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Aging Prostitutes Find Champion in Mexico City Mayor

Torres, the 70-year-old sex worker, said the new shelter means she will no longer have to worry about finding a customer in order to pay for a place to sleep. Her curly gray hair is tinged blonde with dye and she wears a cardigan over a floral dress that falls past her knees. Nothing fancier or skimpier is needed, she said.

Men know she is not young, but she chooses to think that "an antique can be more valuable than something new," she explained. She strolled through Jardin Loreto, a nearby park, saying to passing men: "Amor, vamos?" or "My love, shall we go?" After agreeing on a price -- often $5 or less -- she leads her customer to one of the many run-down hotel rooms nearby. She has been doing this for decades, since she left the coconut fields in western Mexico. At first she had higher hopes and opened a little sandwich kiosk. But "not even a fly would stop" at her stand, and she turned to the only sure money she could find.

Maria Luisa Torres, 70, has worked as a prostitute for four, or maybe five decades -- she can't quite recall. She looks forward to living in a new public shelter. (Mary Jordan -- The Washington Post)

Muñoz, the women's leader, said aging prostitutes typically receive less money for their services than the younger ones. Some men, young and old, seek out older women they view as "maternal figures," she said, and some also pay the older sex workers to "talk about their problems."

Hermelinda Bermudez, a sex worker in her seventies, said she started in the trade to earn money for her children and now does it to make money for her grandchildren. But as she ages, it gets harder to attract customers, she said as she started to cry.

Muñoz said many poor women turn to sex work to pay for tuition and food for their children; that way, a grateful family takes care of them later in life. But other times, families shun these women and they wind up alone on the streets. It is those women that Lopez Obrador is helping, Muñoz said.

Marta Lamas, a founder of Semillas and a prominent feminist, said some poor women from the countryside ride three or four hours a day on a bus into Mexico City to work in brothels that are nothing more than large rooms with curtains separating little spaces. Then at dusk they board a bus back home to their families, who have no idea how they spend their days.

After a long interview on a recent afternoon, Torres -- an avowed supporter of Lopez Obrador -- got up from a bench in the donated building and put her arm on her lower back.

"I'm so stiff," she said, arching her aching back before she headed outside to her park again. She held up a floral embroidery she had been working on. She said she looked forward to the shelter being completed and sitting in its grand inner courtyard, finally having a comfortable place for her only hobby.

"What I really like to do is knit," she said.

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