How the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Affected Sex Workers in Mexico City

VOA News Mexican Sex Workers BELatina
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Much has been said during the COVID-19 pandemic about unemployment, about the millions of workers forced to take to the streets to support their families, and about how first responders are the heroes on the frontlines.

But little has been said about those who depend on physical contact and public roads to survive, in the condemnation of the precariousness to which history has confined them.

We are talking about sex workers, who in places like Mexico City have had to resort to tents to seek refuge in the streets, now that their clientele has disappeared and the hotels where they worked or lived have closed until further notice.

“They are literally leaving us on the street, they turned us into street people when we were not. We have been living on the streets for a week when we lived in the hotels,” Marina Rojano, who has been a sex worker for 24 years, told Infobae.

Another woman, Jazmin Carrillo, said she was surprised earlier this week when two men tried to remove her pants while she was sleeping.

“I defended myself as best I could and yelled at the others,” Carrillo said.

Citing government figures, the media estimates there are about 7,000 prostitutes in Mexico City.

In an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus — which so far has infected 3,181 people and killed 174 in Mexico — city officials deemed the hotels non-essential and ordered them closed.

“What was done was to talk to the hotels so that they wouldn’t kick out the sex workers while they were staying there, and that they wouldn’t carry out their normal activity, we are in an international health crisis,” said a Mexico City government spokesman.

“If they don’t even have enough to eat, how are they going to buy a mask, antibacterial gel, gloves; they don’t even have enough for food, a coffee,” said Kenya Cuevas, who runs Casa de las Muñecas, a shelter for transgender sex workers.

This group’s struggle for survival has once again become a matter of privilege and access to government resources.

Although the Mexican Sex Work Network has been organized since 1993 in search of the human, civil, and labor rights of sex workers — especially during the peak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic — this workforce has had to deal with the high rates of gender violence in the country, as well as labor exploitation due to the lack of government guarantees and protections.

Only in 2019 did the government recognize sex workers as “unpaid,” allowing them to organize in unions and access economic and health benefits.

However, Mexico continues to be classified as a Level 2 nation in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), according to Reuters, which means it does not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

A public health crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic only puts them at greater risk of infection, abuse and occupational vulnerability.