Former Mexican Sex Workers Find Safety in This Retirement Home

Few people consider what happens to sex workers who age out of the world's oldest profession. In Mexico City, many of them find refuge at Casa Xochiquetzal, a retirement home for women just like them.

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The government-run senior care facility is unlike any other. There, former sex workers whose youth faded, landing them on street corners penniless, are given permanent shelter. But the 20-something residents who call Casa Xochiquetzal their home receive more than a roof over their heads and food on their plates. They are also provided with health services, offered counseling to overcome years of trauma, taught about their human rights and self-confidence as well as connected with social workers who help them locate long-lost birth certificates and identification they need to reap additional forms of government benefits.

"Casa Xochiquetzal provides a space to age with dignity for a group of vulnerable women who are often invisible to society at large," said Bénédicte Desrus and Celia Gómez Ramos, a photographer-writer duo that spent six years documenting the women at the center. “Its creation has made clear how few people—including the residents themselves—have ever stopped to think about what happens when women in the sex industry grow old.”

Casa Xochiquetzal, established in 2006, is the brainchild of Carmen Muñoz, a former sex worker who was inspired to create a refuge after spotting several women who used to work the street sleeping under grimy plastic tarps and cluttered market stalls.

After 20 years of lobbying the government and NGOs, she finally got the support needed to open the shelter 10 years ago. Since then, more than 250 women have found a safe house at Casa Xochiquetzal.

Life at the center isn’t very strict, either. The women must abide by a short list of rules: nightly check-ins, weekly meetings, housekeeping, bans on men and drugs and, often the most difficult, respecting their roommates.

“This is not as simple as it sounds. Years on the streets have made these women tough, and they hesitate to soften up,” Gómez Ramos and Desrus note. “Some knew each other before moving in—not as friends but as rivals hustling for johns. And even now, as they share a roof, friendship is not a given.”

While arguments have gotten physical, most residents recognize early on that talking things out is wisest. Those who do follow the rules are even allowed to work small businesses, like selling candy, cigarettes, used clothing or, if they still want to, sex, off-site.

For their shelter, assistance, freedom and visibility, the women are thankful. “They have escaped a fate that they once feared—dying on the streets, anonymous, only to be buried in an unmarked grave—to age in comfort among other women who were once haunted by the likelihood of such a frightful vision coming to pass,”  Gómez Ramos and Desrus say.

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For more on the women of Casa Xochiquetzal, purchase Gómez Ramos and Desrus’ book, Las Amorosas Mas Bravas, or watch their film of the same name.

(h/t Daily Mail)