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A nightclub with painted false palms trees and a brothel—disguised as a dance club—just opened their doors. She strolls up and down this central avenue in Guayaquil and stands just outside a construction warehouse.
Guayaquil can be very hot during the winter, and this Saturday is no exception. Between the heat and the humidity, Sofia walks as though sliding on a runway. At times she stops and talks to the security guard or turns her back when a car blows its horn.
Her first potential customer pulls up in a black pickup truck, but no luck. Sofia continues waiting; it could be 45 minutes before she lands her first client. They are ashamed because in Ecuador, prostitution is stigmatized as badly as mental illness or drug addiction. They have fled a country plagued by a worsening economic and political crisis. An estimated 42, of its citizens have arrived in Ecuador.
For most, this means a grueling journey: 29 hours in public buses in two separate legs. Given this prospect, is it surprising that many of the women and even some of the men become sex workers? A researcher at Flacso University The Latin America Faculty of Social Sciences in Quito, she has studied the relationship between migration and sexual commerce in Ecuador for over a decade.
Having interviewed more than 80 prostitutes from different backgrounds, Dr. Ruiz is quick to point out that not all sex workers are victims of organized crime or modern sex slavery. They have to make a choice among very few opportunities: Either they work in low wages and precarious jobs or choose an informal job but get better paid.