Tuesday, April 26, 2005
BBC NEWS | World | Americas | Peruvian virgin turns down $1.5m:
"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 - 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.
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."
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. "