” he calls them, who entered the hotels frequented for prostitution accompanied by men. “Many went with bags from the market. When they went out and we asked them if that was their partner, they said no. ‘I come to complete for the expense’, they explained ”. These are, he adds, women who lost their jobs or whose colleagues were also unemployed. Or Central American women stranded in Mexico due to the closure of the borders. It says that of the 750 women who identified as foreigners, 75% are from Honduras, a country hit by a severe political, economic and humanitarian crisis after the passage of hurricanes Iota and Eta.
The director does not hide her anger at the authorities in Mexico City. He affirms that they have not supported the sex workers, despite the fact that they had promised to give them an unemployment card with 3,600 pesos a month. Enthusiastic about the promise, 7,500 signed up to the list presented by Brigades, but the capital’s government gave a single aid of 1,000 pesos and the beneficiaries were less than 2,000. “They gave us alms,” Elvira says bitterly.
One of the recipients of the 1,000 pesos is Sabrina, who at 50 has had to return to prostitution. This afternoon he greets with a smile as he slowly settles into a chair and puts aside his crutches, which help him with an ulcer on his right foot. The disease causes him unbearable pain. “I cry, I cry of pain,” he says. Sabrina lives alone, she has no help other than Brigades, so she has had no other option than the street. “I transform, I get pretty.” “I leave out of necessity, for sustenance. It’s complicated, but we have to make it happen ”. She faces the same problems as her peers: clients who ask for kisses, who offer a little more money to remove the mask, others who do not want to use a condom because it bothers them. “If I catch HIV I am not going to cure it with your gift,” he says in reference to that extra money offered.
Sabrina cries at one point in the conversation. His life is a torture: the disease that does not heal, the money that does not abound, the hunger that squeezes. In spite of that he cheers up or clings to them so as not to fall apart. “At least I can go outside with my crutches and work. There are people who are bedridden, who do not have that happiness of going out. And wipes away the tears.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.