Nicaragua pros­ti­tutes study law to help oth­ers

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY BLANCA MOREL

Cony’s usual work clothes are tight-fit­ting out­fits that show off her curves as she waits for clients at the bar.

But to­day she has put on a mod­est flower-print dress to at­tend her first law class, one of 60 sex work­ers who are train­ing to be­come vol­un­teer “fa­cil­i­ta­tors” in the Nicaraguan jus­tice sys­tem.

Cony — short for Con­cep­cion Jar­quin — learned early on to sur­vive in a hos­tile world, and now hopes to use her street sense to help oth­ers de­fend them­selves.

Raped by a neigh­bor at age six, she dropped out of school in shame and left home to es­cape the re­bukes of her mother, who blamed her for what hap­pened.

Forty years and count­less hu­mil­i­a­tions later, this lively, smil­ing woman is study­ing part-time in a con­fer­ence room at the Supreme Court to learn the ba­sics of the Nicaraguan civil and crim­i­nal codes.

She will then be sworn in to act as a li­ai­son be­tween res­i­dents of her im­pov­er­ished neigh­bor­hood and an of­ten in­ac­ces­si­ble jus­tice sys­tem.

The free, year- long course, which meets once ev­ery two months, was or­ga­nized by the Sun­flow­ers Sex Work­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, a group set up three years ago to help pros­ti­tutes get med­i­cal care and pro­fes­sional train­ing.

It is part of a broader ini­tia­tive that has trained 4,300 fa­cil­i­ta­tors across Nicaragua in the past 17 years to me­di­ate in neigh­bor­hood con­flicts — ar­gu­ments be­tween neigh­bors, dis­putes over money, etc. — or get help from sup­port groups or the po­lice in more se­ri­ous cases.

The pro­gram has been so suc­cess­ful at re­duc­ing the caseload of the over­bur­dened court sys­tem that eight other Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries have adopted it.

But this is the first time sex work­ers are tak­ing part.

Maria Dav­ila, the head of the Sun­flow­ers as­so­ci­a­tion, said pros­ti­tutes are ideal for the job.

“We are fighters who know how to over­come and find bread to feed our fam­i­lies,” she said at the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the pro­gram.

“We are women with rights and abil­i­ties ... ca­pa­ble of help­ing our sis­ters and their fam­i­lies.”

Help­ing Oth­ers Es­cape Abuse

For Cony, it is a chance to serve her com­mu­nity and re­gain some of the dig­nity lost do­ing her other job.

“See­ing a stranger on top of you is hor­ri­ble. It’s not a dig­ni­fied job. It’s dis­gust­ing. But that’s how we feed our chil­dren,” she told AFP at the small shack made of scrap wood and plas­tic where she lives in the city of Mata­galpa.

Cony, who has light brown skin and del­i­cate fea­tures, turned to pros­ti­tu­tion to raise her two chil­dren, and con­tin­ues work­ing to sup­port her three grand­chil­dren.

She has slept with men of nearly ev­ery kind imag­in­able, she said: “Farm­ers, of­fice work­ers, col­lege grad­u­ates, pas­tors, priests, politi­cians...”

Nicaragua, a coun­try of six mil­lion peo­ple, has some 14,000 pros­ti­tutes.

Of­ten they are abused by clients, tar­geted for rapes and mug­gings, have no health care and face dis­crim­i­na­tion by the po­lice.

An­other woman tak­ing part in the course, Alon­dra — her name has been changed at her re­quest — de­scribed the hor­rors sex work­ers can face.

“I was raped twice. Once by a gang of 10 peo­ple in Managua. nearly lost my mind,” she said.

The 36-year-old, who does not earn enough to make ends meet in her day job as a house­keeper, said she hopes to help oth­ers es­cape the abuse she has faced.

“I’m go­ing to en­rich my­self more, em­power my­self more and use what I learn to help peo­ple,” she said.

There is no short­age of con­flicts to re­solve in th­ese women’s neigh­bor­hoods.

In Cony’s, for ex­am­ple — a slum called Sor Maria — neigh­bors live prac­ti­cally on top of each other in tiny shacks made of plas­tic and scrap metal. The only source of wa­ter is a truck that passes ev­ery two days sell­ing it in jugs.

Dis­putes, fights and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence are a daily re­al­ity.

Ye­se­nia Al­ston, a 35-year-old par­tic­i­pant in the pro­gram, said

I she is “proud to be a sex worker” but also look­ing for­ward to do­ing more in her com­mu­nity.

The course “is an op­por­tu­nity to help our fam­i­lies and our fel­low sex work­ers, to use the knowl­edge we’re ac­quir­ing to de­fend our rights,” she said.

AFP

Sex worker Con­cep­cion de Maria Jar­quin, 46, drinks a beer at Bar Flor in down­town Mata­galpa, 125 kilo­me­ters from Managua on March 27.

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