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

Preventative Action Against Prostitution in Venezuela, Zoraida Ramirez Rodriguez









There is a constant state of economic, moral and social crisis in Venezuela. Funds for all public services, particularly those in education and health have been severely cut by the government. Consequently, there has been an increase in the number of early school dropouts and more sickness. High unemployment and an increase in the cost of living have worsened the conditions caused by a decrease in salaries. Women and children are the most affected sector. Pimps and transnational sex industry networks have taken advantage of this situation by recruiting women and girls into prostitution and trafficking. This contemporary slavery has become a means of survival.

There are an ever-increasing number of women and girls from all social classes who are prostituted in Venezuelan towns and cities. They are exploited nationally or internationally by sex tourism, trafficking, pornography and/or prostitution in brothels or on the street. These women run a high risk of catching any sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. They are victims of physical and mental harm, such as mutilations, dementia, torture, and in some cases death and disappearances. Young women suffering from malnutrition as a result of alcohol and drug addictions and from sexual violence are found in increasing numbers in nightclubs as well as red light and sex tourism areas.

Data on the current situation of Venezuelan children and women in terms of poverty indices show that 71 percent of this population is living in poverty at the national level, 87 percent in rural areas, and 69 percent in urban areas.

Adult women and children need to be informed about all the causes and effects of prostitution and trafficking, and all the dangers they may fall prey to. They need to be informed of their human rights and what legal resources they are entitled to. If they do not know the dangers, or their rights, they constitute a "captive market" for the global sex industry that is part of the world economy. They need to be alerted.

As risk increases so does the need to procure direct help to those affected by this serious problem. In the same fashion it is imperative that there should be financial backing for those projects designed to rescue women and girls and meet their physical and spiritual needs. Prevention is also very important. In Venezuela there was a total lack of preventative programs against sexual exploitation, so the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women - Latin America created a prevention project to arrest the spread of prostitution and trafficking in under-age and adult women at the national, regional and international level.

We developed preventative workshops against the sexual exploitation of women and girls in Venezuela. The specific objectives of the preventative workshops were:

    1. To sensitize youngsters so that they become aware of the need for prevention given the increase of prostitution and trafficking in women and female children. To address both sexes, so both the "supply" and "demand" in the sex industry are analyzed and discussed.
    2. To facilitate an analysis of women’s human rights violations.
    3. To inform on risks of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and AIDS.
    4. To establish informed attitudes about these problems.
    5. To highlight those individual, family or social risks factors which make women and girls vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
    6. To generate understandings of the different forms of sexual exploitation of women and girls. To generate the will for change, and to create solidarity and collective effort.
    7. To strengthen the work against sexual exploitation of women and girls which is being carried out by similar NGOs at the local and international level.
    8. To avoid an increase in the number of women and female children being sexually exploited and victimized by trafficking within and outside the country.

The Preventative Program trains student mentors, who will in turn educate peers about the reality of trafficking and sexual exploitation. The training of student mentors of both sexes was designed to fulfil a requirement of their last year of studies, as stipulated in the Education Law Article 27: "Besides those requirements to obtain the High School or Technical diploma each student is required to participate in an activity which benefits either the establishment or the community. The Ministry of Education gave the appropriate guidelines so that this requirement was fulfilled." At the end of the training program the student mentors were able to do the following:

  1. Trained mentors of both sexes were able to work on educational activities including: human rights and prevention of prostitution and trafficking in women and children, and the violation of women’s human rights. These activities could be carried out in the communities as well as in educational establishments.
  2. Trained mentors of both sexes, who by living and sharing in family and community life, were able to generate and strengthen attitudes which carry human principles of self-esteem, care, solidarity, communication, responsibility, freedom, and autonomy which are currently lacking from the Venezuelan society.
  3. Trained mentors of both sexes, who were able to comfortably manage knowledge regarding the consequences for: prostitution and trafficking in women and girls, lack of knowledge of human rights, violation of women’s human rights. Mentors should be able to identify violators and/or abusers of either sex, be knowledgeable of vulnerability factors and able to use appropriate techniques and strategies in such situations.

Those menitors of both sexes should become sound and permanent spokespersons against the recognition of prostitution as legal work.

Each year in 1996 and 1997, 70 workshops were presented in secondary schools and in poor communities in Caracas, Venezuela. The audiences were girls and boys, aged 13 to 23 years of age. Each year the workshops educated 3,500 people about the risks and harm of sexual exploitation. In 1997, six training programs were held to train peer mentors. Sixty people participated in each training.

Through the training programs for peer mentors and the educational workshops we hope to prevent women and girls from being recruited into prostitution and trafficking.


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