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A shop where sex workers buy their clothes in the Santa Fe neighbourhood in downtown Bogota, Colombia, May 15, BOGOTA, June 5 Thomson Reuters Foundation - It is barely lunchtime on a weekday but in the popular brothels in the Colombian capital's gritty Santa Fe neighbourhood, where scores of Venezuelan women sell sex, the lap dances are in full swing and the shots of alcohol are flowing.
In one brothel in Bogota's downtown red light district, Maria, a former university student from Venezuela, stands beside a pole dancing area with coloured fluorescent lighting, waiting for the first of up to 10 clients of the day. I never ever imagined I'd be doing this in Colombia," said Maria, who declined to give her real name, wearing a skimpy dress and shiny stilettos. As a humanitarian and political crisis in neighbouring Venezuela deepens, Maria is one of growing numbers of Venezuelan women working in bars and brothels across Colombia.
Campaigners and the United Nations say Venezuelan migrant women and men selling sex in Colombia are at high risk of being trafficked into forced prostitution but little is known about the true scale of the largely invisible problem. Venezuelan migrants who have been trafficked into the sex trade are often lured by false promises of well-paid work in Colombia's restaurants and bars or as domestic workers. But then they find they are forced to work long hours with little or no pay, are not free to leave the bar they work in, and may be trapped by debts owed to the agents who brought them across the border.
Maria, 26, says she had no choice but to resort to prostitution, putting dreams of being a television host on hold and leaving behind her young children, husband and sick mother. For the past year, she has travelled back and forth from Bogota to Venezuela's capital Caracas every 90 days, before her tourist visa expires, carrying medicine, food and soap. It's a secret," said Maria, who has told her family she is a travelling salesperson. Leaving my children is the hardest part," said Maria, as tears welled up in her eyes.
Outside the brothel, skimpily clad women stand on graffiti-strewn corners, while waiters dressed in pink waistcoats snort cocaine and others usher in more customers.