During the first few weeks that I was attending Spanish classes at a university here in Medellín something became apparent.
There was an awful lot of dudes knocking about the place.
So far I have been in four different groups of people, with probably around 18 other students.
Out of that entire group only one has been a girl.
Asking around I heard a few different theories as to why this might be the case.
For one thing, the afterlife of Colombia’s bad old days still draws hesitancy to the surface, especially – going by what I’ve heard – among US citizens thinking of heading south.
Despite all of the major progress that has been made, safety concerns might still be enough to make a single female traveller think twice before coming here.
The other theory is that Medellín’s reputation as a sort of Disneyland for creepy white men might have something to do with it.
Here, it is really easy to buy drugs and solicit prostitution.
When I was in school and on the precipice of adolescence, the teachers went to great lengths to warn us about the dangers of drugs.
One of the things that was drilled home was that any day now, hoards of drug dealers were going to start approaching me and my classmates frequently and at random.
Much to my chagrin, this never transpired.
However, walking around Parque Lleras – the white-person part of Medellín – it actually feels like what we were warned about.
After 8pm, a stroll in the area is punctuated every 20 feet or so by a teenager in a baseball cap trying to sell you cocaine.
By and large, I am not really opposed to drug use – as long as it isn’t hurting anybody.
But that’s the thing; here it clearly is.
Most of the guys selling the drugs should be in school. Maybe they are. And for a city that prides itself on the strength of its industry and entrepreneurial spirit, its international reputation is still overshadowed by its association with drug use.
And that brings my onto my next point: prostitution.
The whole subject is a bit of a moral quagmire.
Last year Amnesty International released its findings calling for the decriminalisation of prostitution internationally – with this being considered the clearest way to protect the safety of those working in the sex trade.
The kick back against this was led by noted academics Meryl Streep and and Lena Dunham, who – despite the findings of a Nobel prize-winning international human rights organisation – felt the ‘Swedish model’ of criminalising the buyer was a better approach.
At the time I felt that this was driven by a sort of moral volition on the part of the celebrities opposing the findings, with a sense that sex workers should be taken as a homogeneous victim group unable to speak for themselves.
Criminalising buyers of sex also seems to lean on the idea that all buyers of sex are predatorial males aged 18 to 65.
I am sure that a majority of them are, but I know of a case where a blind guy (not my dad or anyone associated with him – just in case he tries to come after me shouting defamation) arranged for a minibus full of other blind guys to go and visit a brothel in London.
How does that make you feel?
I still absolutely think that Amnesty International are highly qualified to formulate policy in this area, but a few things recently have made me think about the morality around all of this.
Here in Medellín, prostitution is pretty up-front and centre.
The city’s largest brothel has this bat-signal light that shines out across the city at night.
There are a couple of young people at the university I am attending, both male and aged under 21, who have recently decided to start taking up with prostitutes.
It wouldn’t be such an issue for me, were they not to discuss it with a sort of posturing bravado that to my mind has always been the hallmark of insecurity.
This is coming off as very high-handed and judgemental, and I’ve done plenty of shameful things in my time, but – putting that aside – something else stuck me about this situation.
The women that they are paying for sex from might well be around the same age as they are, but where the parents of the young westerners are bankrolling them to frolic around on what is basically an extended holiday and inadvertently fund the sex industry, the sex-workers here have – through choice or circumstance – elected to get involved in a pretty serious, pretty adult business.
It’s quite a disparity.
Anyway, I would like to end this by saying that I don’t really know what I am talking about, and it isn’t really my position to judge anyone.
With drugs and prostitution it is really up to each individual to take a look around, take account of all available evidence, and then do what they feel comfortable with.