Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Futile Fine

Forced into clandestinity? Sex workers wait for clients
on a Bogotá plaza.
To the list of unenforceable and destructive laws, you can add the proposal by a congresswoman to impose a fine for purchasing sexual services.'

A sign in La Candelaria offers 'erotic massages.'
Prostitution has existed - legally or illegally - since time immemorial, and a fine isn't likely to change that. In Colombia, it's legal - or at least depenalized - in certain designated areas, known as 'tolerance zones,' altho that has done little to limit the industry. But fining johns will only push this already troubled and dangerous lifestyle deeper into clandestinity and give cops yet another opportunity to illicit bribes.

The fine, invented by Liberal congresswoman Clara Rojas, is supposed to finance programs to help 'victims of prostitution' leave the business, may be a well-intentioned effort to help prostitutes, many of whom undoubtedly suffer abuse and exploitation, and some of whom are trafficking victims. However, many prostitutes don't consider themselves to be victims at all, but sex workers.

"It wasn't created to help or protect sex workers," said Fidelia Suárez, president of the syndicate of sex workers. "We are not victims or disabled people, but people who made our own decisions to do this work. Fining those who pay for sexual services amounts to penalizing the whole (sex worker) population.

"It is stigmatizing and discriminatory."

'Rough Girls.' Advertising for webcam
workers on a post near private universities.
And the fines, which would start at around 3 million pesos per infracción and increase every two years from then on, would amount to a prohibition on sexual servicies - if the law were actually enforced. It wouldn't be, of course, particularly since most clients of prostitutes appear to be blue collar men who earn little. Rather, they'd find it easier to just pay off the police.

There are better ways to help sex workers who want to leave the profession, such as offering them counseling, alternative work training and help with substance abuse issues. Police and social workers might also offer assistance to the underage girls who openly prostitute themselves in some areas - and carry out sting operations to catch their clients.

Colombia's sex workers also have another issue on their hands - a reported flood of Venezuelan prostitutes who have come here fleeing their collapsing country. In response to a court case involving a group of Venezuelans working in a brothel near the border, sex worker organizer Suárez said Colombians should support their Venezuelan colleagues and opposed expelling them back home.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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