A few years ago I worked as a psychotherapist in a governmental institution in Mexico that treated survivors of sexual violence. One day it was announced to us that we would have to participate in “operations” – raids of homes or hotels that aimed to “rescue” victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
I resisted taking part in these “operations” because I wasn’t sure what they were all about. For several months I managed to avoid the call to participate in the raids. Psychologists that did go along told me they were taken to a hotel. They had to speak to the women there to “calm them down” and explain to them that they would be taken to make a statement.
Eventually I could avoid the calls no longer. I took part in my first and only “operation”. I saw how the rights of the women found in the hotel were trampled on. I witnessed the physical maltreatment of sex workers found in the vicinity. This single experience made me resign my job.
The raid made me rethink several issues. Was setting out to rescue victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation the correct strategy for dealing with the problem? Was the problem really as serious as people made out, or was it being sensationalised?
Above all I started to think about real victims of the raids: women engaged in prostitution for whom mistreatment at the hands of the police was by no means a novelty. The only aspect of the “operation” that would perhaps have been new to them was seeing the role of people like myself – psychologists and social workers who were acting as undercover cops, sent in to win the confidence of the women and then use this information in an unethical way.