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San Diego Nonprofits Help Tijuana Sex Workers Start New Businesses

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UC San Diego researchers estimate between 5 percent to 14 percent of the 9,000 women and girls who work in the bi-national sex trade in Tijuana are infected with HIV.

With that in mind — coupled with the idea that many women cannot leave the industry without financial resources — a new project began to help 120 workers in Tijuana leave the sex industry.

The ESTIMA Project, which stands for Economic and Social Empowerment to Increase Upward Mobility Among Women, offers microloans to the women. The effort will be evaluated to see if it reduces the health risks and violence these women face.

The project is being led by Women’s Empowerment International and Via International, San Diego nonprofits that work with people living in poverty.

Win Cox, co-founder of Women's Empowerment International, said the women in this project were earning about $500 a month as prostitutes. They also were often victims of violence.

“They’re women who need an alternative way to earn income so they have some independence” Cox told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday. “They are poor plus in a critical state.”

Elisa Sabatini, executive director of Via International, said the project also benefits those who move to the Tijuana area for better lives.

“We feel that this particular intervention is something that’s relevant for all people that are migrant,” Sabatini said.

The initial loan amounts are $250. After the first loan is paid, women can apply for larger loans of up to $1,000. The group plans to seek additional funds if the project proves to be successful.

UCSD Reducing Risk for Sex Workers in Mexico

KPBS report on UC San Diego's efforts to reduce the risk for sex workers in Mexico. Credit: Katie Schoolov


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