Friday, February 19, 2010

Mourning in silence

I’ve been searching the newspapers over the past month for information about the death of a sex worker in one of Quito’s suburbs. She was shot through the face by a retired police officer who didn’t want sex workers hanging around his neighborhood. S. from Espejo and Montufar Streets had accompanied this woman to work outside of the city; the cop wanted to kill them both but fortunately, S. was able to escape unharmed. When S. recounted the incident to me, she said she felt like the real target and should have died in place of her friend. According to mainstream news outlets in Quito, this event never happened. Chances are good that the retired policeman will never be brought to trial. I cannot see S., who has a police record of her own, being taken seriously in court. A known addict who prostitutes for drugs, S.’s testimony will most likely not hold weight and the retired policeman will be set free (I’m not sure he was even arrested).

S. faces a problem common to marginalized members of any society. Events considered newsworthy do not often happen to people of color, the disenfranchised, the poor, or delinquents. While looking for news about the death of this sex worker, I came across the story presently dominating Quito’s newspapers about the tragic death of Natalia Emme, a young middle-upper class woman who was killed by a hit-and-run driver speeding down an illegal trolley lane. The driver of the car was quickly identified but she maintains her innocence. In protest, Natalia’s parents have organized weekly marches in one of Northern Quito’s main thoroughfares to demand justice. El Comericio, Quito’s most prestigious newspaper, has focused on the Emme case for 2 weeks straight. Distinguished community members have written editorials about the incident and Natalia’s last words-last photos are printed over and over again. Natalia happens to be a beautiful European-looking (white) woman who had modeling and acting pursuits. Without a doubt her story is tragic and her family deserves justice. Most likely, they will receive it. They have the resources and cultural capital to organize marches, rallies, press blitzes involving the most powerful members of Quiteño society.

I wish S.’s co-worker received the same amount of media attention when she died. Natalia’s death was an accident; her family is up in arms because it was a hit-and-run, but most people accept that it happened due to reckless driving. In contrast, the sex worker was killed in an act of pre-meditated violence. Chances are it was not an accident. S.’s says the retired police officer insulted them, calling them “putas” (whores) and worthless women. He said he was going to kill them and indeed, he did. The fact that no investigation has happened into the incident, that El Comercio has not dedicated one sentence to it strikes me as unjust. This man knew he could get away with murdering a sex worker, which is why he did it. In the United States as well, sex workers are similarly easy prey. As marginalized members of society, sex workers can disappear without a trace and nothing will be done. Friends and family will mourn quietly while the rest of the world turns their attention to more “important” events.

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