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A new NGO in Nicaragua aims to protect the rights of women who voluntarily work in the sex trade, raising the question of whether sex work should be seen as a legitimate job, or should be treated as a component of organized crime that is inherently linked to problems like human trafficking. Its application for legal status was approved by the National Assembly on March 22, and the organization has already deployed 25 employees across the country, reportedly providing some women with health aid, literacy training, and legal support.
The group argues that sex work should be recognized as a respectable form of self-employment, one that allows women to support themselves and their families. Nicaraguan law allows the exchange of sex for money, but brothels and the promotion of prostitution are illegal. It will be a long road. Transferring activism into real protection remains elusive. Some 11, women in Nicaragua are thought to engage in sex work as a living.
Even for those who voluntarily enter the trade, the business is heavily stigmatized and filled with violence, with few protections from authorities. According to Davila, seven prostitutes working with the Girasoles were killed in , and there are hundreds of other attacks against sex workers which go unreported. But it raises the fundamental question of whether sex work should be seen as a legitimate job, or whether it should be treated as a component of organized crime, with inherent links to problems like human trafficking.
Like Nicaragua, countries across Central America — including Costa Rica, Panama, and Guatemala — have penalized the purchase of sex work, but not the sex work itself.
This creates a confused situation in which prostitution is legal but workers are still exposed to abuses by their partners, clients, and even the police themselves. This partial criminalization of sex work drives the trade underground, making it more likely that criminal networks will step in and control the trade. The question raised by organizations like the Girasoles, who say that the sex trade should not be stigmatized, is fundamentally about what is the best way to protect its workers: criminalizing the business, or legalizing it?