A Visit To A Hair Salon Changed A Prostitute’s Life In Mexico City

Esperanza Escobar, 53, had been a sex worker in Mexico City for over two decades and finally found help, by visiting a hair salon.

Escobar was known to regularly visit a certain hair salon situated in La Merced, in the red light district of Mexico City. It was reportedly her respite from grueling days where she might have to face as many as 60 clients, all demanding sex from her.

Reportedly, La Merced is located to the east of the main Zócalo plaza in Mexico City and hosts a commercial stretch of busy roadway where hundreds of sex workers are regularly seen plying their trade, as pictured at the top of article.

Escobar had been visiting the hair salon in Mexico City for around three months, as the staff there treated sex workers kindly and offered them cheap prices to make them feel good about themselves.

However, it turned out the hair salon was really a front, run by a charitable group called the Well of Life Foundation, currently working to rescue sex workers and the victims of sex trafficking in Mexico City, offering them a chance of a brand new life.

Escobar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation she thought she was going to the beauty salon for a cut and dry. Instead, she got herself a new life. Escobar said she ended up escaping a life where everyone treated her like a dog thanks to the help of the undercover activists at the hair salon in Mexico City.

The Well of Life Foundation went on to give Escobar shelter in a safehouse. Escobar said, "I escaped that same day and haven't looked back."

According to Women United Against Trafficking, an activist group working in the country, human trafficking is thought to be the largest and fastest growing criminal activity in Mexico, with around three-quarters of its victims being women and girls forced to work as prostitutes and subjected to sexual exploitation.

Reportedly, cartels in Mexico control around 14,000 women who have been forced into modern-day slavery in the country, while a further 6,000 women from Mexico have been forced to work in the U.S. and Canada.

As reported by IOL, the Well of Life Foundation reportedly has links to a Christian non-profit organization called Youth With a Mission, and they have reportedly rescued over 30 women since they started their decoy hair salon last year.

According to Reuters, one woman rescued by the hair salon told them she had been sent to work in Atlanta for four years, on top of working in the sex industry in Mexico for several years.

Betsy Alfaro, one of the founders of the Well of Life Foundation, said the women are forced into believing they are worthless and that they are only good enough to sell their bodies.

Saying that as many as 10 customers each day at the salon are sex workers, Alfaro went on to say their foundation's aim is to show them there is a way out, first by treating them as friends, instead of judging them as criminals. She said they hand out flyers advertising free haircuts to the sex workers, adding that, should the woman's pimp become aggressive, they then have the perfect excuse to talk to the women.

Sarah McKenzie is a Canadian volunteer working at the hair salon and reportedly the only trained stylist on the staff. She said, "It's a job that breaks my heart on a daily basis."

Reportedly, besides offering the women safe shelter, the foundation has set up a workshop where the women can earn money producing necklaces for the group's jewelry brand, Nunayu. Nunayu reportedly means "freedom" in the indigenous Mixteca language of southern Mexico, where the majority of the sex trafficking victims are found.

Speaking of the jewelry operation, Claudia Martinez, 32, says she feels useful for the first time in her life, saying she escaped a particularly aggressive pimp around nine months ago. She says she now prides herself on producing at least four necklaces each day. She said that working with other women who understand her pain has given her a happiness she hasn't known in over ten years.

According to Alfaro, Mexico's justice system has a conviction rate of less than 25 percent when it comes to sex trafficking cases, and those cases rarely get to court. In 2014, only 136 pimps were actually prosecuted by Mexican courts. She said that prostitution is considered to be part of the everyday life in Mexico, and they have often seen the police in the area working alongside the pimps.

Alfaro added that all they can hope for at the moment is to improve the lives of the women they come into contact with in Mexico City at the hair salon in La Merced.

[Photo La Merced, Mexico City via Flickr by ·júbilo·haku· cropped and resized/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]