I believe there is lessons to be learned even through unconventional ways. And as long as I can remember, society has taught that prostitution is wrong in all its modalities. Surprisingly, I have recently experienced a change of heart when I traveled to Tijuana, Mexico with a Latin American Studies class offered at my school. And no, I did not engage in any sexual favors for money! What I did get to do is meet and converse with a group of sex workers from the “Zona de Tolerancia” or “Zone of Tolerance” or better know as “Red Light District”. This section of the city provides prostitution and other adult entertainment.
I was startled to see a group of approximately seventy women who call themselves Vanguardia de Mujeres Libres Maria Magdalenas (Vanguard of Liberated Women Maria Magdalenas) or simply “Las Magdalenas” approach us. I noticed they were considerably more covered with regards to clothing compared to other sex workers that I saw left nothing for the imagination. In addition, I was very curious to know how much they charged for their various acts, however the teacher explicitly said there will be “No asking questions that would make them uncomfortable”. At first it bothered me that I was being forced to respect women who did not respect themselves. Essentially I was be blinded by what I see on TV, the media only portrays a prostitute in cuffs or at work.
The Tijuana government officials that were also present at our meeting with the women acknowledged that the sex industry will long endure and they had to do something to at least help stop or slow down the proliferation of HIV/AIDS. To regulate the health aspect of this industry, centers are available where the sex workers must be tested for diseases in order to operate without the fear of being arrested. They showed us their identification which indicates if they are up to date with the city mandated sexual health check-ups. Las Magdalena’s have also developed their own informational courses on sexual education and hygiene. I was invited, along with municipal, federal and state officials to their meetings. There I learned that these women are serious about empowering themselves with the knowledge to maintain the health needed for their lifestyle.
This opportunity has helped to me to be practical about the prostitution industry. Sex workers serve an important function even though their occupation is seen as unnecessary and disgusting to some. Consequently, everyday their bodies are exposed to the possibility of disease and abuse in order to endure along with their family. Meanwhile, Las Magdalenas are still far from being truly “Liberated”, but I have freed my mind to accept the possibility that I could have easily been in their place. At the same time I am happy to know that there are initiatives in place geared to help sex workers instead of criminalizing them.
~Nataly Beltran Fernandez
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