Guatemala City, GUATEMALA, AMERICAS: Squat one-story buildings border an overgrown railway track, the shell of an old yellow Toyota rusting quietly in the battered shadows. Outside the shacks, a few men loiter, waiting and smoking; on the other side of the doors, women engage in the dangerous business of selling sex for money.
This is “La Linea” in Guatemala City.
La Linea, or “The Line” is the Central American capital’s most famous red-light district. On any given day, around 250 women occupy this stretch of apparent no-man’s-land, soliciting business from darkened rooms. The women – some of them girls – do not have pimps, but every few days, members of powerful local gangs go from room to room demanding they pay a “protection fee”. Those who cannot pay are likely to be strangled.
Although a police station is located in the same neighborhood, the authorities have turned their backs on the area, leaving these criminal networks to run the show, and is theirs whose presence weighs heavily in the air. Without any sort of regulation of the sex industry, these female sex workers are left to exist on the shadowy periphery of societal consciousness. This makes them extremely vulnerable.
To the media, they are part of an illicit world of their own construction, while the pólice regard them as sluts or “putas”: fair game for murderers and those who rape them. It is this stigma that denies them protection from the law, that grants the men who kill them impunity and which isolates them from family and friends.
While stamping over the sparsely weeded earth of La Linea, it feels like the dust kicked up falls upon a land forgotten. To assume that this is a place devoid of hope or strength would be a mistaken idea.