Murders in Peru increase as sex workers face violence and extortion

Sex workers in Peru are facing physical violence, murder, kidnapping, and extortion at dramatically increasing rates. NSWP member organisation, Rosas Mujeres de Lucha - Peru, has been fighting against this violence and advocating with authorities such as the Ministry of Women's Affairs, the Ombudsman's Office, the Ministry of  Interior, and the police. Here Leida Portal Tapia, President of Rosas Mujeres de Lucha - Peru, shares what has been happening in more detail. 

"Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been invisibilised by the state. Although in a message to the nation the Minister of Health mentioned sex workers, it was only for appearances, since during the pandemic violence against Peruvian and immigrant sex workers increased. Our peers were forced to vacate their homes, their electricity and water were cut off for lack of payment. Our colleagues could not bear to see their children starving and in the street, so they went out to work, exposing themselves to COVID-19 and the collection of quotas. The police intercepted them in different places, taking them to the police station, supposedly as the regular process should be. But they took them to the national stadium, they made them stay overnight, threatening them that they had to pay for the COVID-19 test, pay the fine for being on the streets during curfew according to Legislative Decree No. 1458, and these fines ranged from S/ 88.00 soles to S/ 440.00 soles and the monetary bribe that we had to give the captain to let them leave soon. So our companions called the organisation to ask for help, since they had small children and wanted to return home. Since they did not have the resources to pay for their freedom, as an organisation we asked institutions for help to pay for the COVID-19 tests and fines.

That is why we have advocated before the Ministry of Women's Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Social Inclusion, and the Ombudsman's Office, to denounce and demand justice for our colleagues. That is why we created our shelter, called ''El Jardin de las Rosas'' (the garden of roses) where they stay when they have no place to go. We hold workshops on empowerment, human rights, digital media, and psychological therapy. The COVID-19 crisis, political conflicts, assassinations and abuses of authority are getting worse and worse. We received support from international organisations to provide our peers with food, medical kits, and the making of communal cooking pots for them and their children.

From 2018 to 2019, 7 sex workers were murdered, who were found with strangulation marks and were also stabbed. Between the years 2020 and 2021, 8 more sex workers were murdered, and 19 sex workers died as a result of COVID-19. And from 2022 until this year 2023 we have an alarming count of 17 sex workers murdered, and this number continues to increase. They shoot our colleagues to death and to intimidate us even more they send us videos of how they are murdered to make us afraid of them. They murder cis and transgender sex workers mercilessly, the mafias continue to grow and the authorities continue to refuse to protect us. We have fellow sex workers who have been kidnapped, for whom they demand money from us if we want their release. We do not want to be one more figure in this statistic of femicides.

We do our best to comfort our colleagues. However, they are threatened, tortured, they arrive bloodied, bruised and begging for help.

Police authorities and municipal authorities began raids from February 21 to arrest sex workers in Jr. Zandia, Grau, Galvez, and Lampa in downtown Lima, as well as in Lince and other districts. If they do not have a medical certificate, they will be taken to the police stations and transferred to the health centre to be tested for HIV/AIDS and STIs. We as an organisation reject this type of violence because we consider it a total setback, which violates the human rights of sex workers. On February 22, a march was held in downtown Lima, in which we demanded justice for our deceased colleagues. During the march, our organisation was informed that they had sent people to threaten those who were speaking out.

We will not silence our voice in the face of injustice, mistreatment and the indifference of the state, we will not let the deaths of our murdered colleagues go unpunished. Our colleagues are no longer here, but we will continue to fight for us and for our dead.