Prostitution is illegal in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but you might not know it from a visit to Plaza de Miserere, more commonly referred to as “Plaza Once” after the Once de Septiembre train station which sits in the center of the Plaza. In fact, so many women are prostituted in Plaza Once that it has gained a third moniker: Prostitute Plaza. Girls openly sell themselves, albeit discreetly, without any indicators that the police pose a threat to their activities.
An economic collapse in 2001 left nearly 40-percent of Argentina’s population unemployed. In the wake of the recession, Argentina witnessed a spike in prostitution as women with no options began to sell themselves in order to survive. The climate was so dire that even women over the age of 60 turned to prostitution, and while some of them had sold themselves in the past, others came out of retirement to sell their bodies with no prior history in the sex trade.
As witnessed the world over, the rise in poverty in Argentina was matched by a rise in the exploitation of women and children in rural areas who were lured, deceived, or coerced into the sex trade by organized trafficking rings. Traffickers will often kidnap girls outright, and this frightening trend is so familiar that the country even has a soap opera that endeavors to generate awareness of the issue. Titled “Stolen Lives,” the soap opera routinely has audiences of two million people out of a nation with a population of only 40 million.
In the last ten years, the problem has only gotten worse. While the number of women reported missing is rising, the age of the women is declining. That means that the ever-present demand for sex is now turning its insatiable gaze towards young girls and boys. And while 70-percent of trafficking victims in cities like Buenos Aires are Argentine, there has been an influx of victims from other countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, and Peru. To visit “Prostitute Plaza” and see the muli-national representation is to see human trafficking hidden in the plain sight of all who visit the restaurants and shops there.
While the laws are on the books, the government in Buenos Aires are largely complicit. Stories abound of policemen who either threaten to arrest prostitutes unless they receive money or sex, or shakedown clients with threats to tell their families unless they pay them instead of the woman. The fact of the matter is that, for a developing country like Argentina, there is just too much money to be made. Even though the Dominican Republic has a growing number of girls that are trafficked to Argentina, officials are reluctant to respond since they send money home to their families, which boosts the economy. And Buenos Aires is gaining a reputation as a world class sex-tourism destination, another boon to another ailing economy that governments are happy to ignore.
In a globalized world where the indomitable forces of international trade, organized crime, and grinding poverty form a perfect storm for exploitation, there are few solutions. If the women and children being sold in Buenos Aires have any hope of escape from their desperate plight, it will be found on the battle front of prayer.
- Pray the an effective rule of law will be established in Buenos Aires so that sex-laws will be enforced, and women will be freed
- Pray that the Lord will devastate the economic and sexual greed that is complicit with the sale of women’s bodies.
- Ask that God would incite a public outcry, that no longer would human trafficking be openly tolerated in Plaza Once, or any where else in Buenos Aires.