The “Most Dangerous City in the World” – Especially for Sex Workers

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Sex workers wait for customers in Honduras. Honduras now has the highest per capita murder rate in the world and its capital city, Tegucigalpa, is plagued by violence, poverty, homelessness and sexual assaults (Photo Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images).

Sex workers wait for customers in Honduras. Honduras now has the highest per capita murder rate in the world and its capital city, Tegucigalpa, is plagued by violence, poverty, homelessness and sexual assaults (Photo Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images).

Ian Lekus of Amnesty USA’s LGBT Human Rights Cogroup contributed to this post.

San Pedro Sula, Honduras, has been called “the most dangerous city in the world.” For sex workers in the city, the risk of violence is multiplied many times over.

Despite the fact that sex work is legal in Honduras, many groups and individuals view their actions as immoral. Those who murder sex workers believe they can literally treat these human beings as garbage to be disposed of. Such violence takes place against the broader backdrop of widespread gender- and sexuality-based violence that imperils women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) persons all through Honduras.

Prejudice against sex workers makes it especially hard to bring pressure on the government to protect those who engage in this activity. Human rights are not, however, a popularity contest. They must apply equally to everyone – and must protect a country’s most vulnerable citizens.

Those who murder sex workers believe they can literally treat these human beings as garbage to be disposed of.

Amnesty International has issued an Urgent Action on the recent killing of sex workers in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. In less than a month, at least nine sex workers were murdered in the city of roughly 900,000 residents.

On December 13, 2013, several men riding in a minivan shot and killed three sex workers following a brief argument:

  • Ana María Sánchez Zaldíva
  • Doris Malene García
  • Milagro Rosario Bonill

The same gunmen also abducted Zoila Yamileth Sánchez Zaldívar, who was later found dead.

About two weeks later, a similar group shot at a group of four women working outside a bar in San Pedro Sula, killing:

  • Irina Marisela García Maradiaga
  • Irma Melisa Benítez Lewis
  • Sandra Liseth Aldana Pereza
  • Gabriela Alejandra Osorto

The latest incident took place on January 7, 2013, when Marco Noé López Castillo, a transgender sex worker, was abducted by gunmen wearing ski masks and body armor. Like many other victims in the region, her body was thrown away as garbage in a plastic bag. She had been bound, strangled, and repeatedly run over by vehicles.

These killings are part of an overall epidemic of gender-based violence in Honduras. In its report covering 2012, the Regional Human Rights Monitoring and Analysis Team in Central America (Equipo Regional de Monitoreo y Análisis de Derechos Humanos en Centroamérica) found the homicide rate against women in Honduras rose more than 18 percent over the 2011. This was the 8th straight increase. Most of the violence took place in urban areas similar to San Pedro Sula.

The Regional Human Rights Monitoring and Analysis Team in Central America also contains information on the horrific violence against the LGBT community is also horrific in the Honduras. The National Human Rights Commission of Honduras reported that at least 61 members of the LGBT community were killed between 2010 and 2011. (The National Autonomous University of Honduras reports 101 during the same period.)

While 92% of these cases are never resolved due to lack of investigation, the report found that those responsible, include “members of the National Police, the Municipal Police, relatives, security guards, and unknown individuals.” The report also highlighted San Pedro Sula as one of the cities with highest level of anti-LGBT violence.

While sex workers make up a small portion of women and LGBT individuals, they are more likely to be targeted with violence and less likely to receive protection. The information contained in Amnesty International’s Urgent Action makes it clear that these killings were carried out in an organized manner, with a similar modus operandi used in both of the December attacks.

Furthermore, the abduction and murder of Marco Noé López Castillo by men wearing ski masks and bulletproof vests clearly shows premeditation. The groups behind these abuses must be thoroughly investigated, disbanded, and punished. The Honduran government’s failure to do so following past killings has allowed these crimes to continue.

Please take action and tell the Honduran authorities that they must investigate the murder of these individuals and all other sex workers!

For more information on femicide – the murder of women in which gender was a motivation – in the “northern triangle” of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, see a recent New York Daily News article. (Disclosure – I was a source for this article.)

Please also read the January/February 2014 issue of Amnesty’s WIRE magazine for information on AI’s upcoming My Body My Rights campaign, which will focus on sexual and reproductive rights in Nepal, El Salvador, Burkina Faso, Ireland and the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco-Western Sahara, Tunisia).

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