The residents and business owners of three Cuenca neighborhoods say it’s time for the city follow to through on promises to control prostitution. “They have told us for years that they would control it but nothing has happened,” says Av. Huayna Cápac businessman Juan José Merchán. “It’s driving out legitimate business and increasing crime.”
The city says new restrictions on the world’s oldest profession are under consideration as part of the new 2030 urban plan currently being debated.
“We understand the concerns of the neighbors and we are working toward a solution,” says city councilman Xavier Barrera. He says the new law would restrict the areas where registered prostitutes are allowed to work but says the rights of the sex workers must be protected. “There are a number of issues that must be resolved to protect all parties involved.”
According to both officials and resident, prostitution is on the increase in the El Vecino, Nueve de Octubre and Terminal Terrestre barrios, and many of those involved are not registered and do not undergo monthly health exams required by city ordinance.
“Even if they [the city] enforce the laws that already exist, it would be a big help but they don’t even do that,” complains Carolina Mejía, a vendor at the Nueve de Octubre market. “They have forgotten about us and we are left to deal with the thieves by ourselves.” She says prostitution has taken over the sidewalks in the neighborhood.
Barrera agrees there is urgency to control prostitution. “We are working to establish tolerance zones for sex workers but we must also address issues concerning the rights and welfare of the workers,” he says. “We must be clear about the uses of public spaces when it comes to the sex workers.”
One solution to the problem, proposed by a University of Cuenca study, is to consolidate legal prostitution in the Cayambe neighborhood, where many of the registered brothels are located.