I walked into a corner of the universe that I believe has been forgotten. Or perhaps not forgotten, but rather ignored. A corner that tends to make hearts race, palms sweat, and car doors lock, but in my case, a corner that pulls with such force that I can’t seem to stay away. A corner in which I found a very bright light.
Dealers. Poverty. Crack pipes. Prostitution. Crime. Theft. Murder. “La Zona Roja.” According to some statistics, an estimated 200 women engage in sex work in the area- from minors to women over the age of 60 (Rico, 2016).
I was invited by a group of women who run a foundation called La Sala. It is an organization made up of sex-workers who have come together to fight for their rights as professionals, demanding that they receive the same benefits as those of any other paid professional, and offering a drop-in center for the workers to find rest. They distinguish themselves from sexual exploitation and/or trafficking by emphasizing:
“El trabajo sexual es consentido, elegido y deseado. El trabajo sexual NO es trata de personas. El trabajo sexual es TRABAJO y lxs trabajadorxs sexuales exigimos tener los MISMOS DERECHOS que lxs demás trabajadores.”
“Sex work is consensual, chosen and desired. Sex work is NOT human trafficking. Sex work is WORK and the sex workers demand to have THE SAME RIGHTS as all other professionals” (Organización La Sala).
As a Clinical Therapist whose expertise and passion is in trauma, specifically sexual trauma, this organization offered a lens that I was not previously capable of seeing through. After being ensured by one of the women that they, too, are in the fight against human trafficking, my mind began to open.This loving space allowed me to see that despite my own values or beliefs, these humans, as much as any other human, deserve respect, autonomy, freedom and protection.
Walking into their space as a wealthy, blonde American, I initially felt vulnerable. I feared rejection, and judgment, however, these women welcomed me with open arms, and accepted me as one of their own, exactly as I am. They didn’t try to change me, or push their beliefs on me – all they wanted was respect and authenticity. All they wanted was to be seen.
I began to think about how individuals who identify as sex workers are seen by our society. Rather than punishing those who buy sex, we vilify those who are paid, without ever even attempting to know their story. Do they feel so comfortable with their bodies and their sexuality that they are capable of sharing that with others as a profession? Are they so desperate to make ends meet, that they have no other option? Do they come from trauma and abuse? Do they come from addiction and exploitation? And with all of that in mind, do they have the freedom and the right to make their own decisions, with the potential consequences in mind, free of judgment?
I believe so. I believe they deserve the exact acceptance, love and respect that they gave me.
What if the whole world could practice such love, openness, and acceptance? What if every one of us could quiet the judgments, and chose to simply love instead? What if every one of us was willing to view the world from another point of view, even if only for a few moments? I believe the world would be a much brighter place.
Rico. “The ‘Zona Roja’ Of San Jose.” Q Costa Rica, The Q Media, 12 Mar. 2016, qcostarica.com/the-zona-roja-of-san-jose/.