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28/09/2012 - Executive Secretary

Murdered for being a sex worker

This weekend was found dead the first winner of the Peruvian TV show “El valor de la verdad” (The value of Truth), a 19 year old who confessed on camera that was a nightclub dancer and had exerted sex work.

Ruth Thalía Sayas Sánchez was missing for 10 days. Her body was found after his former partner, Bryan Romero Leiva, admits himself guilty of femicide and of burying the body of the young woman in a vacant lot.

The purpose of this note is not to describe the details of what happened, which is already public knowledge, but to make an analysis and denounce what lies behind this terrible crime.

We haven’t read so far none media coverage in which murder is named accordingly: a femicide, motivated by gender violence exerted against women. There is too much evidence throughout Latin America and the Caribbean that for such offenses, the penalties usually be lower, under the excuse that they occur in the "private sphere". In fact, if the police discover that Leiva murdered the young to keep the contest prize, he may be sentenced to life imprisonment, while of being a "revenge for feeling deceived" (which means femicide), he could receive between 15 and 30 years imprisonment.

Some questions are triggers to reflect on this event that shouldn’t concern only those who exercise sex work, but to all whom, from different areas, fight for a world where women have equality in opportunities, rights and resources. Why not talk about femicide? Could it be that a female sex worker is less a woman than one that is not a sex worker? Why sex work should be a hidden reality, a secret? Why who exercises or has exercised should be ashamed?

"She was killed after declaring on TV that she was a prostitute", titled the media, attributing to the confession of the woman some "responsibility" for generating the rage of her former partner who ends up being the victim, in media accounts, for having been "deceived".

Thus the media discourse contributes to reinforce stereotypes and stigma against female sex workers, treating us like part of the problem.

While sex work —contemptuously called prostitution— is a topic of interest to the media, the coverage usually victimize us or make us responsible for social conflict. They link us with drugs, crime and violence, and behind those “stories that sell” they hide the reality of thousands of women who work to support their homes and to generate the resources to raise their children.

Media approaches of our reality added stigma to stigma, and they do not take into account that we are women with voices, with decisions and we are able to decide on our own lives. Sex work seems to be irritating as working idea, unlike others, because it puts into play the intimate sphere, the sexuality. The inability of many people to accept our choice of exerting sex work is closely related to the fact that female sexuality is seen as something inseparable from feelings and also it is seen as sacred for ability to create life. Thus, women who decide autonomously on their own bodies are considered as a threat to the social order.

We are pushed to silence, to hide. If not, how is it that a young woman has concealed her real job to her family, to her partner? And worse, she has made known the truth through a television program that offered her money in exchange. She was awarded for her "courage" to discover a taboo, a secret.

For women who —by choice— have chosen sex work for a living, taboos and cultural prejudices serve as justifications for States not recognizing our work as a life plan. The result is the absence of social security policies, education, health, or even justice in cases like this of the Peruvian girl murdered, that often go unpunished.

From RedTraSex we demand for the total clarification of this crime and the maximum punishment for those guilty of this murder. And we call on the reflection of all the media that contribute to reinforce stereotypes and discrimination against female sex workers in order to ensure “a good sale”, instead of inform on problems and abuse that we face as part of the working class.

We hope other organizations working on the rights of women —voices hitherto silent on the matter— to join the search for truth and justice, because Ruth Thalía Sayas Sánchez deserves the same respect as any other woman the Republic of Peru.

All female sex workers from RedTraSex reject the disrespectful and violent invisibility in which we have been plunged, and we declare that where impunity continue to reign, we will continue organizing ourselves to respect our human rights and to discover social hypocrisies.

Elena Reynaga