Somewhere in Colombia, 2022.
It was the height of a new Covid outbreak. I traveled to Colombia. Everyone, even in large parks and outdoor museums, was masked. With the exception of a small population of female working women.
From the fifth-floor windows of the temple where I repeated my sacred mantras, I watched the comings and goings of people in the plaza right below me. There were no cars. It was a wide pedestrian-only promenade leading to a celebrated catholic church smack dab in the center of town. My spiritual center, rising six or seven stories high, had the perfect view of one of the oldest churches in this metropolis.
To the unknowing tourist, the men and women strolling through the church park and gardens were en route to, or returning from, mass. But earlier in the day, my female tour guide alerted us to not stray alone here, or venture into the narrow passageways surrounding the house of worship. They were filled with tiny hotels where bare rooms rent by the hour, not the night. Our group leader explained that prostitution in Colombia is legal, as long as the “vendor” is over the age of 18. Sex trafficking, however, is illegal, although most of the working women in the street likely rely on a pimp for protection.
But who’s checking the ID cards of the working girls? According to the Office on Drugs and Crime, child trafficking has tripled in the last 15 years.
While it may seem incongruous that the church patio, plaza, and yard are central, our local guide surmised (or was she joking?) that in this predominantly catholic country, the Johns go to confession after their few minutes of carnal pleasure. Or, maybe the women enter the confessional as a form of cleansing?
I’ve never understood the supply or demand for prostitution, except for the drug addict who will do anything to pay for their next fix. I can’t fathom how any male or female would subject themselves to being manhandled by someone who sees you as a cheap thrill. The worker loses all dignity and is subjected to physical assault for a few bucks. Sadly, that’s all it’s worth in many countries (see below).
We can’t close our eyes and say, “That’s a Colombian problem.” Just like the cocaine industry, supply and demand are directly affected by the U.S. consumer. Why so many American men pay for an anonymous rendevous or spend wads of green-backs on sexual tourism perplexes me. There must be a huge void in their lives. All-American John Smiths not only sneak away to, and spend their money at, nudie bars, XXX movies, peep-shows, and brothels. They travel to a foreign land where they can luxuriate in a four- or five-star hotel and then pay a nameless, faceless person less than what they spend on their cappuccinos. All for a few minutes of perceived pleasure.
Outside my Airbnb window in an exclusive neighborhood of a beautiful and historic Colombian city, I heard voices around 4 a.m. A woman with a Spanish accent, in English, was promoting her services to a tourist who likely was heavily inebriated.
On another trip to Costa Rica, where prostitution is also legal, my friend casually commented that Jack (not his real name) frequently drove to a city 90 minutes away. I thought the senior citizen was stocking up on groceries at Costco. Wrong. He headed to the brothels.
I try not to be judgemental. However, after I learned about his escapades, nice and friendly Jack creeped me out. I can’t comprehend the concept of paying-for-sex like buying a can of soda from a vending machine.
According to The Women’s Media Center, one woman made only four dollars a DAY, and many aren’t registered in government databases so they receive no welfare or benefits that people from other jobs can take advantage of.
There are nearly four million sex workers in Colombia, most of whom are women or trans-women.
According to an article by Gabriela Ramirez in “Unbias the News,” it’s not uncommon for women in Colombia to earn only five to ten dollars per John. One research study from 2023 said the majority of sex workers in this South American nation can’t afford to eat lunch. Plus, many are Venezuelan refugees with children to feed who can’t find other work.
“I did it to provide for my kids. But that life doesn’t give pleasure. I cried every day during that month I worked as a prostitute,” Roxibel comments.
One report corroborates this one woman’s experiences. There’s an increase in sex workers in Colombia for two reasons. Venezuelan refugees can’t find any other means to support themselves, and second, the Coronavirus closed many traditional job opportunities. Before the pandemic, sex workers often made just $10 a day.
Speaking of the pandemic, while I was in Colombia it was mandatory to wear a mask, even outdoors. Yet, as I watched the women peddling their bodies on the street outside my sanctuary, there was only one clue as to who was a street worker and who was not.
The women who were meandering about the church square, and those crowded around the hotel doors, looked just like any other women walking the street headed to the bank, the market or to work in a clothing store. None wore stilettos, platform shoes, or tight mini skirts. They didn’t show off their legs in stockings or spandex. In fact, they all wore gym shoes. Most sported shorts and short-sleeved or skimpy tops just like any other tourist in a warm climate does.
Only a few of the working women sported dyed hair. They were of all ages and all body shapes. The only difference? None wore the obligatory face mask. Just another minor workforce hazard.