Amid protests of the displacement of locals, poor working conditions and threats to transport infrastructure, the Brazilian government maintained one justification for hosting the 2014 World Cup: it would bring jobs to citizens and millions of tourism dollars to the economy. This statement didn’t placate the entire opposition as many worried the jobs and tourism dollars would filter into the prostitution industry, and prostitution became a highly talked about topic leading up to the matches. But while research indicates that overall levels of prostitution in Brazil may have actually decreased during the World Cup, it certainly has not gone away.
The Brazilian sex worker industry, where girls as young as eight are treated as sexual beings, drug induced numbness is a band-aid over emotional scars and women are not permitted to have control of their own lives, continues on.
Prostitution in Brazil operates in a gray area of quasi-legality. Though running a house of prostitution and employing a prostitute are both criminal offenses prostituting oneself became legal under the Brazilian Classification of Occupations in the year 2000, allowing women the opportunity to prostitute themselves and receive protections such as social security and pensions.
Brazil was one of 117 countries to sign the Palermo Protocol, recognizing that prostitution of anyone under the age of 18 is considered human trafficking under international law, and has also domestically outlawed prostitution under the age of 18, but this does not mean girls in Brazil are not trafficked into sex work. Brazil has become a hotspot for sex tourism, and some of these tourists seek girls in particular. Pimps, eager to meet the demand, bring prepubescent girls onto the streets. Outside of the demand for girls, minors will lie about their age in order to make ends meet through catering to the demand for women.
A sex worker in Fortaleza, Brazil. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Though the Brazilian government does not regulate or control the sex worker industry, prostituted women don’t have control either. Often, they are forced into this line of work. Traffickers recruit new sex workers from poor neighborhoods, presenting prostitution as the only way to eat and sleep under a roof at night, or they buy girls by giving parents $5,000 or $10,000 for their daughters.
Traffickers numb their new recruits with drugs and alcohol in order to create dependency and limit agency, but deduct the cost of the substances out of the women’s cut of the earnings, which may only be half of what clients pay to begin with. Traffickers also dictate what the girls wear and how they do their makeup. They strike deals with taxi drivers and hotel employees so they provide tourists with a menu of women and girls upon request, “thin, blonde, young” listed as “lightly seasoned, low-fat, cooked to order” might be on a restaurant menu.
When women and girls are bought from their parents, numbed with drugs and alcohol, not given fair wages, and not given options other than prostitution, they cease to have authority over their own lives, and they cease to be people.
They are slaves.
They become hallowed out, stripped down, drugged up objects in another person’s quest for money and cheap thrills. Though this industry may have seen a decrease in business during the World Cup, the industry has not left with the end of the event. It has been two weeks since the final match, and where there was once much talk of the abuse of women in the Brazilian prostitution industry, now there is almost none.