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In this episode I’m honored to be joined by Alejandra Aguilar Avelino, an advocate, educator and service provider at the East Los Angeles Women Center. We met there recently at a Sex Workers Outreach Project event and she gave a moving speech to explain a piece of art she created in solidarity with the victims of sexual violence. Her extensive experience in community support work is truly profound and she shares some very deep and intense insights on the intersections of religion, sexuality, economics, and politics.
We explore the efforts and potential to organize male clients of sex workers to show more solidarity and do more to support the health and well being of sex workers, and she shares some of her hopes and dreams for expanding the scope of services and outreach in the future.
I was very grateful to learn from her and to share a passion for improving the outcomes and quality of lives for sex workers through their whole life cycle. I’m hoping that her work and that of her peers and colleagues will be well financed so they can carry on doing such important work!
Alejandra Aguilar Avelino immigrated to the United States from her native Michoacán Mexico when she was eight years old. Alejandra has more than 16 years of experience in the field of Community Education. Alejandra’s beginnings were with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles as a Promotora Comunitaria. Alejandra had the honor to serve as Secretary and Chair of ALIANZA, the Los Angeles Caucus on HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles County.Currently Alejandra is the lead health educator, HIV counselor and support group facilitator at the East Los Angeles Women’s Center where she does HIV Navigation services. . Alejandra also provides support services to HIV-positive women and is an active member of several community planning bodies dedicated to the empowerment, health and well being of people. Alejandra has presented in several conferences at local and state level. Some of Alejandra’s passions are continuous learning, the empowerment of Latina Women, and she fights tirelessly against Gender Violence and Reproductive Justice. In her spare ?me Alejandra enjoys spending time with her family, hiking, reading and expanding her own small online business which she also uses as a tool to help other women reach economic independency.
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Tantra Punk your guide to sexual Liberation healing and empowerment as a certified Tantra counselor and certified permaculture designer I’m here to help you grow spiritually sexually and ecologically my online and in-person counseling sessions and training programs are price to fit any budget I’m looking forward to helping you design and ever more Divine Life Path please send me an email to Ben at Tantra Punk. Com and our journey together will begin welcome to Tantra Punk podcast episode number 184 I’m being joined by Alejandra Aguilar and she is the health educator an HIV counselor at the East Los Angeles Women’s Center and we sort of met at a recent sex workers Outreach project event on December 17th which was the international day to end violence against sex workers and there was a beautiful creative artistic kind of community building event that was held there and that was the first time I had visited the East last night Women’s Center and I was very thrilled to know that that the place exists and of the great work they’re doing there and Alejandra was hosting the event through the space and has some really powerful and moving things to say about the work that she does in support of women’s health in and sexuality health and education and so I was very moved and thought I’d reach out and see if she like to tell us a bit more about her personal background and about what the great works that are offered at the center there so I’ll a hundred thank you so much for joining me looking forward to hearing more about your story thank you thank you Ben and thank you for inviting me to be part of this podcast so as you mention my name is HIV counselor at the East Los Angeles Women’s Center and yeah I recalled that for a little over 42 years and one of the things that we always want to let people know is that this is a place where women silence is hurt for the community has their silence and so we decided to open up our space so that sex workers and their allies and come in and and have a safe place to meet and so I have been working in the field of HIV for in reproductive health for a little over 14 years and you know when I arrive to this country when I was 8 years old and one of the reasons why I’m very passionate about advocating for Women Health is because specially for the health and well-being and the needs of let me know is because many times Latinas specially Latinos who are aware of the services that might be out there to support them and so one of my one of my reasons for being an ally in in the the support of sex workers is to be able to avoid the needs of women especially one of the things that I did was I was a child care provider even though I was a child myself I used to babysit that the children of many sex workers women who were immigrants who worked up at sex workers and so I got to see a lot of the needs that a lot of the new show of the women and definitely a lot of them are children and so you know as I was getting older I decided to to look into this route of being of service to to the community by advocating for the needs of your penis growing up I got to see how special immigrant women for sexual abuse that shows fault interpersonal violence and definitely sexual explotation and when I started working at the East Los Angeles Women’s Center I thought this is perfect I get to work for an organization that is aligned with my beliefs and here I am 14 years into providing Services Organization advocating for the woman’s name well that is so powerful and thank you so much for sharing that and specially about your personal background ATS really moving to me I know that there that there is a lot of really strong feminist history and in feminist movement history around women sexual health and and support services and also and sort of sort of vaguely aware of different tensions that there have been within the feminist movement around 7 is sewer or not as supportive of sex workers or of women who were involved in the adult industry and some some who maybe are more supportive some curious if you have had to navigate any of those those politics within the women within the women’s movement about the sort of taboo subjective of the sex industry not necessarily you know I am very fortunate to be in this organization I’m very fortunate to have a strong network of providers that believe in advocating for everyone and when we say everyone it means every single person regardless of what they’re definitely here at the women’s center we do not see people for what they do we see them for who they are and so when we see when we see you know a sex worker we see them for who they are first and foremost a human being have to keep for them or what you would like and definitely no I haven’t encountered any of that it does not mean that it’s not the doesn’t accept them pretty sure there’s so many people that have encounter with you but I myself have not I’m really glad to hear that because I got that Vibe definitely that there was no judgment and no no sort of distance or or or judgment you about about that because it is so it is so much a part of life and people want to ignore it or people want to just hiding from it but it’s it’s a real serious issues I appreciate it very much that that you hold that space and and I want to thank you for doing that so if you could help us understand a bit about what the the most vital needs are of those those women who are doing work in the sex industry what are some of the things that people should know about as far as what they face on a daily basis and even ways that that people who are maybe just wanting to support them where are they they want to be allies how they can also be supportive but would definitely I cannot speak for everyone but I can’t I am able to speak for those who I have been fortunate and humble enough to provide services doing these are the Immigrant Latinos who work in the bars on the country has most of the time you asked about their needs what their needs are definitely there’s a lot of me to to provide them with resources resources and when I say resources what kinds of resources and support that they need to let them know about the right and to let them know that if they have been abused molested in any way that there is are places that can help them if they need just a space where they can just feel safe that there’s such a space about what we hope to who provides many of the women that we service the well-being overall well-being we are always concerned about their health their physical health or emotional health because we know that it can take a toll on their health specially those who work at night all we know that is if it can be difficult for them to to take care of that their help because the majority of them are also mothers and because they are mothers you know many times Latinas put the needs of their own meat how can I say it they put their needs before the needs of anyone else and they last one but they’re nice and so I want to advocate for them we also want to let them know that they have rights we hope to educate them about the right within the women that we service some of them are hiv-positive and so will support them we support them by providing resources for their help for them so that they can receive the services well thank you very much again for doing that work in something that I that I have been made very much aware of by my association with women who who would be considered those very strong feminist critique of the patriarchal economic structures and just the way capitalism works and how how this Empire is really built on on its own built on the backs of immigrant labor and and and from what you’re saying it’s also built on the bodies of the sex workers who who serve a lot of different types of male laborers and I’m wondering what if you care to share from your personal perspective what are some observations are inside sore or strong feelings you may have around what the what the role of men who may be there maybe they are sex buyers or maybe they are temps or maybe they are you know what and then you can any level of that economy do you ever have the opportunity to to Enlighten them or two to help them become more active in doing the support work for the for the women or what what is your feeling about the men who are just kind of you don’t hear a lot about the John’s or the Pimp C male a male and get you component we are thinking by myself a big advocate for making change in our communities mobilizing one of the one of the things that I do is when I am able to speak to groups of men and provide them with information writing with resources to do is to let them would like for them specially if they are consumers of the services of the women who are sex workers Michael is for them not to think of the women as object to know that there’s a story behind them that there that these women might have gone through many struggles am I making sense yes this is amazing I love to hear it to hear more about it cuz I feel like it’s so lacking it’s so lacking in that people actually try to educate them and whether it’s about using condoms or or being just mine. I’m being respectful this is Range Community and to use their voice to Advocate from them as well to use whatever privilege they have as meant to protect them to advocate for them that’s definitely one one of our pools and one of the things that we hope to accomplish is for for men to go beyond those gender roles that they are putting the moment they are born we want them to understand that they can break out of that box I agree with you yes wow so if that that thank you so much for sharing those insights that they’re really really touches my my heart and soul because I feel like I’m as myself as a sex worker myself I’ve been mistreated and abused and certainly I would have loved for the very wealthy the wealth of the wealthier of my clients to to be giving back and supporting nonprofit organizations that actually create a better life and more resources 400 why wouldn’t you why wouldn’t you give back to to like a trade Association it was helping you have a good experience in helping you get your needs met so hopefully yeah I’m excited to hear about what you’re doing over the other people will do that kind of Outreach as well so if we could talk a bit about the I feel like it’s it would be important to give some context for people listening to this what what the scope of sexual assault really looks like from your perspective you’re really seeing and I again am I feel very honored to speak with you knowing that you’re you’ve chosen to be putting yourself in a position to have so much exposure and really be very empathetic and very compassionate towards people who are in times of Crisis and some of the the most extreme trauma and current crisis so you could help to sensitize the listeners of this podcast to do some what it what is sort of typical cycle is when you have someone to say come in for services who is in trauma or crisis and in kind of what whatever is appropriate you know for you to share but that I think would be good for us to understand that means we started in 1976 and actually disorganization begin you know it was first bilingual confidential 24 hour 7 days a week crisis hotline to be able to service and provide support to survivors of sexual assault what we do is we have a hotline and call if they have just been assaulted molested or phrase taking cold even if it happened many years ago in another country we provide supporting the support looks something like this we we do Hospital accompany me to go to the hospital to provide support to the Survivor of rape and we’re able to see people all ages for survivors from a baby to someone well over the age of 90 we see that again we see them for who they are we see them as human beings Survivor and we are basically there to support them we allow them to have a safe safe space to come in and speak support when and if they’re ready mix someone is ready and they would like to come in and receive support we can provide them with counseling therapy and again we never tell them what to do we are there in their healing journey in the journey to heal I said we’re walking hand-in-hand with them so where’s that the healing path and soul Moana singing about in 2016 I remember in 2016 we provided services to over 10,000 women and children on the hotline movie about 2,200 called so we’re pretty busy if ever since that Open Door hotline has never closed and twice a year would provide training for people to become sexual assault advocate so that they can help survivors they can do hospital but also so that they get the keys for the needs of survivors important so after all of this exposure that you and your colleagues and peers with organization in and near the community of people that you’re connected with her your allies in Von forcement in the justice system and that the hospital system and the the sword I guess there’s also the social services and Family Services sectors of thumb of the county and in local local governments I’m curious if you could talk about some of the powder and some of the insides whatever you’ve been able to kind of a phone some conclusions you may have arrived at just about to the patterns of abuse and where you feel like the most effective interventions can occur on the preventative side of this issue how to do there’s definitely a lot to do but we definitely one of our one of them nothing’s that needs to happen to be able to to end sexual assault and domestic violence definitely HIV we need to end violence against women and homophobia swell we definitely know that if we end violence against women we end homophobia we are very well and then into the HIV epidemic we are definitely going to see Alright by very much agree with that and tell me what comes to mind from me for my personal experience in for my studies and I love to hear what you had what you would have to stay from your perspective Which is far more I would say far from a highly developed than mine because of the position that you that you’ve taken up and and I would say with what are your thoughts on the you mentioned machismo that’s something that I’m interested to hear more about what what that where that comes from and what you would how you would advise people to deconstruct that that sort of some aspect of violence in and then also alcohol and Andrew role that you feel that plays or substance abuse and how that feeds into the violence well it’s definitely a collaborative effort of everyone social service providers to law enforcement to every single every single person has a responsibility to an hour in one of the things we have are you aware of basically the women from targeted community wengage and Outreach and education and what they do is they increase awareness of sexual assault and resources and domestic violence victims and their families but they also bring awareness and so one of the things that that we have here in our organization in mind you all women that can be women that are actively working a sex workers women for HIV positive Housewives just about anyone and they go through this training where they learn about their culture how their cultural experiences shape their identity with a lot of focus on the Latino cultures and Value Inn in the experiences that they might have had growing up and still one of the things that we encourage them don’t is to look at what what are the values of culture that contribute in a positive way to to have better communities to to make them feel safe right it in to make a change in the world and to keep those we encourage them to look at the one that can be toxic that can be done that perpetuate and we encourage them to to look at both and decide which ones they want to keep which ones they want to transmit to other generation so we start with that beautiful well thank you for doing that as well in I’m curious if we could go to the next question which is the just to the prevalence of alcohol and domestic violence I think is pretty well well known that a lot of sexual assault and violence happened in in circumstances that are sort of fueled by drunkenness and I’m curious if you have thoughts on to substance abuse and alcoholism and how that how that affects the work that you do and the the the women that you support but we do know that it art again you know what we need people were there as we don’t we do not follow up a model of trauma-informed that means we are not going to shame people if they have issues with substance abuse know we can help them try to get to the root of why they’re they’re using or why they’re drinking rice I can tell you definitely my perspective from what I saw growing now I can tell you that issues with alcoholism are very prevalent with the with the women who work in the bar and the emptiness sex workers because that is part of their work in order to make a living they have to drink with the client and so many women that start working in the barn and the emptiness when they start working in the bar on the time peanut they have never you know in their life they have never had a drink but once they start working out of their job it’s how they make that living and some many of them develop alcoholism that’s one of the things that I saw and so you know if you if you asked to do it that many have a history of abuse or trauma that it don’t even know that they have this history of abuser, they don’t even know what to name those feeling you know very bad idea that depression you have a very difficult situation for for the person you know when one of these again that I hate that I was able to see I was able to see because of the lack of support and empowerment and resources available to this woman I saw in a bunch of this day I still seen any of them Works who no longer work in the calendar because there was no support there was no one to assist them teach them how to how to make a budget how to save the money or even how to invest some of them and not only that but a lot of them ended up with issues of alcohol yeah I hear you and that actually comes at least to my next question really which is about what you see as some of the the positive outcomes and the I would say to be clear I don’t believe that it’s wrong to be a sex worker ever see for myself fight I am the part of the six work industry so there are some people would say well you just need to go to church and you need to quit the lifestyle and and and you need to leave it all behind you which I’m not I’m not here to say is this is right or wrong but but I will I will say that I’m very interested in what what six I think about the concept of a success story or someone who has overcome substance abuse or alcoholism and if they choose to remain active in the sex industry but I from a healthier place or if they choose to move beyond that I’m curious what you what are some of the pathways that you have facilitated or witnessed of of women who have become really empowered either is former sex workers or or or sort of sex workers in recovery what are some of the success stories that you would say that you’ve been a part of each other’s privacy and confidentiality if I can tell you that there’s this particular woman who is what after she became involved and after she was able to gather with other women saw other women like herself all about the right person for most of the human bean learn that there is nothing to be ashamed of learn to speak remind learn to Advocate Parker cell I was able to see an amazing transformation this is a person who now is able to speak up for herself this is someone who is able to negotiate pay for sex which I think it’s amazing to see this is someone who if she feels that someone is making her feel ashamed because of what she does she’s able to speak up she doesn’t know her head as she used to be for not just that but her priority priority priority herself above anything else in that include making better decisions when it comes to drinking that our decisions for her mean eating what you drink tea not not drinking as much as she used to before that you will forget to take her medication doesn’t make sense that is In N safety she she has been able to say she now has a savings account which is tremendous you know because now she’s planning or for the years I had to fight absolutely well I’ll take you out to other women beautiful well that’s that’s very good to hear and thank you again for doing that and just maybe a couple few more questions one will be going back to the the other half of the equation which is the the male role in and all of this into client role so I sounds like you’re yeah you have a lot of experience working with women who were in that that culture of the bar and cantina world and so like you said that there will be drinking is just part of the job and I’m curious if you if you could reach into the heart and soul of the the male clients and understand where they’re coming from and if they would maybe intergenerational trauma or or personal issues that they may be dealing with in and if we were to make if we were to all be working together to create more empowered and more conscious and then we’re healthy men and male clients and then maybe they would maybe this sounds ridiculous I guess but but I would love to see a world where where sex work is is legal and where people clients and and and service providers could meet up at a healthy juice bar or something or like a farmers market or something you know where it’s it’s not always in the context of of alcohol and that kind of sort of sector and so I’m just curious if when you think about this and when you work in this in this world if you do you have any advice for four men who are just maybe this sort of their kind of being set up or something I don’t know why I don’t know what you how you feel about just the whole the nature of that in of that that world of the the bar scene in the all that wouldn’t be able to provide education you know when I go out and we have those messages that week we share with with menopause sensitive to have healthy relationships with all the people in their life okay and do would you say while we’re on the topic of the Mennonite and I appreciate it and it sounds like what needs to happen is that more more men need to step up and organize and do Outreach it’s you already sounds like you’re already very your hands are full working with women and it sounds like that would be good for more men to anybody listening who has that the resources or the means to to do more Outreach Two Men and hopefully that will that will happen and I would say I just want another question just while we’re on the topic is if you if you feel like there is do you feel like a lot of the men who are of War buying the sexual services at women are they are they not really functional in their in their their own marriages that are on family life and are they I guess I don’t know like I said the other is there anything you can say about about the profile or the sort of in the attitude or the State of Mind of the mail client server or are they just a lot of single man to hoodoo don’t have a wife and that therefore they had they feel like they have to get through the day but with a beer you know with getting some drinks and inviting some sex and again there is so much so much change that needs to happen in one of them against the things that I be all that needs to happen from what I saw you know growing up in a very traditional community at 8 I was born in Mexico and I grew up in the town I was very religious it was okay for men to go to a bar in to go to La Cantina to look to spend some time with women right because many of them felt have to ask for certain things from their wives or their girlfriends was disrespectful and so they grew up thinking that the women that worked in the bar in the Campina where it was okay to have certain things of them right certain sexual things or even just to drink with them right again that idea that the women that worked in the casino or less than the women that are at home but that should not be the case that we can community that there’s this idea that yeah I’m going to go to the bar I’m going to go to the one with her right or she will be willing to deliver for a Spur to do and I cannot ask my wife to do that because she’s a good wife or she’s a good woman or she’s going to get offended if I ask her to do certain things when it might be very well that her wife at home or at home is wishing he will do those things with her because of how she grew up in this box that she was playing through gender role that don’t ask for something sexual well your violence violence that that if you are a good wife you would not dare ask for any of that and so that’s one of the things that I’m very passionate about teaching women again we let you know when it’s okay to to look for pleasure it’s okay to have conversations with your partner about certain things it’s okay to explore as long as you are both okay in the end it’s okay to look for a relationship with someone who is not going to feel threatened if you ask for certain things for your own pleasure well that is really powerful and I appreciate you saying that that really means a lot that really helps me understand a lot better and I hope I hope we can move towards that and and I appreciate the work you’re doing to create that space to explore and understand and and change the is paradigm so you’re so another question I have for you which is kind of this kind of extraordinary but I like to I like to do you know what some people call a thought experiment where you just think about what obviously you have you have some budgetary constraints and you have people power constraints but if you and your team or your colleagues the people you work within your organization if you somehow we’re blessed with the resources and the even just to say you won the lottery or something absurd like that but it was just say you had you had really almost Limitless potential or and Empower even politically to say okay this is all of this is all of the wisdom that we have and these are the proposals that we have and and if you just had what what you need to talk about investment and whatnot so if there was a if there was a venture capital firm that says we really think what you’re doing is important and we feel like that there is a benefit to society to have you you all have more resources and really if you if you had almost Limitless budget what are some of the things that you would do to to accelerate and grow and expand you know your services in certainly how I mean I would love to see since having been to the place you know your location I would love to see myself I would love to see you have more more acreage you no more land and something like the weirdest El Centro Farm was there some place where you can have Community Gardens in actual herbal Gardens in and healing natural areas and places for meeting that we’re outside and there were also safe and also had security so that’s just kind of what comes to my mind but I’m curious what you would do or what you would sort of dream up if you had almost no limits to what you can imagine wow there’s so much that we will definitely do love I can tell you that with a bigger budget we will definitely be able to since we will not have waiting list for four clients to to enrolled into into a program but definitely one thing will be to to increase to provide more support for the women that are hiv-positive because of budget I’m talking about financial support very limited women are always left behind and yet they’re the ones that love to see more help women’s health programs that are more sex-positive that are inclusive of sexual trauma Empower women to advocate for their sexual health definitely expand more men’s healing talking circles where they can wear the men pink and strengthen the relationship that we would love to see that but definitely if there was no monetary restrictions more more a healing circles or for women where they can talk about their health advocate for the health including their sexual health awesome thank you so much for sharing and I’m hoping that all of your dreams will come true you’re suddenly during such important and if I don’t work in the community and so yeah I wish you absolutely the best moving forward and hopefully yeah we’ll see each other again and then more more collaboration will happen that will be mutually supportive within our communities do you have any closing words you’d like to share and then also do you want to share the website URLs and any other links or any other ways to connect that would be great bilingual 24-hour hotline anyone can reach this hotline 24/7 the number is 800 5856 231 once again is 800-585-6231 and our website is www.ladwp.com org once again is so absolutely yes sir I appreciate it’s been an honor and do you have any last closing words you like to say is just a call to action or or things that you feel like if if people knew in NC could hear this voice than they would they would they would want to step up and and I guess it was before we say that you are a 501 c 3 charitable non-profit so donations are tax-deductible am I correct that we are especially in need of support because we have the only shelter in the mission where people can can go if they have just been sexually assaulted or if they have just landed on the hospital and they’re afraid to go back home or back to where the perpetrator or abuser is and we definitely need a lot of support for that our women’s HIV program a lot of sports comidas up with some sort of supporting in the dollar if you can share our website with others or even our Facebook page elawc please go ahead and do so we will be very grateful thank you so much Alejandro I think that was a really good introduction to all of the the work you’re doing and I hope that’s a lots of good things come from this and hopefully we will have meet again and and maybe we can follow up again and have you back on sometime in the future talk about some new developments and hopefully there’s there will be a lot more a lot more great things happening in the future so thank you again for your time and we’ll be in touch okay bye bye thank you for listening to the touch of Honey Pot www.entrepreneur.com can cook on the Donate button to help support the show in addition to sustaining and improving the podcast your donations will help establish permaculture goddess temple in every bite ecological employment for single mothers Please Subscribe and share your favorite episodes if you have questions or comments feel free to leave a voicemail at 818-275-1593 or email event at Tantra Punk. 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