Online or on the street: Mexico sex workers seek worker rights

Members from CLaP march to demand social protections for sex workers in Mexico City, Mexico, on May 1, 2024. ProDESC/handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Members from CLaP march to demand social protections for sex workers in Mexico City, Mexico, on May 1, 2024. ProDESC/handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation.

What’s the context?

Sex workers in Mexico say they are working-class people with no worker rights - a new coalition is out to change that.

  • Online sex work booms after pandemic
  • Sex workers launch new coalition
  • Renewed efforts for social protections, labor rights
  • 'They pay us - but don't think it's work'

MEXICO CITY - Natalia Lane's work is hybrid - like most jobs these days. So the 34-year-old graduate creates exciting online content for half her day then gives over the rest to in-person services.

Lane, though, is a sex worker, so her job comes without any of the basic rights, benefits or protections that jobs in Mexico routinely offer. Something she is desperate to change.

"I've been a sex worker for 14 years. How much could I have contributed so far towards my social security, a house loan, or a credit?" said Lane, a human rights advocate who switched to sex work to pay for her bachelor's degree in communications.

"I have nothing to account for the last 14 years of work, unlike the rest of the working class." 

Since the pandemic and ensuing cost of living crisis, she has seen a boom in online sex work - but like fellow sex workers, federal laws bar her from social security and other labor rights.

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So on May 7, a group of sex workers launched 'CLaP!', a first-of-its-kind coalition that wants the decriminalization of sex work, its formal recognition as a job, and access to social security for those working online and in person.

For Lane, one of the founders of the coalition, the recognition of rights is urgent.

"(Sex workers) have the same needs as any other working-class group, but with particular risks ... and a series of never-ending violences," said Indira Solís, advocate for human and labor rights at ProDESC, an organization backing the new coalition.

Now the group is appealing to potential members online and on the streets of the capital, aiming to create enough momentum for sex workers to win long-sought labor rights.

To date, about 42 workers have joined CLaP!, according to Solís.

"(The coalition) recognizes sex work as a life project, as a personal choice from which we don't need to be rescued," said Lane.

Push for recognition

In Mexico City, sex work was legally recognized as 'unpaid work' in 2013 and decriminalized in 2019 after three decades of protests against police harassment and abuse by organized crime.

But workers say these two legal victories have not brought safer working conditions or any of the standard labor rights.

Sex workers in Mexico City, regardless of whether they work online or on the street, typically encounter discrimination from police, hospitals, prosecutors’ offices and ambulances, according to the latest survey on sex work in Mexico City.

Those surveyed said the recognition of sex work as a job could lessen the daily discrimination, boost access to health services and help cut police violence.

Efforts are already underway in other Latin American countries to win social protections for sex workers.

Take Colombia, where the first initiative regulating access to rights, pensions and healthcare was discussed last week.

Members from CLaP! pose next to a sign that reads 'Sex work is work' in Mexico City, Mexico, on May 1, 2024. ProDESC/handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Members from CLaP! pose next to a sign that reads 'Sex work is work' in Mexico City, Mexico, on May 1, 2024. ProDESC/handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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Eli, who identifies only by his first name, started creating explicit content for social media platforms and websites such as OnlyFans two years ago.

But without social security, he has missed out on public healthcare, retirement benefits and housing.

"We live under certain censorship. If I'm looking to rent an apartment, for example, I can't say I'm a sex worker for fear that they'll deny me access," said the 36-year-old, who is helping CLaP! recruit new members.

In the past two years, lawmakers have backed a host of initiatives to get social security to gig workers, a fast-growing sector that spans everything from food to sex work.

The efforts, however, have not translated into law.

Providing digital platform workers with social security is also a campaign promise of Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico’s presidential front-runner. Her plan, however, leaves out sex workers, centering only on drivers and delivery workers.

For members of ClaP!, this is a familiar snub, as their work is generally not considered a real job by fellow workers.

Moreover, they face an uphill fight to be recognized as a workers' union, due to a lack of contracts or invoices to prove their income.

"Violences lived by other workers are not different from the ones we live. The great difference is that no one will ever question whether what they do is work," said Lane.

(Reporting by Diana Baptista; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths.)


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Tags

  • Future of work
  • Workers' rights
  • Economic inclusion

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