«We are part of the exploited class»



We share an interview with Elena Reynaga, RedTraSex Executive Secretary and founder of A.M.M.A.R.

Throughout the interview, the problems sex workers women face and also the problem of human trafficking as a crime to fight against are discussed.

Elena addresses various issues related to sex work, as the conditions under which this takes place, the lack of regulation and support of governments and of the groups of women to sex workers women.

Reynaga spent part of the note telling about the law project AMMAR is working for, a proposal that aims to legalize autonomous sex work of adult women in Argentina.

Regarding Anti-trafficking Law, the leader expressed disappointment saying the budget is not consistent with the scope that the law should have. “I’m going to believe those who supported the law (I mean those with political responsibility, both justice and government), when they really set a budget consistent with what the problem means. For example, in the city of Buenos Aires there is a single shelter. If the richest city in the country has only one shelter, we don’t want to think what happens in Chaco, Salta, Formosa, which are a “seedbed” for human trafficking”, Reynaga said overwhelmingly.

Throughout the note, the RedTraSex Executive Secretary made clear the importance of sex workers women exercise their activity in an organized manner and within the framework of a trade union, as is the case A.M.M.A.R. and C.T.A. Debate is open.

Prostitution and trafficking: a necessary debate
Interview with the leaders of A.M.M.A.R.-C.T.A. and A.M.M.A.R.-Capital on the characteristics of sex work.

Is prostitution a job like any other, or should we remove it? How trafficking must be combated? Below, two leaders of organizations of prostitutes give their opinion on what we hope is the start of a debate that is inescapable.

Interviewed by Tamara Seiffer

Marita Veron’s case put to the consideration of public opinion a serious problem: trafficking in women. Alongside this, it usually appears associated the prostitution issue. Both problems express a class contradiction. While everyone is opposed to trafficking, some believe to combated it by abolishing prostitution, and who distinguish between trafficking (a crime to fight against) and prostitution (a job).
Is prostitution a job like any other? What is the immediate horizon to organize the fellows who are in that situation? To open the discussion, we interviewed leaders of the two organizations composed of women in prostitution situation. Both praise highly the cooperative. The first, linked to the CTA, vindicates the activity and claims for its union organization. The second, linked to the State, calls for a naive abolitionism and to leave the activity to pursue other jobs. Controversy is raised. We invite fellows and interested organizations to join a discussion that began here.

«We are part of the exploited class»
Interview with Elena Reynaga, founder and consultant of the Asociación de Mujeres Meretrices de Argentina (A.M.M.A.R.-C.T.A.) by Tamara Seiffer

Following the case of Marita Verón, much was said about prostitution and trafficking. Elena, what is the position of A.M.M.A.R. about trafficking?
Obviously, A.M.M.A.R. is totally against human trafficking, trafficking, pimping, slavery, violence against women and unsafe abortion. But still, beyond the debate that exists today and Marita Verón’s trial, trafficking is not going to be solved or reduced for capturing to these twelve or thirteen people. While progress was made from Marita Verón’s case, the issue of trafficking is quite old. Regarding to the Law [Anti-trafficking], first something fundamental is missing: the budget. I’m going to believe those who supported the law (I mean those with political responsibility, both justice and government), when they really set a budget consistent with what the problem means. For example, in the city of Buenos Aires there is a single shelter. If the richest city in the country has only one shelter, we don’t want to think what happens in Chaco, Salta, Formosa, which are a “seedbed” for human trafficking. Therefore, the budget issue is very important. Another issue with which we strongly disagree, and we’ve made it known to both the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Safety, is that they did not make us part of it, that we are on the street. They not even formed a working group with all governments, all ministries and civil society. Then, I think there are opportunism and ignorance. Opportunism in the sense of wanting to mix everything in the same bag: trafficking and prostitution in general, and this last one with the activity of self-employed women. They have a fantasy about what they see in the brothel. But one thing is what you see in some brothels (which you have to denounce) and another thing are the fellows going to and from their homes, where they are not being trafficked, but they are being exploited. There it is pimping. But there are two different things and must have different actions, different strategies.

Can you explain your position in relation to sex work?
We propose sex work as an option. Any woman or man of the working class has a range of options: either a miner or supermarket employee. And we have chosen sex work. Why many of us have chosen sex work? Because we have had the opportunity to schedule our work. Before a sex worker, I am mom. I had to educate my children, like any other mother who is left alone in life. I chose between cleaning (and someone look after my children as a favor) and the opportunities that sex work created to me. It gave me a salary that is two or three times what I would earn in a factory. It gave me freedom, autonomy and the possibility of having a decent home and education for my children. I am a sex worker and nobody forced me. I was convinced; I knew what I was doing. Yes, I suffered a lot, but not by sex work itself, but by the conditions in which I had to work. We must once and for all stop judging. Why tell me what I have to do? Or why say that we are not considered as workers because the body is not merchandise? The body is mine, the only thing that is mine that I have. We work against violence against women, and then they turn out to say «I do not consider you as a worker». That is violent, that is not democratic, is pure patriarchy. In any case, if we ask for a law to regularize our work and in ten years we realize that we were wrong, we are who we want to make mistakes. How is it that in the National Conference of Women we are combated against? We are persona non grata with the great feminist abolitionists.

You are fighting for a law regularizing sex work, can you tell its main elements?
The law is a regulation of self-employment of adult women at a national level. First, the idea is to have legislation to stop being clandestine, to stop being in a situation that is not illegal, neither legal. Today we have no framework that guarantees rights to us. Second, we believe faithfully that the law will reduce the trafficking issue. So has a double intention. We’ve discussed a lot of what happens with the fellows who are not autonomous, and initiated some actions for groups of fellows rent apartments and create a cooperative. Hence there is no figure of pimping or anything like that. When we started installing this and fellows began to encourage, we have the problem that the police entered. At the beginning, they come as customers. When they saw that our fellows were alone, without male rulers, they came saying they were from this brigade, which had to do a search. Lies! They came without order of the prosecutor or judge. One of the things that we thought was to make a poster of the organization, giving it to the fellows with our phone and, when they come, the fellows give them a card and say: «Call our General Secretary, she will talk with you”. And so, today there are many fellows who, fortunately, are not paying. But Buenos Aires is a big city. We need the law, so that girls can be organized as cooperative. The law should guarantee us that we rent an apartment to live in dignity. There are plenty of injustices. Why in some provinces the girls have to do HIV test every week? That is abuse and is against the National Law of HIV-AIDS, which poses the informed consent. All those things we covered in the law.

What is the difference between the autonomous exercise over other forms of sex work?

The difference is that they [the self-employed] hire service in the street, go to the hotel and the customer is responsible for hotel rate. She arranges all that. If she makes $200, $300, $400 or more per day, she takes it all. The same with the fellows in cooperatives: from their monthly income, they only detract the rent. They never leave anyone any rate; that is what is happening today. As we are in this legal emptiness, brothels charge a percentage. If the brothel is charging $60 or $70, the girl is under $15. And she has to work 12 hours, has to work during her period and have to go out with whomever they choose. The difference with the street, although it seems incredible to people, is that you’ll acquire some knowledge, as any worker, and decide whether or not you go out with the one that stopped. Nobody is saying “you have to go”. Obviously, if you did nothing all day, you have the pressure of money, but there is no third person that forces you. Then, the body tells you things: how the prospect speaks to you, he looks at you and you know how he will be in the room. If he comes drunk or drugged, you have the chance to say NO, with great elegance.

How A.M.M.A.R. decides to enter the C.T.A.?
The truth is that we came to the C.T.A. as we could have gone anywhere else. We have not militant consciousness. When we started, the only thing that mattered was not going to prison. At the time of the dictatorship we were prisoners’ long time, and we do not benefit from democracy. It was not nonsense. We needed physical space and, during the first few months, we met in pubs in Constitution. But the police saw that we were meeting and expected a threat. We, organized, are a threat to the police, because their business ends. Then they began to enter the bar and take us hair out. Viewing these complications, an anthropologist who had begun working with us and was a friend of Teo Peralta from A.T.E. Capital, suggested us to ask for help to the union. One day, after a meeting there, the police waited for us at the door and took us prisoners. That began to discourage women. Teo Peralta saw that we were being complicated and suggested to me to come to the CTA, which was relatively new. We spoke with Victor De Gennaro and got a little place. We were in a basement; the only ones who came down were Victor and Nestor Piccone [Press Secretary then] to listen to us. It was hard at the beginning to be here, but after having risen to where the other unions, we learned what a union was, what a delegate was and what was to discuss the political situation. After, I was elected as adjunct in the National Board. We are the only organization of sex workers who have this political level: we have not only an HIV area but an area of Human Rights as well. We go further to change the deeper reality. I realized that we were a part. A part of a large class of workers, who are exploited, excluded and discriminated. And no one is saved alone.

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