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

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Marbella, a resident of Casa Xochiquetzal, in her bedroom at the shelter in Mexico City, Mexico on July 8, 2013. Marbella is from Michoacan and is 61. She ran away from home at age 9, a year after her father began molesting her. When she got to the Mexico City bus station, she met a woman selling food on the street who offered her a home and education. Marbella had nearly finished her studies to become a teacher when her caretaker died, so she turned to sex work at 17 to pay for her rent and studies. She later married, but when her husband passed away, she went back to prostitution to pay for her three children’s schooling and her daughter’s Leukemia medication. When her daughter succumbed to the disease, Marbella fell into a deep depression and was unable to work. Unable to pay her rent, she was evicted, and that’s when she arrived at Casa Xochiquetzal. She is very thankful to live at Casa Xochiquetzal. Her biggest sadness is that her surviving children no longer speak to her because of her sex work. Marbella loves to read, and she also writes her own poems. She says it’s therapeutic. "This house taught me that my life is worth a lot, that I am as dignified as any other woman," Marbella says. 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