It’s almost mathematical: there’s always a rise in sex work in countries with severe economic and humanitarian issues. Greece, Russia and Spain all come to mind.

Venezuela, currently undergoing the most severe economic and humanitarian emergency in the region, has joined the club. In fact, last year Newsweek published an article suggesting that as many as 6,500 Venezuelan women had turned to prostitution in Colombia, all belonging to the most recent wave of Venezuelan migrants who have turned to any job they can find to survive.

But what about those who can’t afford a one way ticket out of Venezuela, even after resorting to prostitution?

This is the case of hundreds of Venezuelans who log into streaming sites like cam4 and chaturbate, to perform a myriad of sex acts in front of strangers, hoping to raise enough money to survive or escape our tropical hell.

In some cases, these performers rack in amounts of money that would be considered good wages in a developed nation (more so in Venezuela, were the minimum wage is equivalent to four dollars). In February, Clímax magazine published an article on the subject, mentioning the story of “Lucía”. After performing for one hour a day, five days a week, Lucía amassed $80 in a month, or 18 million bolivars at the time of publishing. Considering she invested the total sum of 840,000 bolivars, it took her one hour of streaming to get a return on her investment and make a profit.

This is a gateway for child pornographers and pedophiles to access a poorly regulated market. How can these sites be sure that no minors are performing on their platforms?

And Lucía is not even close to being a top earner in the Venezuelan webcamming business. Climax quotes a performer that goes by the name of “Candylu”, who reportedly earns a whooping $2,000 in a good month. To put it in perspective, that’s 470,000,000 bolivars, or 539 minimum wages. Imagine what a struggling Venezuelan or a criminal gang could do with this kind of money.

However, this profitability is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows performers to live beyond comfortably in Venezuela; on the other, it provides incentives for very shady characters to get involved. Namely, this is a gateway for child pornographers and pedophiles to access a poorly regulated market. How can these sites be sure that no minors are performing on their platforms?

Reading about the methods agents use to recruit performers, I couldn’t help but wonder whether these people were targeted specifically because of their vulnerability. Beyond the fact that some performers earn more than the large majority of the country, it all comes at the cost of their privacy and freedom. Prudish arguments aside, some people entering this industry do so compelled by need and opportunity cost, not because of personal proclivities.

It might be argued that sex work is a necessary evil in times of crisis, and it’s also true that, because of circumstances, producers, agents and consumers are taking advantage of the performers, which amounts to exploitation. Are those streaming sites becoming a platform for live on demand child pornography? Lucía, a 17-year-old from Caracas, was recruited by a friend who suggested she stream on cam4. She says cam4 established no controls to check her age, up to the point were they had to set up a payment method where the performer had to provide some form of I.D.

Lucía just asked a 21-year-old friend to borrow her documents.

Webcam pornography in Venezuela is very complicated. One thing is certain: it won’t go away in the foreseeable future because, as long as there’s a crisis putting a strain on people and making them desperate, there will be someone ready to exploit others’ despair.

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Update: A previous version of this post stated “After performing for one hour a day, five days a week, Lucía amassed $80 in a month, or 18,000,000 million bolivars at the time of publishing”. It was corrected to reflect that $80 were in fact 18 million bolivars at the time of the publishing.

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