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Last Updated: Monday, 25 April, 2005, 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK
Peruvian virgin turns down $1.5m
By Hannah Hennessy
BBC News, Lima

Inside a tiny breeze block house, beneath the dusty hills on the desert outskirts of Lima, religious paintings like the Virgin and Child and the Sacred Heart share wall space with photographs of a beguiling young woman posing as a model.

Graciela Yataco
Graciela's bid to sell her virginity provoked outrage in Peru
The Bible is open at John, Chapter 11, telling the story of the Resurrection of Lazarus.

Behind the curtains which separate a tiny bedroom from the living room, lies a sick 43-year-old woman, whose daughter, Graciela, is prepared to take drastic measures to help her.

Graciela - or Gracia as she prefers to be known - has been working since the age of eight, left school at 15 and now three years later earns around $60 a month acting or modelling.

Her mother is too sick to work and she does not want her 12-year-old brother to miss school.

But Gracia says the money she earns is not enough and every month she worries about not being able to pay the bills or having to say No when her brother Guillermo comes back from school asking for money for books.

Theirs is a story like thousands of other Peruvians who live in poverty, but for one fact.

I felt the hopelessness of wanting to move forward, wanting to study, and you just don't get the opportunity because it's all about money
Graciela Yataco
Last month, Gracia decided to sell her virginity to pay for her mother's medical treatment and to improve her family's quality of life.

"My mother was ill and my brother and me too. [And I felt] the utter hopelessness of wanting to move forward, wanting to study, be someone and you just don't get the opportunity because it's all about money," says Gracia.

"Sometimes you find yourself at a crossroads and you see no way out," she adds, staring at the terracotta painted walls.

"You stop and see there's only thing that's going to help you and perhaps it only has to happen once in your life.

"That's what I thought. And you never have to do it again.

"You have to get on with it, without looking back, because you can study, work with this money and help lots of people who are poor like me."

'Prostitution'

She said she offered to sell her virginity to the highest bidder, advertising herself in newspapers, on television and the internet.

An earlier photograph of Graciela Yataco with her mother holding her brother
Childhood: Graciela (standing) became the main provider for her family
It did not take long before many in this staunchly Catholic country were up in arms.

Some said her actions were nothing short of prostitution. Others said she needed psychological help.

She says some people admired her ingenuity, saying she was doing more than the teenage girls who lost their virginity in the parks because they wrongly thought they were in love.

Her virginity almost became a question of national pride, with some commentators and chat show hosts accusing her of trying to damage Peru's reputation.

But Gracia was unfazed by the criticisms.

"People in Peru are opportunistic and they see everyone else's problems, but never their own," she says.

"I'm just a person who's trying to get ahead in life. I've always worked since I was little, but here there are no opportunities for young people.

I came out and said publicly what my situation was and nobody, nobody has been capable of saying, thank you, I'll help you with something
Graciela Yataco
"They don't bother asking what's going on in my life, what I am like and what has forced me to take this decision. They only judge me and point their fingers at me.

"I came out and said publicly what my situation was and nobody, nobody has been capable of saying, thank you, I'll help you with something.

"And there are people who have loads of money, loads of jobs."

Graciela laughs as she recounts how a Canadian man offered her $1.5m (780,000) to have sex with her.

"He said he'd prefer I didn't do it, but if I was going to do it with anyone, it should be with someone who treated me right and I think he knew his bid wasn't going to be topped.

"He was really happy when I said No."

Publicity stunt?

Almost a month after Gracia advertised her virginity for sale, her economic situation has not changed.

But her moral situation has. She says she has decided not to give up her virginity for any price.

"Mum lives with me 24 hours a day, and respects my decision because I am an adult.

"But she was giving me advice, and explaining how my life might be if I did this: What example would I give my children, what kind of man would accept me with this past, would it make me happy, this money?

"Obviously it's a necessity, but it's not everything, it's a bad necessity and it made me realise that this money wasn't going to make me happy, I could make myself happy with my own merits."

Some critics have suggested that Gracia offered to sell her virginity solely to court publicity and never actually intended to go through with it.

Only she will know if that is the case. Certainly, her arguments are convincing, but perhaps so too is her acting.

But what she has done, indisputably, is come out and say: The way many people live in Peru is wrong and I want to do something about it.


SEE ALSO:
Scraping a living on Peru streets
12 Jun 04 |  Americas
Peru's child labour law condemned
12 Aug 00 |  Americas
Country profile: Peru
04 Feb 05 |  Country profiles



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