Efforts to Control Arizona-Mexico Border Prostitution Ineffective, Experts Say
Along the border of Tucson, Ariz., and Nogales, Mexico, a new city code could keep prostitution in specific brothels and bars instead of tourist areas. The plan calls for police to search for underage prostitutes, drugs and the government-issued health cards that prostitutes are required to carry. "We're not worried about them," said Patricia Barrn, a sociologist and social services investigator in Nogales. "We're just looking to see they have their card, like it's a rite of employment," she said.
When the program started, 300 prostitutes and bar employees were carrying the cards, said city Sanitation Department Director Dr. Alejandro Gutierrez Moreno. Now, fewer than 100 women bother to carry them. "It's almost impossible to measure the number of prostitutes working in this city," said Nogales Assistant Police Chief Rodrigo Ortiz, who pushed for the new enforcement codes.
In a city of more than 350,000 people, about 100 prostitutes are being tracked and only 12 bars are subject to inspection by Police and Sanitation Department officials. To enforce compliance, small teams of police drop in on bars and clubs unannounced Wednesdays through Saturdays; workers and customers seem to take the police effort lightly. A prostitute found without her health card faces a 36-hour jail stay and a maximum fine of $800.
Barrn says the city is concerned only with the welfare of the predominantly American customers while leaving girls to succumb to drug abuse, disease and violence. "We have to find a way for the girls to know we care about their health," Barrn said. "If the city can build empathy with the girls, the girls will take better care of themselves. That will drop the infections of the clientele."
Among 36 syphilis cases this year in Pima County, two patients acknowledged visiting a prostitute in Mexico, said Miguel Rojas, a senior communicable diseases investigator with the Pima County Health Department. In 2002, of 95 cases, four acknowledged having sex with a prostitute in Mexico.