Hello everyone! This summer I am conducting research for my honors thesis on how the legality of brothels influences sex work conditions in different Latin American countries, kindly funded by the Duke Human Rights Center and the Sanford School of Public Policy. For this research, I’m traveling to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Quito, Ecuador, and I’ll be documenting my experience on this blog.
I just arrived in Buenos Aires tonight after a long flight. I expected to go to bed pretty early tonight, but when I arrived at my AirBnB and told my host (who is also American) about my research project, to my surprise she responded that the street over from us is in fact known for having many sex workers and that she would happily show me where they hung out.
So, my two-week stay here has started off with a bang. Around 11pm, we headed to a pretty nice looking restaurant on a street corner, where, indeed, there were multiple women standing around outside. We went into the restaurant and sat by the window where we could observe them. They were not dressed incredibly noticeably; many wore tight jeans and a jacket but I would not have known they were sex workers had they not been just loitering outside waiting for a client. They chitchatted and laughed among themselves, and we noticed more arrive as time passed. A few times we saw a man approach them and talk to them for a bit; one of the men seemed friendly with them and kissed them each in the normal Argentine greeting. My host wondered why they were all outside and not sitting indoors; apparently, when she has come in the past, the women sit at tables indoors and find clients within the restaurant. Perhaps the restaurant is no longer letting them do so, though we saw multiple come in to use the restroom.
As we were sitting, we saw one elderly man come inside the restaurant alone and sit down at a table and order a glass of wine. He looked over at us several times, and we presumed he was unsure of whether we were working. When I looked over at him, he extended his hand toward me, and I looked away and started laughing. He heard my host and I speaking English and then began speaking to us in English as well, and he turned out to also be American. He asked if he could come sit at our table, and we agreed. He told us he was a professor from a well known American university (whose name I’ll omit for now, but I looked up his name and he is who he says he is), and he told us he enjoyed coming to the restaurant and observing the exchanges between the sex workers and the men, and disclosed that he had purchased sex from workers there before. When I told him about my research and asked if he’d be willing to be interviewed, he agreed, and said he would do so on the record.
By the time we left, many of the women were gone as well, which apparently isn’t usual. Perhaps they went to find a better spot since they weren’t getting many customers.
So there we go. I was expecting I would only be able to get interviews with NGOs, and I’ve already set up a couple, but first night and I’ve got an interview with a john. Now I’m trying to figure out how I might approach some of the women in the coming days to see if they would be willing to speak with me. I’ll be attending an event of the sex workers’ syndicate here, AMMAR, for the International Day of Sex Workers on June 2nd, and I hope to find some good contacts through that.