Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City’s retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

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Topics: slideshow, Creative Time Reports, Mexico, Mexico City, sex workers,

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    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2010.

    Lunchtime at Casa Xochiquetzal.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2013.

    María Isabel in her bedroom. The former sex worker, who grew up in Michoacán, ran away from home at the age of nine after a year in which her father “used her.” When she got to the Mexico City bus station, she met a woman selling tamales who offered her a home and education. María Isabel nearly finished her studies to become a teacher, but when her caretaker died, she became a sex worker to survive (at the young age of 17). She now reads, writes poetry, embroiders and makes earrings and bracelets.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2013.

    Victoria and Gloria watch television at Casa Xochiquetzal.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2010.

    Amalia puts on makeup before going out to work on the streets of the La Merced neighborhood of Mexico City. Amalia, 66, is from Michoacán and came to Casa Xochiquetzal when it first opened its doors. She wears a wig and pads her bra. She is very animated; words and songs come easily to her. She has also suffered from schizophrenia for 22 years, but despite hearing voices, she works hard not to lose touch with reality. As a way of earning a little money, she gathers plastic bottles to recycle and also helps to sell clothes in a stand operated by her boyfriend of 31 years.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2012.

    Amalia in her bedroom.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2009.

    Jimena in her bedroom, where she tends to spend much of her time alone.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2013.

    Victoria visits her daughter in Pachuca, a city located an hour northeast of Mexico City.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2013.

    Amalia in the bathroom.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2012.

    Leticia’s belongings. At the age of eight, Leticia watched as her mother said good-bye from the back of a trailer, never to see her again. Originally from Chihuahua, she began working at nightclubs and eventually married. She didn’t walk out on her husband when he hit her—he made good money—but she did leave when he brought other women into their house. She abandoned everything, including her children, and has tried to take her own life twice, yet she’s still here. At Casa Xochiquetzal, she practices yoga daily and tries to be a peacemaker and a good housemate; however, her sweet expression can quickly turn to anger. She stays active by knitting, embroidering and reading the Bible.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2013.

    Norma rests in her bedroom. Although she remembers her early childhood fondly, she was abused by one of her brother’s friends when she was nine years old and was also assaulted by the priest at El Refugio, Jalisco, where she lived. Soon after, she decided to find work as a waitress in various red-light districts. She always liked watching the dancers close-up—“but not so close she’d get burnt,” as her coworkers used to joke. She’s a cheerful, extroverted woman who has the dirt on absolutely everyone.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2008.

    Paola puts on makeup before going to work. When this photo was taken, she was one of the youngest women at the shelter and still worked the streets. On January 1, 2011, she disappeared and has never come back.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2009.

    Canela takes a visiting dog on a walk. Originally from Oaxaca, she came to Mexico City to work at a very young age. She is now well known and respected in the neighborhoods that surround Casa Xochiquetzal. At 72, she suffers from Down syndrome and a number of other illnesses. Of all the women at Casa Xochiquetzal, Canela is the only one who did not have children. Most women who live at the shelter have relatives, but for a number of them, contact with family is sporadic or nonexistent.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2010.

    A sex worker, who prefers not to share her name, attends the funeral of another sex worker.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2012.

    Carmelita enjoys her daily cigarette. One day her son abandoned her on the subway because his wife didn’t want to take care of her and didn’t want to live under the same roof with a sex worker. Asked to choose between his wife and his mother, Carmelita’s son deserted his mother.

    Tough love: An intimate look at Mexico City's retired (and semi-retired) sex workers

    Photograph by Bénédicte Désrus, 2008.

    At age 81, Victoria is the oldest resident of Casa Xochiquetzal, a shelter for elderly sex workers in Mexico City.

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