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MEXICO: The women of Casa Xochiquetzal, a unique shelter for elderly sexworkers

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Normota, a resident of Casa Xochiquetzal, rests in her bedroom at the shelter in Mexico City, Mexico on May 24, 2013. Although she remembers her early childhood fondly, she was raped by one of her brother’s friends when she was 9 years old while walking back from school in a small rural town in Jalisco. She was also assaulted by a priest where she lived. Soon after, at age 14, she ran away from home to escape her abusive brother, finding work as a waitress in various red-light districts. Norma had many lovers but only one real love. She had four children, the first one at age 16. She told me she tried to kill herself four times. She says “I make jokes about my life so I can live day to day, but my sadness has no end.” One day, Norma explained why she got her name tattooed on her arm: if she died alone on the streets, people would know who she was. Thanks to Casa Xochiquetzal, the women have escaped a fate that they once feared: dying on the streets, alone and anonymous, only to be buried in an unmarked grave. Now they know they will have dignified burial. And that they won’t die alone. Casa Xochiquetzal is a shelter for elderly sex workers in Mexico City. It offers its residents refuge, food, health services and a place to learn about their human rights, as well as courses to help them rediscover their self-confidence and deal with traumatic aspects of their lives. Casa Xochiquetzal provides a space to age with dignity for a group of vulnerable women who are often invisible to society at large. It is the only such shelter in existence in Latin America. Photo by Bénédicte Desrus