Operating across the country, they work on prevention of disease, conducting workshops with vulnerable youth, as well as combating discrimination against workers and advocating for them politically. At the local schools in Las Terrenas, a stream of older, European-looking men drop off Dominican children in the morning. The Dominican Republic is a deeply Catholic country and yet COIN has been successful by any measure, despite the stigma associate with sex work advocacy. But everything is not as it seems:
But everything is not as it seems: As relatively wealthier foreigners flood the town, international relationships are seen by many as a way out. To the untrained eye, the energy on this dance floor would appear to be nothing more than an organic gathering, one of the few places in the small Dominican seaside town where tourists and Dominicans can be found in equal numbers. And yet, the hundreds of sex workers she interviewed all viewed international relationships as the best opportunity for themselves and their families. Many will leave their children with their parents while they travel or move temporarily to the touristic zones of the country to make money, sending remittances back to their families. Explaining that minors having sex for money is more prevalent in the areas with beaches than in smaller towns without tourists, Martinez says that it is a difficult issue to address, as the Dominican outreach is limited without cooperation from foreign governments to curb demand. This advancement has exacerbated the conflicts within communities. The typical profile of a Dominican sex worker is a young woman in her early twenties with a low level of education, up to three children and no financial support from a partner. The majority of hotels, villas and restaurants hire employees seasonally during the winter months or high season, he says, and then lets them go. This was a problem that I ran up against in my reporting; although I interviewed many sex workers, they did not self-identify. It is a weeknight at La Bodega, an open-air night club in the heart of Las Terrenas, a resort town on the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic. Operating across the country, they work on prevention of disease, conducting workshops with vulnerable youth, as well as combating discrimination against workers and advocating for them politically. When asked about this, industry advocates and sex workers are explicit: Gomez, who points out that in two days of work, a woman can make as much as she would in a month at a non-sex work job. The practice has even made it into the movies, like Sanky Panky and Sanky Panky 2. However, the threat of arrest still looms over sex workers, as their work remains unprotected by the law. When discussing phenomena like male sex workers, feminization of the workforce and changing family dynamics, many Dominicans see these as a product of the new tourism-based economy. Cesar Rodriguez, a doctor who moved to Las Terrenas 30 years ago. This is much less than other parts of the Caribbean, where sex tourism is not as popular. But there are many consequences. As a whole, the Dominican has shifted rapidly from the agrarian economy it was in the s, when sugar cane ranked as its leading export. If the country wants less prostitution, there needs to be more opportunities, not more policing. They would discuss past relationships, why they preferred to be with foreigners and what kinds of financial contributions they expected from partners, but it was not framed as sex work. Vulnerable populations, like transgender and gay people, are especially at risk when policing is based on profiling. In the last 15 years, Las Terrenas received electricity, running water, an international airport and, perhaps most importantly, a highway connecting it to Santo Domingo, enabling travel to and from el capital in less than three hours. She finds it disturbing that, despite development, Dominican social services, like access to higher education and proper infrastructure, remain limited.
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