Prostitution in Colombia

Colombia’s tourism industry is crucial for its economy. It is responsible for 2% of the country’s GDP and generates 52% of the foreign exchange. However, it comes with a dark consequence. Colombia is one of the 12% of countries where prostitution is legal. This has led the country to become a popular spot for sex tourism even though organizing it is a crime.

Even aside from its illegality, sex tourism has become increasingly dangerous for sex workers and tourists alike, causing concern at the governmental level. Additionally, there is an increasing concern about the control criminal gangs exercise over brothels and their operations.

This article will explore these realities in detail and explain how the situation has reached this point and the state’s intentions.

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Prostitution and Modern Sex Tourism

Prostitution has been one of the oldest and most consistent industries, its earliest records dating back to 2,400 BCE. It has also been one of the most debated industries in the past few centuries, with activists, politicians, and even business leaders debating ethics and exploitation.

Despite all odds, the practice and trade have continued to thrive. Some countries have tried to minimize the negative impact by classifying it as illegal; however, people choose where it is legal to indulge. Such dynamics are a core reason why prostitution in Colombia is thriving.

The fact that it has led to the emergence of sex tourism in the country has further solidified its significance. However, as mentioned above, the industry is inherently flawed and has become riskier for tourists.

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Colombian Laws about Prostitution

Although Colombia has legalized prostitution, the industry is subject to several laws. The primary purpose is to protect sex workers from exploitation since sex trafficking remains a massive problem for the industry.

Following are the primary acts that are considered illegal within the industry:

Sex Trafficking

The original intent behind legalizing prostitution in Colombia was to curb sex trafficking. However, the problem has persisted and affects women, men, and children alike. In 2019 alone, Colombian authorities identified 124 victims of sex trafficking, and there is more evidence suggesting that 12% of sex workers are children.

The Government of Colombia intends to curb sex trafficking and has modified several laws making it a punishable offense. People proven to be involved in human or sex trafficking can be granted 13-23 years imprisonment, which shows that the state considers it a serious crime.

Sex Trafficking

The good thing is that the law also includes sentences for immigrant trafficking crackdown on criminals kidnapping and forcing people into sex slavery.

Although the law has been implemented, it has not shown significant results. Several analyses show that the problem predominantly lies in the slow process. A recent paper noted that despite 1817 cases of child trafficking coming to light since 2010, the system had processed only 54 convictions.

Hence, there is extensive scope for improvement.


Child Prostitution

Child prostitution in Colombia has become a significant problem, reaching new heights due to the popularity of sex tourism. Countless children are kidnapped each year from within the country, while several others are brought in from abroad and forced into the industry against their will. Many children are forced into this profession by family member who find this as a way to ease financial burden the family is facing.

Colombia has enacted several child protection laws to counter this problem. These laws predominantly concern child labor; however, the details and wording extend them to sex work. It is illegal to hire children in the prostitution industry, and people caught having sex with minors can face imprisonment.

Operating Brothels outside Permitted Zones

Prostitution in Colombia is legal, but it is not entirely allowed to operate like other industries. People are only allowed to open brothels in state-designated areas, and breaking this rule can result in severe punishment. Additionally, the government has also started to take action against people promoting sex tourism.

While prostitution is legal, selling it as a core attraction is not something the government wants to promote. Therefore, several arrests and convictions have been made to deter this business area.

Prostitution in Colombia – The Ground Realities

Studying the ground realities of prostitution in Colombia shows just how problematic the industry is for service providers and clients. The risk is significantly higher for tourists partaking in the activity. They are unaware of the local norms and dangers and are more likely to fall victim to people who want to take advantage of their naivety.

Sex Workers’ Exploitation in Colombia

Bogota and Cartagena are the primary cities where the industry has been thriving for decades. However, despite legalization, the practice continues to delve into illegality. According to data, 15% of the sex workers in Bogota are under 18.

17% of the people in the industry have reportedly been forced into sex work, while 14% and 12% have been assaulted by clients and colleagues, respectively. Over 70% of the people who have suffered claimed that they did not file police reports.

 These statistics show how extensively bleak the industry can be for sex workers involved in it. The only hope is that the government can introduce more regulations to protect their rights and curb the violence against them.

Clients’ Exploitation and Reasons

Clients’ Exploitation and Reasons

An interview with several women in the industry revealed the kind of circumstances they face when working. While several have identified specific high-earning spots for business, they mentioned how several sex workers, especially trans girls and women, do not get paid for their time.

As the sex workers, sex tourism has started to become dangerous for clients. Criminal groups have extensive influence over the running of brothels and are often the primary people involved in sex trafficking.

Their involvement blurs the lines between legality and illegality, often normalizing exploitive practices. Several sex workers feel desperate due to the low income they attain due to the exploitation from criminal groups and tourists and take the matter into their own hands to earn extra income.

Such practices and poor economic conditions keep them trapped in the industry even if they want to get out and shift to earning income through other means.

The Dangers of Engaging Prostitutes in Colombia

So far, the core discussion has centered around how poorly prostitution in Colombia treats sex workers. The treatment, desperation, and involvement of criminal groups have also led to a rise in the following problems for sex tourists:

1. Financial Scams

to obSeveral tourists who tried to indulge in prostitution in the country ended up losing their money and belongings in the process. There is an increase in criminal activity, especially for foreigners. Sex workers agree to provide services to the clients but often openly or discreetly rob them of their money.

Common Colombian Sex Worker Extortion Scams:

1) Sex worker claims pregnancy to obtain money – Just remember that until a baby is born and a DNA test is performed there is no legal responsibility for child support.

2) Raising Price without notice and Threatening to Call the police because you didn’t pay your bill to the sex worker as agreed. The sex worker will raise the price and work with local police to enforce payment. Yes, the sex worker

3) Colombian sex workers may use a fake ID as a minor to extort money or they will call the police. Minors will use a fake ID (cedula) and then have sexual relations, later using this as proof to manipulate and extort money from the client. * if a minor uses a fake ID, it does not matter, a client of a sex worker can still be charged for having sex with a minor.

4) Using Videos or Pictures to blackmail via social media.

5) Claiming rape or violence has been committed to extort money. 

 These service providers rely on their network and associations with local and influential criminal groups to pull off the robberies. Tourists are the most common victims since they know least about the laws and customs and are far easier to trick than locals.

However, these scams and similar crimes are on the rise, putting additional pressure on the government to find ways to manage them.


3. Legal Issues

As mentioned above, child prostitution is illegal in Colombia, and people involved can be jailed if caught. A problem arises for tourists when child prostitutes lie about their age. People with experience would have ways to get around this problem and avoid taking services from minors.

However, anyone new to the experience can easily get entangled in the illegal activity and receive jail time. Claiming the prostitute lied rarely gets them out of prison. The simplest way to avoid trouble is to refrain from getting involved with sex tourism.


2. Drugs/Poisoning

Common ways to get drugged in Colombia:
1) Dosed Drinks
2) Candy with injected drugs
3) Sex worker’s body laced with drug
4) Drug is blown into your face
5) Mixing with other recreational drugs
6) Food injected with Drugs

There are several hazardous robbery patterns that sex workers and their accomplices follow to take advantage of their clients. Scopolamine, or Devil’s Breath, has recently become the drug of choice within the industry and is used for robberies.

The only problem is that the people using the drug have little to no idea about the safe consumption quantities. Their lack of knowledge puts the victim at high risk of drug-induced brain damage or death. Surprisingly, few tourists are deterred by incidents receiving the limelight.

Unfortunately, taking this threat seriously is the only way to remain safe from harm. Hence, tourists, especially male tourists, need to remain cautious and avoid engaging in the activity.


4. HIV

The increase in sex work in Colombia is a leading cause of HIV cases in the country. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine if an active sex worker is HIV-positive.

While the rise in HIV cases concerns the locals, it also spells trouble for the sex tourists who engage without necessary precautions. The careless indulgence can put them at serious health risks and spread that risk to others they encounter.

HIV remains dormant in some bodies; therefore, they can also be carriers without realizing it.

Legal Issues

Prominent Prostitution Scandals

The prostitution industry in Colombia has also had its fair share of prominent scandals that have kept it in the news for the past few years. Following are the most famous ones you may have come across at some point:

April 2012 was a turbulent month for the US Secret Service due to the entanglement of agents with some of the local prostitutes in Cartagena. The incident occurred just before President Obama visited Colombia. A team of Secret Service agents had arrived in the country before the visit.

According to a prostitute, one of the agents agreed to pay her $800 for the night, and she agreed to accompany him to his room. However, he refused to pay her the following day and pushed her out. The woman reached out to the police, whose intervention pushed the other agents to gather $250 in payment to avoid the matter from getting out.

Unfortunately, the case got media attention, pushing the Senate to take notice of the event and demand an explanation from the leading members of the Secret Service. The organization responded by conducting a thorough investigation of all 12 agents accused of their involvement.

Eventually, they discovered 11 agents and some military members had invited a total of 20 women during their visit. The agents were put on immediate administrative leave, 9 of them getting suspended later. The military offers also underwent thorough scrutiny for their involvement.


The highly-publicized affair revealed the problems within US Secret Service and military, but it was also an accurate representation of the reality of sex work. It proved that sex workers often have to go without getting their rightful dues and work in a dangerous environment.

It also showed the obvious power dynamic and how clients use positions of power to extort services, threatening repercussions for vocalizing discontent.

Male Prostitution Ring Scandal

Another prominent scandal involved the Colombian police. The scandal revealed that prominent members of the National Police operated a homosexual prostitution ring. Several officers and members of Congress paid for sexual services from the cadets with cars, favors, and money to the ring operators.

The incident first received media attention in 2010 during the investigation of an apparent suicide of a female cadet in 2006. Ten former cadets testified in the case, and her family believes the cadet lost her life because she discovered the ring.

The case affected public confidence in the police, especially since a journalist investigating the case complained about her phone being tapped by the police. She revealed that she had been interviewing police cadets who revealed persistent cases of sexual harassment by senior members of the National Police.



This case reflects an abuse of power and the illegal creation and operation of a prostitution ring by people who uphold the law. It shows the depth of challenge the government faces in protecting people against sexual exploitation.


In short, the legalization of prostitution in Colombia was meant to minimize crime, but the goal has yet to be achieved. On the contrary, the exploitation has worsened in the past few years, putting both sex workers and sex tourists at varying levels of risk.

It would require comprehensive and impactful legislation and thorough implementation for any real change to happen.

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