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Making the Harm Visible
Global Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls
Speaking Out and Providing Services

Report from Latin America, Zoraida Ramirez Rodriguez









To give you a full report of the activities of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Latin America and the Caribbean since 1994 would require filling out years of diaries and still there would be information left out. I say this to highlight the fact that in our countries we are the dealing with ever increasing sexual exploitation and lack of appropriate resources. The struggle to do the work is difficult. As an activist of the Coalition since July 1993 and acquiring added responsibilities in 1994, I have faced many limitations and frustrations.

All our activities have been carried out ethically which has strengthened my commitment to fight for women’s human rights and against sexual exploitation. This stance has given me the incentive to overcome difficulties and as a feminist to fight against the legalization of prostitution. It is a responsibility, not only to report on the activities, but also to comment on our feelings and our present situation. Each time, there are fewer and fewer of us willing to become involved and confront the difficulties in fighting sexual exploitation. The decision to fight patriarchy by attacking prostitution generates pain when we have to confront women, who in the past have been committed feminists in many of our countries. How are we able to prepare a report without being concerned that our mental health is sound enough to continue our struggle, and to give assistance to our girl children and women in prostitution? Have we all acknowledged that we feel resentment toward women who say they are feminists, but subscribe to the principles of patriarchy and therefore do not join us in our struggle. We need to grow spiritually so that our energy spreads far and wide. For me, the struggle has taken titanic dimensions.

The fact that the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women has a plurality of beliefs has been the determining factor for many Latin American and Caribbean organizations to be part of the network. We have felt linked to each other, but have never experienced a feeling of subordination, which has enhanced our ability to work. There has been a respect and acceptance for the diversity in which different groups have carried out their local work.

There has been contact and support at national and regional levels. There has been specific projects including those coordinated by Marlene Sandoval in Chile, Lucila Maldonado in Colombia, Ana Vasconcelos in Brazil, Antonia Herranz in the Dominican Republic, and Maria Ortiz Rivera in Puerto Rico. We have been able to work within the framework of global guidelines, through various languages-English, French and Spanish. All the work has been carried out according to our personal resources, in our endeavor to spread the work of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.

Having worked and accumulated so much experience throughout the years in the Coalition and even before, it is my duty to state that each day that goes by I feel more of a human being as a member of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. I feel that within this organization, within myself there is a new feminism shining forth, a true humanism. I am hopeful, and I am the messenger of hope.

Brief evaluation of the trafficking and prostitution situation in Latin American and the Caribbean

In order to evaluate, briefly and objectively, the situation regarding prostitution and trafficking in women in Latin America and the Caribbean, we must consider the commitments agreed to by the different governments and the international community at the Copenhagen Summit as well as at the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women. Then we must establish which commitments have been met, and come up with some conclusions regarding the quality of life for women and girls within the region.

Regarding sexual exploitation and its implications, the first indicator that must be considered is the Total Foreign Debt. As the commonality affecting most countries, this factor is the main link between poverty and women’s situation. Governments' political good will indicators show that this situation has not changed. The number of women heads of household is more visible and is increasing. Full employment is not a priority in economic and social policies; thus free choices for a secure life style for women are restricted. We are finding ever-increasing numbers of women and girls in prostitution as a way to survive. Unemployment rates increase very fast. There are no social welfare plans or alternatives to discourage migration from the rural areas.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies and the impact of global economy measures have benefited the sex industry. Privatization and tourism development ensure that those countries looking for development will also find sex tourism, along with the exploitation of natural resources and the loss of national sovereignty.

Regarding the Action Plan agreed on the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women, no country has met objective No. 4 Violence against Women: "to eliminate the trafficking in women, and to give assistance to women victims of prostitution and trafficking." Tabloids quite often report how the police regularly and brutally raid brothels, bars, and nightclubs and detain women who are being sexually exploited. There is no respect, promotion or protection of women’s human rights, on the contrary the same law and order enforcement officers violate these rights. There is no protection for the women and children victims of exploitation, trafficking and child prostitution. Otherwise, international networks involved in these practices would not gain ground. The number of cases of women and children victims of such crimes has continued to increase, including sex tourism and pornography within South America, and also in other world regions. The most talked about pornography scandal recently is the Paris incident in which Colombian children were used in the making of pornography videos. After a few days, it stopped being in headlines, so that those responsible can go free, and in this way the patriarchal banner continues to fly in impunity.

Governments will not take on board violence against women as a factor that contributes to social disintegration, let alone the fact that sexual exploitation constitutes violence and a violation of women’s human rights. In addition, women’s health is seriously compromised due to inadequate preventative health programs, the decline in the number of free medical services, and the high cost of private medical care. The incidence of teenage pregnancies in girls younger than 15 years of age is ever growing and could become a social problem, especially since many countries do not have Women’s sexual and reproductive health programs.

The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women suggests that governments, which are not observing international agreements, should be penalized, as they are violating women’s human rights. Prostitution and trafficking in women and girl prostitution in Latin America and the Caribbean has increased alarmingly. NGOs working in these areas suffer from lack of resources, which makes their work more difficult.

It is important to highlight that after the "Seminar Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents in the Americas," in Brasilia in April 1996, now called "The Brasilia Seminar," only two countries have responded responsibly in designing strategies to deal with child prostitution. These countries are Argentina and Brazil. Here there has been the political will to take on board difficult problems. Tourism promotion in Brazil reflects changes such as campaigns to prevent AIDS and HIV, rejection of child prostitution, police stations with special remit, and national help lines dealing with these problems. In Argentina the National Council for Minors and the Family (Consejo Nacional del Menor y Ia Familia) has mobilized resources, including legislators, judges, educators, doctors to bring about the required changes by offering support and assistance to children who have been exploited sexually.

Short country reports from Latin America on political and ideological achievements.


The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women started to operate as an NGO in Latin America and the Caribbean in Venezuela in July 1993. From UNESCO’s headquarters in Caracas, the Coalition was able to carry out the following activities.

Seminar-Workshop on "Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Latin-American and Caribbean Women and Girls," 7—11 March 1994. UNESCO sponsored the first regional meeting on what is considered such a controversial and avoided theme. This has been by far the best example of a supportive expression from an international organization given the seriousness of the issue regarding sexual exploitation of the women and girl children living in this region. UNESCO has made it clear its political will to look for solutions to those violations against women’s human rights to NGOs and government organizations

The Coalition has also participated via TV on the campaign against pornography in Venezuela, from March 1996 onwards in the Maracaibo Legislative Assembly, Zulia State; as well as in the national campaign organized by the 1997 Venezuelan Episcopal Conference. These public campaigns helped to publicize that some official members had conflicts of interest, personally and financially. The same thing also applied to TV channel owners, who were petitioning for the pornography channel to be part of the national TV circuit. The Coalition believes that political commitment should be the public basis for approaches to this problem, rather than using economic reasons, which have also been used by the patriarchal social structure as tool to discriminate against women.

Dominican Republic

The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women participated in all the sessions of the "First Dominican Congress of Women in Prostitution or Sex Workers" held in Santo Domingo in May 1995. It was responsible for considerable political/ideological discussion regarding the term "sex worker". The Centre for Orientation and Comprehensive Research (Centro de Orientacion y Investigacion Integral-COIN), who organized the event, chose the Congress’s name and confirmed the participation of two of the most controversial personalities in Latin America and the Caribbean: Gabriela Leite, Brazil, from the National Association of Women Prostitutes (who did not participate at the last moment), and Economist Zoraida Ramirez Rodriguez, Venezuela from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. The Dominica women in prostitution attending this event, whether they were residents of this country or not, decided to give careful consideration to the terms "sex worker" and "woman in prostitution" before adopting one of them.

The largest number of sexually exploited women from Latin America comes from the Dominican Republic. These women are vital to the sex industry. This is the reason why this process of reflection around the term "sex worker" had such relevancy. A year later, "The Regional Meeting on Trafficking of Women and Migration, Prostitution, Domestic Work and Marriage" took place in the Dominican Republic on December 11-12, 1996. This event was sponsored by the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women of Thailand along with the Dutch Foundation Against Trafficking in Women, the UN’s International Research Institute, and the Women’s Training Department (INSTRAW). It is understood that some of the event’s reports were the basis for the International Report presented by the Speaker on Violence Against Women at the United Nations.

Discussion panels included: Trafficking on Women at the national and international level, organizing around trafficking in women, sex worker’s organizations dealing with traffic of women.


The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women was a member of the working committee in charge of organizing the "Seminar Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents in the Americas," in Brasilia in April 1996. It also participated in the different round tables, workshops, and testimonies, demonstrating a high level of knowledge around this subject at international level.

This event was an opportunity to strengthen the activities against all forms of sexual exploitation and also to engage the regional governments’ commitment in this struggle. By the end of the seminar, the "Brasilia Letter" was prepared and its text agreed on by consensus. It was translated into English, Portuguese, and Spanish. Later on, at the "World Congress Against Children’s Commercial Exploitation" celebrated in Stockholm, such a document represented the genuine situation in the Americas.

"The Brasilia Letter" may be considered a valuable ideological-political tool since it includes recommendations to governments and society at large and proposals to combat the problem according to the historical moment. "The Brasilia Letter" (1) denounces the global networks working within the sex industry, (2) identifies the lack of political will on the part of governments to confront the serious regional reality of prostitution and trafficking, (3) reasserts the fact that all forms of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents are a violation of human rights, and (4) recognizes the connection between the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents and women’s sexual exploitation.


The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, along with other Chilean NGOs, strongly denounced the exclusion of problems affecting female children and women, such as sexual exploitation and violence, from the Fourth Meeting of the Latin American Human Rights Inter-Parliamentarian Commission, which met in Chile in May 1996. These demonstrations constitute an important political-ideological achievement since members of the Parliaments in the different countries of the region make up the commission, and are the same people in charge of legislating. Therefore, it is so important to stress upon them the need to use the tools, which guarantee women and female children their Human Rights.

In Chile, as well as in other countries, some groups and individuals acknowledge and try to justify prostitution as work. The painful years people suffered under General Pinochet’s dictatorship have not helped for a better understanding of the meaning of the human rights violation of citizens within a political and civil rights context. This situation has demanded a public debate on the concept of work that gives human dignity. What is often unmasked is the fact that all political expressions devoid of a gender perspective are patriarchy’s tools to perpetuate discrimination against women.


The Argentinean Government through the National Council for Minors and the Family and the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women signed in June 1996 in Buenos Aires the first bilateral agreement to collaborate in the organization and implementation of training activities for their members. Such activities would include seminars and supervised activities geared toward better academic training on topics related to trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and female children. The Coalition and the Council will provide advice, information and technical support. As many members as possible from the Americas Coalition Network, NGOs, and other organizations will be trained by the Coalition and the Council. The training will be carried out at the Garrigos Specialist Training School in Buenos Aires. This joint approach fulfills the Brasilia proposal to fight against children and adolescent's sexual exploitation. In order to strengthen these political and ideological achievements, the Council once again taken up support of Palacios Law. Palcios Law is the only law in the region which penalizes the prostitution of minors of both sexes, and seeks to protect prostitution victims whatever their age, sex, or social class. The Congress of Argentina declared the 23rd of September to be "National Day Against Sexual Exploitation" so that the community becomes more aware of the situation. The Coalition has proposed that there should be a campaign to adopt such day of recognition throughout the region.


Zoraida Esperanza Ramírez Rodríguez is an economist, born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1949. She is the author of Prostitution and Underdevelopment: A Feminist Approach (1994). She earned her degree from the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) in 1987 with the presentation of her thesis Prostitution in Venezuela: The sex industry creates "work" during economic crisis. Their "salary" and contributions to the redistribution of the national revenue, which merited her mention as an "Excellent Publication" and later that year was published by the Advisory Board of the School of Social Sciences and Economics at UCV. This publication was also awarded "Best Research" by the Venezuela National Academy of Social Sciences and Economics. Since 1993 Ms. Ramírez has been the Latin American and Caribbean representative for The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, and became a Vice President in 1997. As a member of the Coalition’s Board of Directors, she has attended and spoken at a number of international conferences as a delegate on its behalf, including "Executive Committee ECPAT," El Salvador–Central America in January 25-31/1998, "The II Journey Against Sexual Exploitation of Children," September 1997 in Argentina, "Working with Women and Girls in Prostitution: Programs and Policies," 23-27 July 1997 in New York, U.S.A., the International Conference "Violence, Abuse & Women’s Citizenship," 10-15 November 1996 in Brighton, UK, the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, August 1996 in Sweden, the Journey Against Sexual Exploitation of Children, June 1996 in Argentina, the Seminary Against Sexual Exploitation of Children, April 1996 in Brazil, the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women and N.G.O. Forum held in Beijing, September 1995 in China. Ms. Ramírez organized the internationally attended Latin American Conference on Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Women held in Caracas in March 1994, and subsequently compiled and published the findings in the book Acción Internacional Contra la Explotación de la Mujer. In May 1995, she spoke at the Primer Congreso Dominicano de Mujeres Prostituidas o Trabajadoras Sexuales in the Dominican Republic. In October 1994, Ms. Ramírez represented the Coalition in Bucharest, Romania at the Triennial Convention of the International Abolitionist Federation. There she was designated consultant status to the Romanian Abolitionist Federation on issues of human rights, prostitution, and trafficking in women in Eastern Europe. A designated member of the Bureau "Pour Une Plate Forme Plus," Ms. Ramírez represented Latin America and the Caribbean at their convention in Paris in 1995 (invited by the Federacion Internacional de Derechos Humanos, UNESCO, and European Union). Ms. Ramírez is the founder and Director of Planning, Budgets, and Financing for the Latin American Center of Interdisciplinary Studies (CEFLEIN) where she has advanced feminist thought throughout the region. From 1991 until 1994, Ms. Ramírez worked as a representative for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Third World Movement Against the Exploitation of Women (TW-MAE-W), an organization with consultative status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. In June 1993 she attended the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights on their behalf. As the Venezuelan National Consultant to UNIFEM in the United Nations Programs for Development (PNUD), her 1993 request to the Regional Coordinator of UNIFEM helped expand the database and technical assistance in Venezuela on issues concerning women. Ms. Ramírez is well known for her ample participation in the feminist movement on both the international and national level. A feminist since 1968, she has expressed her opinions by founding activist groups and magazines, speaking out on radio and television programs, and publishing her ideas in the mainstream press. She has pioneered research and developed campaigns to discuss topics such as: prostitution, women’s human rights, the plight of street children, abortion, nuclear energy and the arms race, ecofeminism, and the role of the housewife. She is active in groups such as The Liberation Movement of Women and is a founding member of others, among them, "Conjura" and "La Mala Vida." Some of her greatest contributions to the movement are the creation of the only two feminist magazines in Venezuela, "Boletín Una Mujer Cualquiera" and "Revista La Mala Vida." In Venezuela, she has organized national events, journals, workshops and theater and film events in order to spread the word about the problems women face and to offer some possible solutions. From these efforts Ms. Ramírez has seen tangible results including the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th National Women’s Forum for Artisans, Factory Workers, and Cooperative Laborers. As an economist Ms. Ramírez has had a great deal of experience in the area of the national economy. Through lending her time and work to ANPMICALS (National Association of Small and Medium Industry), FEDEINDUSTIA (Federation of Small and Medium Industry), and CORPOINDUSTRIA (National Corporation for the Development of Small and Medium Artisan Industry), she has been an advisor to a great number of businesses. From 1990 to 1991, she worked as an advisor to the Ministry of Employment, researching for the design and application of World Bank programs that affect Venezuelan women.







Published by
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, February 1999
Donna M. Hughes and Claire M. Roche, Editors
ISBN 0-9670857-0-50
Donna M. Hughes, dhughes@uri.edu