The VJ Movement video documentary Refugees turn to Sex Work in Ecuador examines the situation with many Colombian women who had to migrate across the border into Ecuador due to violence. In many cases, without being able to gain legal employment, the women and their daughters find themselves turning to sex-work to make a living.
Amy Brown reports on the situation, interviewing women and agencies in the area. The stories are told by women who had to flee Colombia after threats from the guerrilla, many times leaving businesses and households with only their children and a few belongings. Refugees cannot work legally until they receive a visa, and the process can take up to 18 months, leaving, as the video states “women and girls especially vulnerable”.
In many cases, their requests for odd jobs to make some money to buy food, such as washing or cooking are met with offers to become “waitresses”, the local euphemism for prostitutes working at different bars or brothels. One was told that she could send her pretty young daughter to work at a brothel… the girl was only 13.
But for many women, after three to six months of no employment, with no savings and no opportunities, turning to sex work is the only available option left. And there are enough customers: according to an interviewee who is studying the phenomenon, the oil companies arrival brought the first clients, and they are still the main customers of this growing industry: in the province there are more bars and brothels than basketball courts and soccer fields.
This lack of activities and opportunities for young people puts girls at risk: with nothing to do, 11 and 12 year olds are likely to fall into the illegal activities, in the case of girls, sex work and sex trafficking.