June 22, 2007 / 11:59 PM / 12 years ago

Critics warn Mexico City over prostitution proposal

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A proposal to legalize prostitution in Mexico City risks making women more vulnerable to human traffickers forcing them onto the street as sex slaves, a U.S. academic said on Friday.

At a conference on human trafficking, Rhode Island University professor of Women’s Studies Donna Hughes said a plan by Mexico City’s left-wing government to make prostitution legal in the capital could mean more women and children coerced into being sex workers.

Hughes said her research in Europe and elsewhere suggested that legalizing prostitution only aggravates the problem of sexual slavery, rather than relieving it.

“This really legitimizes the sex trade and allows it to advertise very publicly, to expand the market of services. It creates a demand for more victims,” Hughes said.

Networks of human traffickers prey on homeless women and children, as well as illegal immigrants, often offering them promises of jobs in Mexico City or the United States but instead forcing them into prostitution.

Prostitution is illegal in Mexico but is widely tolerated everywhere from grimy street corners to swanky brothels. Police can easily be bribed to turn a blind eye to sex workers.

Legalizing it is the latest liberal idea by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) — which runs the capital’s government and has a majority in the city assembly — since it legalized gay civil unions and abortion earlier this year.

Some PRD lawmakers also oppose the move, however.

“Personally, I’m opposed ... to legalizing something that could harm society,” Victorio Ruben Montalvo, a PRD deputy in the national Congress and a speaker at the conference, told Reuters, noting it was not yet a done deal.

“You have to understand that this is still just an initiative, which hasn’t yet been debated,” he said.

The two-day conference was hosted by Mexico’s Center for the Study and Investigation of Social Development and Assistance in conjunction with the Mexican Senate.

Speakers included representatives of the United Nations and the Organization of American States, and public officials from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

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