Panama’s Sex Workers Expressed Concern About the Extortion by the Panamanian Police

by Ghost writers
sex-worker-rights

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he conditions of Latin America are swelling with poverty, lack of education, drug trafficking, lesser opportunities for minorities, and high crime rates. These factors, and many more social problems, are motivators of increased prostitution in Latin America.

Because many minority families make up low-income statistics, their women have reverted to other forms of income that involve selling their bodies. Many girls and women are therefore more likely to fall victim to sex trafficking if it puts a plate on the table.

It Is No Longer Surprising to Hear of Parents Selling Their Children to Pimps for Low Wages. 

Panama is no exception. With legalized prostitution, the sex business has become more rampant than ever before. Local hotels and business premises are flocked with stunning women willing to sell sex to ‘gringos’, which, in Spanish, refers to Americans.

Street prostitution is the new norm in Bella Vista, Avenida Peru, Avenida Ricardo Arias, and Central Avenue. Like in Amsterdam, Panama’s red-light district is El Cangrejo, where the sex trade is the main business.

As Panama links Central and South America, many Cubans transit in this country. Many women opt to finance their journey through the sex trade.

However, prostitution has become a business niche for Panama’s pimps, but also corrupt police officers.

How Has Prostitution Become a Business to Panamanian Police?

San Francisco sex workers and allies rally for their rights in Jan. 2017. (Photo by Hannah Albarazi)

Because prostitution is legal, every sex worker must register and obtain identification cards to conduct business. However, most sex workers are unregistered, which has created a loophole for corrupt cops to take advantage of.

Panamanian police often abuse their uniform by soliciting sex workers for money or free sex services. Once a sex worker is detained for lack of legal documents, they are charged with hefty fines depending on the region they are detained.

Sometimes, the police would ask for 20, 30, or 50 bucks, or other times, if a sex worker is detained at the Bella Vista substation, they would ask for 200 or 300 bucks. Because these women could hardly afford a nice place to sleep, they would exchange sex for freedom. This follows a testimony obtained from an interview conducted by InSight Crime with one of the sex workers. 

Alternatively, the police would keep tabs on a prostitute until a client arrived, and they would then blackmail the client caught in an embarrassing situation for money, or threaten to detain the prostitute.

A recent survey conducted by Women with Dignity and Rights of Panama (an association initialized as MDDP in Spanish) revealed that 55% of sex workers claimed to have experienced extortions from police officers, while 45% of the remaining total had been asked for sexual favors.

The same association revealed that 77% of sex workers who were members of the survey had fallen victims of verbal violence, while 43% were victims of physical abuse through beating, pushing, or pulling of hair.

The Mujeres con Dignidad y Derecho de Panamá (MDDP) association, headed by Gladys Murillo, reports that sex workers hardly report the bitter experiences they have had, primarily because their case files go uninvestigated, or if they are, no member of the security forces is ever incriminated.

The uniform serves its purpose to intimidate members of the sex workers’ community who have fallen victims to police abuse.

What Can Be Done to Protect Sex Workers?

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Murillo declares that police extortion in the sex worker community has tremendously reduced. This is particularly due to the public awareness created over police abuses of this vulnerable community.

Of the 317 sex workers who participated in the MDDP survey, 85% were Panamanians, while the rest were Dominicans, Venezuelans, and Colombians. Therefore, Panama has many prostitutes, which has led the association to deny that Panama is unsafe for prostitution.

Of the 317 sex workers who participated in the MDDP survey, 85% were Panamanians, while the rest were Dominicans, Venezuelans, and Colombians. Therefore, Panama has many prostitutes, which has led the association to deny that Panama is unsafe for prostitution.

The regulatory board also protects its citizens from pimping. Although prostitution is legal in Panama, pimping is not and is liable to four to six years imprisonment.

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