Nestled between tropical forests and pristine beaches, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is a premier tourist destination best known for its stunning landscapes, beautiful beaches, and its rich history and traditions. The city is also known for its annual Carnival festival, and its winning bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. As one of the most iconic cities of Brazil, Rio is a bustling metropolis with more than six million inhabitants. Thousands more will stream into the city from all over the globe during the Olympic games, which will take place August 5 through August 21.
The Darker Side of Rio
Amidst the history, culture, and natural beauty, there is a darker side to Rio de Janeiro. The city has a well-established commercial sex trade frequented by locals and tourists alike.
It is legal to purchase sex throughout Brazil, so sex tourism is generally accepted. In fact, prostitution has been recognized as an official occupation since 2002.1
What remains illegal though is profiting from sex tourism by owning a brothel or sex club, but this law appears largely if not completely forgotten and certainly unenforced. Large, upscale brothels and clubs pepper the various neighborhoods throughout the city, particularly in the famous Copacabana area.2
Prostitution has been recognized as an official occupation since 2002.
In addition to the lack of laws regarding commercial sex, the sexualizing of women in Brazilian culture arguably contributes to the exploitation of women through sex tourism. Carnival, promoted as the biggest party on the planet, is often used as an example of a cultural factor that feeds exploitation. Rio-based Brazilian journalist, Nicole Froio, argues that traditions like the notorious Carnival, “encourage[s] the objectification of women” in Brazilian culture.3
The notion that women are sexual objects is so widely accepted in the culture, that many little girls dream of being a Carnival globeleza—a spokeswoman chosen to represent Carnival each year by dancing naked in sponsored commercials during the event’s television coverage.4
Nowhere is this objectification more overt than in Rio’s most popular red-light districts, including the “glitzy beachfront” Copacabana area,5 and Rio’s largest and oldest red-light district, Vila Mimosa.6 The contrast between the two areas is stark.
At the glamorous and more centrally-located “sex motels” and brothels in places like Copacabana, women are typically selected from a line-up. These upscale facilities typically draw more international clients, including well-known celebrities and entertainers.7 Clients at these upscale brothels are typically charged 200 USD per “program.”8
In Vila Mimosa, the clientele is almost entirely Brazilian men—roughly 4,000 visit per day—with the prices running as low as 20 USD per client.9 Lauren Wilks, researcher and writer for Pulitzer Center, said that Vila Mimosa is, “as close as you can get to survival sex.”10 The sad reality is that the women lining the streets of Vila Mimosa and packing the rooms of Copacabana’s sex motels are doing so out of “desperation, necessity, and a lack of real alternatives.”11
Desperation is coercing these women into prostitution.
Desperation is coercing these women into prostitution. When people pretend that these women and girls are “working” in these districts because “they want to,” they are ignoring the truth and reality of the exploitation of an extremely vulnerable population.
With such a highly-developed sex tourism industry already at work in Brazil, global concerns are intensifying regarding the nation’s capacity to manage the anticipated spike in human trafficking and sexual exploitation during the upcoming Olympic Games. Anti-trafficking and anti-slavery groups, including Exodus Cry, are worried that the steps being taken by the Brazilian government to protect vulnerable women and children are not enough.12
While discussions about the effects of large sporting events on human trafficking continue around the world, the Brazilian government has been trying to improve their international image by cracking down on brothels and sex clubs in Rio in anticipation of the Games.
“There’s something of a moral panic in Rio as we get closer to these mega-events. Politicians think they have a chance to redefine the city, so they are cracking down,” said filmmaker and scholar, Laura Murray, who documents commercial sex in Brazil.13
This “hygienization” campaign14 involves threatening to throw women in prison for posting advertisements in phone booths.15 Abolitionists and advocates for trafficking victims know that such actions will only serve to criminalize the women and cause further harm, instead of helping them escape their exploitation and end the demand for illicit sex.16
Rio Prayer Room and Outreach
With the Olympics only days away, the Brazilian government appears no closer to finding a solution to the problems of exploitation in their country. As the government is scrambling to find answers to issues plaguing the Games—ranging from the Zika Virus, to violence, to political upheaval, to sexual exploitation—a team of powerful prayer warriors is assembling in Rio to lead a non-stop 24/7 prayer and worship room during the entirety of the Olympics.
In 2014, Exodus Cry led an initiative in the twelve World Cup host cities called Liberdade—meaning “freedom” in Portuguese. It consisted of establishing short-term prayer and worship rooms in each of the twelve host cities across Brazil—focused on praying for freedom from sexual exploitation—along with street outreach to almost 2,000 individuals who were being sexually exploited there.
Two years later, the prayer room that was established in Rio is still going strong! It is now officially “Liberdade House of Prayer Rio,” directed by our friends Michael and Maira Duque. During the Olympics, the Liberdade House of Prayer will be hosting teams who will join them in prayer and outreach during this international sporting event.
Exodus Cry’s former Director of Intervention Blaire Fraim, and her husband Tim Fraim who was the Brazil Mobilization Coordinator (who both pioneered Liberdade 2014) together with our current Director of Intervention Helen Taylor, Exodus Cry volunteers, and many others, will be supporting this initiative and conducting follow-up outreach trainings with the local volunteers.
There will be regular outreaches to the red-light districts surrounding the prayer room, taking the love and light of Jesus to the streets. The local churches will once again be invited to join together in worship, prayer, and outreach for the ending of trafficking and sexual exploitation in Rio.
Wherever you are in the world, join us this August 5-21 in praying for Brazil, Liberdade House of Prayer Rio, and all the teams coming together for prayer and for outreach to those bound in sexual exploitation.
- 1. Wilks, Lauren, “Brothel Raids Endanger Rio’s Sex Workers,” Pulitzer Center, Web. 4 December 2013. http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/brazil-rio-de-janeiro-sex-workers-world-cup-prostitution-brothel-Centaurus-Justin-Bieber
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Froio, Nicole, “Hyper Sexual Carnival Atmosphere Has a Dark Side for Rio’s Women,” The Independent, Web. 11 February 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/hyper-sexual-carnival-atmosphere-has-a-dark-side-for-rios-women-8490306.html
- 4. Ibid.
- 5. Wilks, Lauren. “Sex and Survival in Rio’s Red-Light District,” Pulitzer Center, Web. 27 November 2013. http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/south-america-brazil-rio-de-janeiro-sex-survival-red-light-district-prostitution-world-cup
- 6. Wilks, Lauen, “Inside Rio’s Oldest and Largest Red-Light District,” Pulitzer Center, Web. 18 December 2013. http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/brazil-rio-sex-tourism-prostitution-vila-mimosa
- 7. Romero, Simon, and Taylor Barnes, “Before Global Games, Rio is Fighting to Dim Red Light,” New York Times, Web. 8 November 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/09/world/americas/rio-fights-vice-before-world-cup-but-brothels-endure.html?_r=1&
- 8. Ibid.
- 9. Ibid.
- 10. Wilks, Lauren, “Sex and Survival in Rio’s Red-Light District,” Pulitzer Center, Web. 27 November 2013. http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/south-america-brazil-rio-de-janeiro-sex-survival-red-light-district-prostitution-world-cup
- 11. Wilks, Lauren. “Inside Rio’s Oldest and Largest Red-Light District,” Pulitzer Center, Web. 18 December 2013. http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/brazil-rio-sex-tourism-prostitution-vila-mimosa
- 12. Restuccia, Danielle, “Sporting Competitions and Human Rights: Increasingly Connected,” VOXXI, Web. 19 February 2014. http://voxxi.com/2014/02/19/sporting-competitions-human-rights/
- 13. Romero, Simon, and Taylor Barnes, “Before Global Games, Rio is Fighting to Dim Red Light,” New York Times, Web. 8 November 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/09/world/americas/rio-fights-vice-before-world-cup-but-brothels-endure.html?_r=2&
- 14. Ibid.
- 15. Wilks, Lauren, “World Cup 2014: Is Brazil’s Sex Industry Crackdown a Threat to Human Rights?” The Guardian, Web. 14 February 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/feb/14/brazil-world-cup-2014-sex-industry-human-rights
- 16. Ibid.