A Close Look At The Trafficked Girls Of Argentina
They stand naked on the corners of Buenos Aires while the cops remain complicit.
Florencia Villa didn’t know what she was looking for. She just got in a cab and told the driver to take her to the notorious part of Buenos Aires’ Palermo district, where female prostitutes are known to hide in plain sight for anyone who’s interested in company. Upon arrival, it didn’t take long for trafficked girls, as young as 13, and trans-women to approach the vehicle—some of them completely naked. But when Villa told them she was interested in giving them a voice, in telling their stories, they scurried away as quickly as they’d come.
It took Villa, a freshman in college and photography student, six months of returning in her own car to photograph six women. In that time, hundreds refused, scared that their pimps—observing them from the shadows—would penalize them for speaking out.
Prostitution is an epidemic in Argentina, where young girls and members of the LGBTQ community are trafficked from impoverished, rural areas outside the city and neighboring countries such as Peru, Colombia, Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, and Chile, among others.
Villa, wanting to hear these women’s stories, joined private groups of Argentinian sex workers on Facebook. The tales of being trafficked are eerily common. Girls, she says, often start partying in Latin America at around 14 or 15 years old. Big black and white vans park outside the clubs, waiting for them to emerge intoxicated. And then, the traffickers jump out of the vans and chase the girls down, grabbing them and bringing them to Buenos Aires to spend the rest of their youths under the close guise of pimps.
The most egregious part, says Villa, is that “everyone in [Argentina] is aware of it but no one does anything.” Villa’s photo essay is called “On The Corner Of The Street” because, she says, these women are literally “on the corner, naked, even in the winter.” Meanwhile, it’s common knowledge that the police in Argentina are complicit in the trafficking trade because they get paid off by the smugglers.
This was detailed by a report released by the U.S. State Department on Argentina in 2016—the year that Villa photographed her subjects—and reaffirmed in a report from the same agency on international human trafficking in 2017.
Argentina has been making recent efforts to curb illegal prostitution, but the country still has a long way to go. In the last couple of years, they’ve identified more victims (666 in 2016 compared to 424 in 2015) and increased the support available to help trafficked women heal and reintegrate. Yet, according to the U.S. State Department, as of 2017 “official complicity continued to be a significant concern.” A judge, a superintendent, and a provincial mayor were all found to be protecting sex trafficking organizations in the country. No officials had been convicted yet.