Puerto Rico’s Sex Workers Are Struggling to SurviveThe challenge of making ends meet was difficult before Covid-19. Now it’s even worse.

Project supported by Magnum Foundation and the Economic Hardship and Reporting Project for The Nation.

Sex work is one of the world’s oldest professions and among the most stigmatized. Yet in countries with declining economies, like Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, more women, queer, and non-binary folk opt for making sex work the primary means of earning their livelihood. Despite Caribean popular culture is considered hypersexual; misogyny, homophobia, and criminalization continue to play a role in the marginalization of sex workers.

The project is a photographic documentation of queer sex work in the Puerto Rico, following economic decline in the aftermath of natural disasters and the current Covid-19 pandemic. In the wake of hurricanes, earthquakes, and unprecedented health emergencies, poor economic infrastructures amplify poverty. The project explores how sex workers in the island cope with economic hardship and create networks to survive and support each other.

The criminalization of sex work in Puerto Rico means that they are not offered labor protections, access to Covid-19 economic assistance, and are more at risk of being detained and becoming victims of police violence. The role of mutual aid becomes indispensable to survival for sex workers that have been a long-time in the industry to those who have joined since the pandemic began.

Read more on The Nation and on Open Society Foundations.

Gabriella N. Báez

Gabriella is a documentary photographer based between San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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