ANGELA VILLÓN IS NOT YOUR TYPICAL POLITICIAN. The 51-year-old, who is running for congress in Peru, has spent most of her life as a sex worker. And while many politicians — including plenty in this country — would decry that as an immoral line of work, Villón seems to be running on a platform of human rights that would put most of America’s politicians to shame.
Villón doesn’t shy away from her profession: it’s a point of pride, and it’s also the reason that she’s interested in politics. She has worked in the sex trade in some way since she was 16, when she got pregnant and found herself on the street. She became a prostitute to feed her child in what she says was a “moment of crisis. But the crisis passed and I continued because I feel comfortable doing this job. I’m not a victim.” Sex work is legal in Peru as long as it takes place within legal brothels, but plenty of sex work still exists outside the law.
Villón’s political career started in 1999, when a police officer beat her up for refusing to pay protection money. She took him to court and, surprisingly, won — the officer was jailed, setting a precedent that violence against sex workers didn’t need to be tolerated. As a result, she started Miluska Vida y Dignidad, the country’s first organization that pushed for the labor rights of sex workers.
Villón hopes that in fighting for the rights of sex workers, she’ll also be able to help fight sex trafficking, which in Peru, tends to target the rights of indigenous women. Trafficking is serious in Peru — 66,300 people are believed to be living in modern slavery, or around 0.2% of the country’s total population.
She also plans to fight violence against women in what she says is a culture of “machismo”: “This society is cruel to women. From when we are little girls we are taught to feel guilty and ashamed — that we are either saints or whores.” Part of this is to decriminalize abortions in the case of rape. She also supports civil unions and same-sex marriages.
Being judged for her trade has never worried her: “People say if you go with more than one man, you’re a whore;” she told The Guardian, “if you wear loose clothing you’re a whore; if you’re sexy or sassy you’re a whore … so whether I’m a prostitute or not, whether I do it for free or not, I’d still be called a whore. So I’m a super whore and I’m super happy.”
She believes that she would be an improvement on the current congress, as well, which is trusted by only 16% of the total Peruvian population. “We [sex workers] say that congress is the country’s first brothel. It is a brothel where consciousness, faith, ethics, and principles are for sale, where the big business takes place, where there is corruption under the table. That’s why we are nauseated by that congress, by that brothel.”
It’s a sentiment that may sound similar to people in the US: that so many politicians are unable to feel any compassion for the people on the margins of society, that they can believe in a society where women are constantly held to absurd double standards, and that they can completely ignore the linkages between women’s rights, women’s health, gay rights, indigenous rights, and children’s rights, is certainly more shameful than Ms. Villón’s chosen profession.
If Ms. Villón — one of 2,600 candidates for Peru’s 130 congressional seats — doesn’t get elected in Peru, maybe she’ll consider moving to the US and running for congress here.