A/N: This is a fictional narrative. It is not intended to be taken as an actual event. However the events discussed by the characters, with the sole exceptions being the characters own experiences, are actual events and portray a legitimate reality affecting sex workers in Honduras. English media doesn’t like to talk about this, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something that actually happens to many Honduran women (both cis and trans). It’s an issue worth discussing critically and with knowledge. The purpose of this fictional story is to make people think a bit more critically about not only sex work but also the society that propels young men and women into this dangerous occupation. Because it isn’t the career that is the problem. It’s the society.
“I don’t know where to begin.” The young woman said simply. The interviewer nodded, somewhat sympathetically. It usually isn’t easy for sex workers to discuss their jobs, even with the most persistent, well-meaning interviewers. The man understood. He’d had experience with this. He’d gotten use to the looks of doubt, to the untrusting eyes. He could read the body language. But he also knew she’d come around. After-all she’d been one of the first to joke about this.
The young man was a bit naive. But he was also earnest. He was quiet, and he was sincere. He knew that people spoke behind his back. They always had. But he also didn’t care. It was a nice change from the shallow individuals who wanted to use them. The individuals who had “wanted change” were always the same, especially when they were men. The older women had gotten used to it. “It came with the terriority.” They’d explain. There’d always be some men, some more sincere than others, some more obviously cruel, and ambitious, who’d talk a big game. But he hadn’t. He had spoken to the others. He made his position clear. He wanted to talk. He wanted the conversation to be recorded, so that people could see it from beginning to end. And afterwards he’d pay for her time, and he’d make sure she had at least one meal. Seemed simple enough, so she agreed to it. She’d been sent as a representative of the girls of the area, of the islands.
His setup was simple. Simpler than some of the other setups she’d seen. But then again, the young woman was popular among more affluent customers. Her youth, and her energy when it came to attracting some of the men had caused her to be one of the more experienced women, particularly when it came to finding the ones with money. They tended to be the worst people, but at least she got paid. The small apartment had a single camera stationed in the hallway, set on a tripod which recorded the encounter. So far it had only recorded her entrance into the apartment, and her initial statement.
He spoke next, his English natural, partially due to the fact that it was his first language. “So what is your name?” He asked, knowing full well she’d use a fake one. “Anna Maria.” She said, and he smiled. It was a fake name. But it wasn’t like the fake names used by many strippers from the United States where it’d be something you could guess was fake. It was a plausible sounding name. He admired her bravery, because many people would like that information on her.
“So I suppose I should set up some context. My friend here, Anna Maria, is a sex worker.” The young man said quietly, seriously, as he glanced into the camera. Anna was sitting on a bright green couch but the young man was cooking, visible, but not completely, his voice coming almost invisibly as the majority of his body wasn’t visible when he spoke.
“I’m a video-maker. And I’d like for the two of us to have a conversation that sparks conversations. I want us to begin a discussion on sex work. And what causes a young woman, or a young man, in Honduras to decide that is a viable career choice.” He says simply, and Anna Maria smiles, the smile gentle and filled with a light humor not normally seen in the face of the young woman, who spends most of her time either trying to find cilents, or studying so that she can find a new career. One in which she wouldn’t be subjected to harassment at every opportunity by everyone from her male family members, to local police officers.
“First you need to understand that sex work in Honduras is legal.” Anna says freely switching between English and Spanish in the sentence. Anna, like many of the other sex workers in Roatan, is capable of using English to speak to some of her cilents, and her level of fluency was actually much higher than others in her same occupation which was part of the reason why she was selected to be the person in the video.
“However just because something is legal doesn’t mean that individuals who participate in this practice are protected by individuals tasked with protecting everyone. Cops regularly engage in discrimination against sex workers, despite having no problem purchasing our services.” The young woman said naturally, her accent occasionally making some words a bit more difficult to understand but for the most part her delivery is perfect, or close to it anyway. The man who was supposed to interview her, has no problem allowing her to direct the conversation, in fact enjoying the level of passion in her eyes as she speaks.
“The government doesn’t care about us. It’s a simple reality that many of us in the industry have come to accept. Some of the men who use the services we offer are members of the government, some of them however have no qualms about beating us once they’ve finished using the same services them publicly claim to loath.” She said, her tone calm despite the words she was using. “In San Pedro Sula violence against women in my profession is exceedingly high, and regularly impacts women who want to make a living. We can’t pick and choose the individuals who come to us wanting to pay us. But do we deserve to get beaten? By virtue of our career, are we worth less than the gangsters who take to the streets and abduct children, hoping to transform them into gangsters much like them?” She was getting more passionate.
“And then when the government steps in it isn’t to make things better for us. They don’t step in to protect the women of this country who’ve elected to step out of poverty without resorting to crime. Rather they want to make things worse for us. We wanted to go online. We wanted to make things better for ourselves, by using social media, but what they want is to shut us down there too! They are always ready to use censorship, but they fail to give us genuine alternatives. Do you think we enjoy this? Do you think we like risking our lives each day, laying down under some wealthy Gringo, or some machista Catracho? We are well aware of the risk we’re in. No one knows it better than we do! We live it. We risk HIV, with each time some asshole doesn’t want to use a condom. But we risk homelessness by not having some money coming in. What’s worse, sickness, or homelessness? Being sick but having the money for treatment, or being out on the streets, hoping for some shot at another place to live?” She said her voice gradually rising.
“The government is ready to shut down our way of life, but then what will we do? The government hasn’t offered some alternative. If the government wants to help us, they’ll either offer some work to sex workers who want to quit, or they’ll create some website for us to use ourselves. We shouldn’t have to face danger every single day, and these pages make it slightly safer for us. Not much safer but they do help. Don’t we deserve some basic safety in our jobs? Some of us have jobs too! In addition to this. We don’t make enough at one, to survive without the other. We can’t help who comes to us. But the government doesn’t want to talk about that either. And the media is ready to demonize our way of life. They equate us to the drug-dealers who murder in cold blood. We don’t want to hurt anyone. We just want to work, get paid, and have an actual shot at getting somewhere with our lives. What we want is the opportunity to live. We want the chance to get an education. We want to be more than we are right now. But of course that isn’t talked about by La Prensa. Or El Heraldo. Instead it takes some amateur vlogger who is ready to converse with sex workers, to the point where his neighbors talk shit behind his back, who has the decency to consider asking us, what we think. It isn’t even a Honduran, it’s a dude who in another life could very well be using one of us, and would treat us better than our own countrymen do.” She says, before she starts to laugh. The laughter wasn’t filled with any sort of humor. Rather it was filled with anger, and rage, rage built up from a career on the fringes of society. “Apparently it’s easier to blame the workers for the crimes committed against them, like blaming a girl who got blackout drunk for being raped instead of critically looking at the rapist who was sober and decided to take advantage of someone who was in position to offer consent. People make jokes too. They joke and joke, but somehow its always them, or their husbands who come to us, ready to throw money at us and expect our panties to drop.” She said, mostly in Spanish but the interviewer simply nodded, understanding what it was that she felt, even if he couldn’t really relate.
“People want to point the finger at us, not realizing that we aren’t the cause of cheating husbands, or of bored, and cruel police officers. We aren’t the ones who use us. We’re simply individuals who need, and deserve, to eat as much as the next woman, or the next man. We don’t point a gun at someone and make them pay us to fuck them. We’re just people who are tired of having guns pointed at us. That’s why we took to the Internet. That’s why we’re digital now.” She said, fury gradually building up. “No one has ever had the decency to ask us what it is that we want.” She says, before looking at the camera. “I wanted to be a teacher when I was younger. Now I want to be a businesswoman. Or a lawyer. Or hell, even a photographer. But that might not happen. Because there’s this stigma. And even if I was a lawyer, or a businesswoman, people would whisper that I got where I was because I used my body.” She said, tears welling up in her eyes. “I didn’t make this choice easily. But I had to choose between this, being some gangsters private whore, or being homeless. And I think I chose the least evil solution. But I don’t know, sometimes it seems like by taking my fate into my own hands, I did something really awful.” She said, angry at the situation, angry that she was getting so emotional, but well aware that she couldn’t do anything about it.
“I have a sister. A sister who lives in Tegucigalpa. She calls me every once in a while. One of the last times we got the chance to talk she told me that some of the boys at her school had forced her to do some terrible things. She was being used. People have the nerve to call me a whore, and other terrible things, but they use me all the same. And now my family is also being used like this. I’m not the problem with society. If you don’t like sex-work, give sex workers some other work. But don’t blame us for deciding to take on society in our own terms. Our bodies are more than a commodity.” She said, smiling softly to herself, like she felt relived. “We aren’t the problem. The society that creates the demand for our existence, while endangering us, and making us be seen as less than human, is the actual problem. We’re human beings, just like you are. Just like the same police officers who beat and spit on us.” She said, calmer now.
“So what do you want to do to make it safer?” The interviewer asked, curious. “I want to raise awareness. I want to help organize groups that ensure safer conditions, including websites, and locations of business. I want to push for legislation that actually protects us.” She said simply, confidently, and the interviewer nodded. “Its time that we stop hiding, and its time that society begin to work with us, instead of making fun of us for having the bravery to refuse succumbing to the temptations to go into crime. Society should be looking to make things safer for us. But instead we continue to be demonized, and even articles that write about sex work in Honduras, in English, act like it isn’t legal in many different cases. So lets become part of the conversation.” She said smiling, looking motivated to do something about her circumstances.
In real life, a young woman or a young man in Honduras could actually become a sex worker. This is a viable career, but one that many different groups seek to demonize. The reason this career is seen as a real one is because the demand exists for it. Women and men get to pay for their food, their rent, their tuition, because of this career choice. However society demonizes women and men who decide that this perfectly acceptable and legal career is a choice they should make. The conversations that Honduran media and English media are willing to have about sex work in Honduras are not enough. Honduran media seeks to demonize the individuals who involve themselves in sex work by equating them with drug traffickers. Unfortunately plenty of careers in Honduras, including taxi driving, and being a student in a public school, lead to encounters with drug traffickers. And English media rarely mentions the legality of sex work in Honduras, even when it mentions prostitution. In February there was a campaign by the National Congress to demonize pages that acted as middlemen between sex workers and their customers. This is a measure which could make sex work in Honduras safer for sex workers. It isn’t enough, but it is a step in the right direction. Electronic pages offer a safe medium in which sex workers can view potential clients and determine for themselves whether or not the potential client looks like someone they can involve themselves with. The National Congress was ready for a few moments to censor these pages. It apparently ultimately made the decision that this wasn’t worth the headache it’d cause, because some of these pages continue to exist on websites like Facebook. However the fact that it was ready to do this at all is absurd.
If the Honduran government actually cared about sex workers, what it’d do is attempt to create alternatives for sex workers. It’d attempt to provide stable housing, group homes, and work WITH sex workers in the first place. However sex workers are the group most affected by HIV, and one of the groups most likely to get killed or injured while working, or even off duty. Some women and men get lucky and find clients that fall in love with them, and they get married and live together with those former clients. But those are a small percentage of Honduran sex workers. Sex workers have to make difficult decisions and many people are perfectly willing to throw them under the bus for refusing to surrender to circumstance. Is sex work a viable option for many people? That’s a difficult question to answer, and the answer could very well be no. But right now the Honduran government needs to work WITH existing sex workers, especially if the media continues to be ready to demonize sex workers. For some people sex work has helped them stay out of poverty. Many women have been assaulted, and some have died, because of sex work, but others have been lucky. If Honduras wants to profit off of a profitable business then it needs to train police officers and military figures of authority to handle situations involving sex workers better, and it needs to figure out what causes some women to be successful in the industry and others to fail at trying to use it as a tool to stay above poverty. A career doesn’t define a person. A person shouldn’t die because of their career, especially if their career hasn’t hurt anyone.