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Jump to navigation. Criminalization and a lack of protection by law enforcement makes sex workers in Guatemala and beyond vulnerable to violence. But one group has decided to organize to make their work safer.
I n an office full of women on a quiet street near the center of Guatemala City, Samantha Carrillo flips through a worn little booklet about the size of a passport. The small notebook contains results from the mandatory testing for sexually transmitted infections that she received for years. Samantha does sex work, and for decades, Guatemalan law required sex workers to submit to these routine police-enforced health checks. While on paper the practice seemed to be in the interest of public health, sex workers saw it as an enormous breach of privacy rights that left them exposed to abuse by local officials.
In , she and her fellow sex workers successfully organized to end the policy. Founded in , the women of OMES work to combat stigma and violence against women in their industry. In Guatemala, 20 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced some kind of physical violence. But rates of violence for women who do sex work are much higher. Worldwide, between 45 and 75 percent of sex workers experience physical or sexual workplace violence during their lifetimes.
It was this vulnerability to violence that pushed Samantha and her colleagues to create OMES in Samantha entered the sex trade when she was As they talked, Samantha became curious about her job, and quickly learned that sex work paid far better than any of her previous work in malls or bakeries.
Samantha wanted in. Her classmate told her to come back the next day so that she could get started. On her first day on the job, Samantha showed up to meet the woman who owned the rooms where the women worked. She dressed nicely, as if for a traditional office job: formal slacks and a blouse. One night while she was working, she was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and robbed by a group of men, she told me.