This App is Helping Argentine Sex Workers Protect Themselves from Police Harassment

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Sex work is legal in Argentina, but that hasn't made it safe. Sadly, some of the biggest perpetrators are those tasked to protect and serve: police officers. Without the authorities on their side, women are forced to take matters of safety into their own hands – and they have with a new app.

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"Puty Señal" is a mobile application created by the sex worker trade union La Asociación de Mujeres Meretrices de Argentina (AMMAR) that works as a panic button.

"It's like an alert system. We can activate the alarm in case of danger so our own network can be alerted. It's a tool created for sex workers, but could also be good for all of society," Georgina Orellano, sex worker and secretary general of AMMAR national, said.

According to Orellano, 80 percent of women sex workers in the South American country is harassed by law enforcement.

That's not all. A 2015 U.S. State Department report on human trafficking found that Argentine authorities also participate in illegal sex trafficking.

"A government entity has reported police were complicit in 40% of sex trafficking cases either as purchasers of commercial sex or as personal contacts of brothel owners; this serves as a disincentive for victims to report exploitation," the report noted.

With just a wave of one's phone, the app alerts lawyers and human rights organizations that someone is in trouble. Both sex workers and witnesses to crimes against them can use the secured application, even choosing to be anonymous if they prefer.

"We took into account all the security protocols and use standards similar to those used by Telegram and if the user decides to make the complaint anonymously," Diana Bunker, the app’s designer, said.

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While Puty Señal doesn’t solve the problem of institutionalized violence in Argentina, it does empower sex workers to take action.