Friday, October 10, 2014

Sex Work: From Problem to Solution?

The Cartagena Hilton, where a White House advance team member may have hired a prostitute.
In April 2012 U.S. Secret Service agents produced a huge scandal by hiring prostitutes while preparing for Pres. Barack Obama's visit to Cartagena, Colombia.

Sex workers leader Fidelia Suárez.
Bizarrely, the scandal overshadowed the international summit meeting Obama was attending - and dragged on and on, as details dribbled out about the agents' activities with the hired ladies of Cartagena.

But throughout the whole episode and after, the Obama administration repeated one point: Nobody directly employed by the White House had had a dalliance with a prostitute. Now, however, an investigation by the Washington Post newspaper finds that one minor White House advance team worker may have brought a prostitute to his room in the Cartagena Hilton Hotel.

Sen. Armando Benedetti.
The worker, a 25-year-old Yale University students, was a 'volunteer' paid on a per-diem basis, in charge of coordinating car transport in Cartagena. Hilton Hotel records indicated that he had received a female overnight guest. The worker, whose father had contributed almost $24,000 to the Democratic Party, denies having hired a prostitute in Cartagena, and in another case in Cartagena a prostitute was registered to the wrong room.

In any case, the Post's reporting suggested that U.S. government investigators had been pressured to leave out information about any White House connection to the scandal.

What two consenting adults do together is their own business, especially where prostitution is legal. But in this case, one of them was responsible, in at least a small way, for the safety of a president. And, even where it's legal, the prostitution industry inevitably has connections to organized crime.

But you can bet that if the U.S. government workers had associated with narcotic cartel leaders instead of prostitutes, the issue would have received much less attention.
The sex workers advocates in a recent march for workers' rights. 
The new polemic comes at a time when Colombian prostitutes are speaking up, at least a bit, and asking for labor protection like any other job. Senator Armando Benedetti has introduced a bill intended to guarantee benefits and protections for sex workers. A court recently ruled that sex work is a profession like any other. During a recent discussion about the issue sponsored by El Tiempo, a spokeswoman for a prostitutes' organization described abuses by police and exploitation by brothel owners.

The proposed law would, among other things, provide health benefits to prostitutes and their immediate relatives.

"The idea is that you (sex workers) have the rights of every other worker and aren't mistreated," Benedetti said.

But everything related to sex work continues to be sensitive.

"The problem with this type of project is that some think that I'm promoting prostitution, and the sex workers think that I want to end their profession," Benedetti said.

"When you talk about sex work, you talk about work," said Fidelia Suárez, representative of the Association of Women Seeking Liberty, an organization of sex workers. "We are not the problem, we are part of the solution."

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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