Former Sex Worker Elected to Congress in Dominican Republic Wants to Help Women

Former Prostitute Elected to Congress in Dominican Republic Wants to Help Women

Jacqueline Montero isn't your typical congresswoman. The Afro-Latina, a former sex worker-turned-women's rights activist, will take her seat in the Dominican Republic's Congress next month, and she’s going to bring experiences and perspectives unseen before in the conservative country.

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In her 46 years, Montero has known hardships –to say the least. As a child in the foster care system, she was sexually abused. When she was 16 years old, she married a man who physically assaulted her. When he left the teenage Montero and their child, she survived through the street economy, feeding her baby with the money she made as a sex worker in Santo Domingo.

"I know the hardship that forces someone to go out on the street because your family doesn't have food," she told The Associated Press.

That's why Montero has spent her time advocating for women's rights for the past decade, and now, as part of the port city of Haina in the 190-seat lower house of Congress, she hopes she’ll have the power to bring greater political change.

She already has plans to introduce legislation prohibiting discrimination against marginalized groups, including sex workers, people living with AIDS, members of the LGBTQ community and the elderly.

"I want [sex workers] to have social security, insurance and to be able to benefit from all government subsidy programs," Montero said.

She hopes her own real-life experiences in some of these matters will help her congressional colleagues to understand and sympathize with the "terrible life" sex workers have dealt with.

"If I had not been raped when I was young and if the adults had believed me I would not have been a sex worker," Montero said.

While her legislative position has been described as "relatively minor," Montero’s radical presence is revolutionary and her enthusiasm to help the disenfranchised is necessary.

"It's a victory for civil society," Dario Garcia, executive director of a private HIV and AIDS organization in the country, said. "She represents an idea, the idea of non-discrimination, of equal participation of men and women," Santo Rosario, the coordinator of a sex worker rights group, added.

Still, Montero, a mother of three who adopted 12 other children of sex workers, knows it's not going to be easy. The Dominican Republic is one of the most socially conservative countries in Latin America, with lawmakers particularly opposed to women's rights like abortion and a myriad of LGBTQ issues.

But the congresswoman-to-be is up for the challenge.

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"When it comes to discrimination, I've been battled-tested and I'm going into this prepared," she said, smiling.