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Under green and blue strobe lights, the dusty dance floor quickly fills with fifteen couples as a popular bachata song by Romeo Santos queues up. It is a weeknight at La Bodega, an open-air night club in the heart of Las Terrenas, a resort town on the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic. To the untrained eye, the energy on this dance floor would appear to be nothing more than an organic gathering, one of the few places in the small Dominican seaside town where tourists and Dominicans can be found in equal numbers.
But everything is not as it seems: nearly all the Dominican women here are sex workers. The majority of hotels, villas and restaurants hire employees seasonally during the winter months or high season, he says, and then lets them go. Cesar Rodriguez, a doctor who moved to Las Terrenas 30 years ago. The unpredictability of work, as well as the seemingly flashy life of tourists, is especially difficult for the youth. This is compared to somewhere between a sixth to a third of a percent in United States, based on data estimated by various NGOs, though a true approximation is nearly impossible to quantify in the U.
The typical profile of a Dominican sex worker is a young woman in her early twenties with a low level of education, up to three children and no financial support from a partner. Many will leave their children with their parents while they travel or move temporarily to the touristic zones of the country to make money, sending remittances back to their families. The industry has grown so much that the number of male sex workers, or sankies, now outnumber female. The practice has even made it into the movies, like Sanky Panky and Sanky Panky 2.
Of course, because homosexuality is not widely accepted in the Dominican, partnerships between sankies and male tourists are rarely seen publicly and impossible to measure. Telling me how some of his friends who are male sex workers now have family afuera , or outside, Limon, 30, says that even when a relationship begins as a transaction, love can develop.
At the local schools in Las Terrenas, a stream of older, European-looking men drop off Dominican children in the morning. As these couples raise their families in the town, or move to Europe, the relationships are looked upon as any other pairing, despite their transactional origins. As a whole, the Dominican has shifted rapidly from the agrarian economy it was in the s, when sugar cane ranked as its leading export. In , tourism accounted for nine percent of goods and services exported.