The coronavirus pandemic has forced thousands of women in Mexico City into sex work, including many who had left the trade behind.
But whether through exploitation or violence, their work is fraught with danger.
The economic impact of the pandemic resulted in the closure of many businesses, but the closings of restaurants and bars where many poorer women found work were catastrophic.
Claudia, who like most sex workers only wanted to be identified by her first name, had stopped working on the street a decade ago after marrying one of her former clients.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced thousands of women into sex work in Mexico
But when her husband lost his job early in the pandemic, the couple fell four months behind on renting their apartment.
The only way out for Claudia was to get back to sex work.
“It was an income to eat to pay the rent we owe,” she said.
But along with veterans of the trade, thousands of new sex workers were on the streets.
Elvira Madrid, who heads the Brigada Callejera activist group, or street brigade, said her group found 15,200 sex workers on the streets of Mexico City in August, about 40% more than had been working in retail before the pandemic.
Many of them, she said, had never worked in commerce.
“They would cry because they would say, ‘I don’t want to do this, but I have to bring food for my children,” said Madrid.
Some of the new sex workers were housewives, women who sell sex for 50 pesos, a bag of groceries, or whatever they needed to buy groceries but don’t consider themselves sex workers.
Therefore, many do not use condoms and do not protect themselves.
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The working conditions that have always been difficult for sex workers in Mexico City – violence from clients and gangs who persecute prostitutes and shakedowns from corrupt police officers – worsened during the pandemic.
There is also a risk of contracting COVID-19 from customers.
Sex workers try to protect themselves as much as they can.
Brigada Callejera shared a booklet of cartoon images of sex positions that people can use to minimize the risk of infection during sex. This is known as the “Coronasutra”.
Mexico has never had a full lockdown but did shutdowns for non-essential activities involving hotels, restaurants, bars and other facilities during the first spring outbreak of the pandemic.
While hotels have reopened since the partial lockdown, sex workers now charge higher room rates, according to sex workers, which ultimately affects the amount of money prostitutes can take home.
Madrid said after hotels closed or prices increased, some people rented rooms or shop fronts to sex workers.
But they quickly found that they were being recorded with their clients and were asked to pay for their videos not to be posted on the internet.
Now, Madrid says, sex workers have to take customers with them wherever they can, including cars or sidewalks.
Prostitution is legal in most of Mexico, but states have their own laws.
Mexico City has decriminalized sex work.
“They literally let her go from her job. So we say, “How can the government say do something else?” if they themselves manage to have several women return or integrate into sexual work, ”said Madrid.