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INTRODUCTION Prior research has showed that national legal and political contexts directly influence how and under which conditions sex work is performed (RedTraSex, 2013). In spite of the differences across the region, all countries have legal norms and codes criminalizing actions related to sex work. This creates a framework for police repression, institutional violence, precarious working conditions, exploitation and obstacles to access basic health services, including HIV and AIDS treatment and care. This builds a 'cage of clandestinity' around sex work increasing stigma and vulnerability to HIV and AIDS for women sex workers (WSWs). The unregulated exercise of this occupation puts WSWS in a situation of vulnerability and positions them in a space of marginality that forces them to agree to unsafe and even violent working conditions. Even when it is not directly punished by law, in most countries across the region sex work is practiced underground. This research is aimed at bridging a knowledge gap by describing and systematizing the working conditions of women sex workers in the region. It is hoped that the research findings will shed more light on an activity that is conducted across the region while also providing knowledge, recommendations and tools for advocacy with public officials and legislators in order to improve WSWs' working conditions in the region.

Goals and methodology Overall goal

• To describe and analyze the working conditions of women sex workers in 14 countries of Latin America.

Specific goals

• To understand the relation between working conditions and health conditions of women sex workers. • To identify the strategies developed by women sex workers to change their conditions of work. • To formulate recommendations to change or eliminate factors contributing to unfavorable working conditions of WSWs.


This research was conducted through a qualitative approach that allowed us to learn about the conditions under which sex work is performed in the region through the voices of WSWs themselves. To this end, RedTraSex's regional technical team conducted group interviews with WSWs from 14 RedTraSex member countries: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. In these interviews, working conditions in the streets and in indoor spaces were explored following an intentional multi-stage sampling criteria. The groups interviewed included WSWs of different ages – 75% from the 18-30 years age group and 25% that were 31 years and older; nationalities – 75% from the country in which they worked and 25% foreigners; seniority – 75% having worked 9 years or less and 25% having worked for more than 9 years; workplace – 50% in the streets and 50% in indoor spaces. We also conducted semi-structured interviews with national coordinators of our member organizations in each country to complement the information gathered through the group interviews.

LEGAL STATUS OF SEX WORK ACROSS THE REGION In this section we will summarize the legal norms related to sex work in the countries under study . These are indispensable for understanding and contextualizing the information gathered in this study because, as we will see, the conditions of work for WSWs are directly related to the legal frameworks in place in their countries. Overall, it could be said that autonomous sex work is a licit activity in all countries of the region. However, there are


Sex work and working conditions: The impact of being clandestine  

Research conducted in 14 Latin American and Caribbean Countries