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Liberdade: A Field Guide to Brazil

The Journey

Three years ago, we embarked on a journey to understand and combat sex trafficking in Brazil. When our team arrived in Sao Paulo, they were wholly impacted by the incredible beauty, culture, and energy of the Brazilian community. Our mission, however, was to look past the dazzling landscape and to trek deep into the dark corners of its slavery epidemic, which has ranked Brazil as one of the premier sex tourism destinations of the world.1 The degree of sexual exploitation and oppression witnessed from Fortaleza in the northeast to Sao Paolo in the south, placed Brazil as a top priority on Exodus Cry’s agenda for 2013 and 2014.


In the spring of 2012 we focused on Brazil because of the world-renowned celebration of Carnival. This annual festival is a hedonistic celebration that takes place across the nation, with the largest gatherings in Rio de Janeiro, filling the city with more than one million party-goers daily.The four-day festival is understood as a festival of “flesh” in which prohibitions and social norms are disregarded and every form of pleasure is acceptable.3 Even the name itself, Carnival, comes from the Latin word carnis which means “flesh” or “the body”. This nationwide festival is seen as a last hurrah before the Catholic tradition of Lent begins just days later. The celebration is typified as: “an erotic universe…essential to the Brazilian sexual culture, with its context of ‘no shame,’ ‘within four walls,’ ‘beneath the sheets,’ or ‘behind the mask.’”4

Women – The Sexual Stereotype

Brazil has long held a world-renown reputation for exotic and sensual women, and the booming sex tourism industry has capitalized on this perception with strategic marketing campaigns praising young Brazilian girls as the sexiest in the world. Brazil has become so well-known for its sexualized climate that to put the term “Brazilian” in front of any product automatically connotes a sensual experience or look, lending to the “sex sells” marketing campaigns of many companies. Commonly known examples are the Victoria’s Secret “Brazilian panties,” the best-selling “Brazilian butt-lift workout program,” or the “Brazilian bikini wax.” Brazil has long produced some of the top fashion models in the world. Models like Gisele Bundchen and Isabeli Fontana have gained international popularity and are seen as sex icons and ambassadors of the beauty inherent in Brazilian women.


It should come as no surprise that exploitation and degradation becomes packaged and sold as part of Brazilian tourism. In 2011, the nation’s Tourism Ministry identified 2,169 websites abusing the Ministry’s official logo to promote “Latin America’s biggest country as a sex tourism destination.”5 The websites posted photos of women in sensual poses and invitations for sexual encounters with minors. The sexualized stereotypes of young Brazilian girls have proliferated the majority of Western nations, creating a demand for sex with these girls from thousands upon thousands of John’s (prostitution clients).

Men – Machismo

In Brazil, it is a cultural reality that males enjoy a superior, almost demigod status. “Virility is central to the male identity as a ‘macho’ and refers to being sexually potent in a physiological sense. For married men this includes fathering many children, in the process satisfying one’s wife, frequenting brothels, and publicly displaying lecherous intentions towards women…For young bachelors, this would naturally include actual attempts at seduction, a sexual vibrado, and obeying the peremptory demands of the male sex drive.”6 This enduring mindset is deeply rooted in Brazilian culture and reinforces the values upholding the legal framework for prostitution in Brazil.

Legal Prostitution

One of the reasons that sexual objectification and exploitation flourishes in Brazil is the fact that prostitution is legal. Despite the illegality of running a business involving prostitution, both pimps and brothel owners operate with impunity throughout the country.

Mega Brothels

In a recent article, reporter Alex Bellos explained the new phenomenon of upscale “superbrothels.” These illegal, yet flourishing, mega brothels are well known and operate with complete disregard for the unenforced law, the largest  of them having hundreds of girls for sale on any given night.7 Behind the facade of glamour in these supposed high class “supermarkets of sex,” is the harsh and ugly reality of force and coercion. Bellos goes on to explain a conversation he had with one of the young girls being prostituted in a brothel called Cafe Millennium that holds 800 men at a time and 300 women who sell sex.  Speaking of a young girl who was from a village 700 miles away he says, “she told me that she lived in the basement – about 100 of the girls did, in tiny rooms with two bunks each. In return for free rent she has to work daily eight hour shifts.”8


Child Prostitution

A horrifying byproduct of all these factors is the widespread involvement of children in the sex industry. According to Brazilian law, the minimum age for consensual sex is 14 years old and there are currently no laws that specifically address child sex tourism.  In a 2010 BBC undercover report, journalists posed as sex tourists and were approached by young teens selling sex on the streets of Brazil’s northeastern cities. One girl, only 13-years old, describes selling her body to an average of ten men a night for only 10 reis each ($5.50 USD).9

The systemic issues of poverty in Brazil are complex and often push young children into life on the streets where they are vulnerable and susceptible to recruitment into prostitution. 16.2 million people in Brazil live on less than $1.30 US per day,10 and thousands of children must beg in the streets or work to earn money for their families. Without any significant form of protection, adolescents are lured into prostitution and cycles of exploitation that lead to drug addiction, violence, and abuse. “Research conducted in 2006 by the University of Brasília, the federal government and UNICEF found children and adolescents selling sex in nearly 1,000 municipalities. In 2007 the federal traffic-police said they knew of nearly 2,000 roadside locations where sex with children was for sale.”11


Most of the major coastal cities in the northeast serve as tourist destinations for the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. According to conservative estimates from the SDH, University of Brasilia, UNICEF, and the ILO, more than 100,000 children are victims of sexual exploitation each year in Brazil.12 The 2009 U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report stated that the Brazilian Federal Police estimate between 250,000 to 400,000 children are “exploited in domestic prostitution, in resort and tourist areas, along highways, and in Amazonian mining brothels.”13

Transgendered Exploitation

According to the International Labor Organization in 2012, 98% of all global trafficking for sexual exploitation was of women and girls.  In Brazil, however, male and transgendered prostitution and trafficking are prevalent throughout the country. There are approximately 6,000-8,000 (out of a total population of over 190 million) transgendered, known as “travestis,”14 in Brazil. The prostituting of boys, men and transgendered persons is also widespread being on par with Thailand’s lady-boy” phenomenon.15


Brazil is a large source country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking within the country and abroad.” Brazilians are being exploited in countries all around the world, including Spain, Italy, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Germany, the United States, Japan, Suriname, French, Guiana, Guyana, and Venezuela. To a lesser extent, some women from neighboring countries have been trafficked  in the sex industry in Brazil.16


The 2006 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns, states that in the Americas, Brazil ranks as one of the highest source countries for trafficking victims along with Columbia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.17

Government Support

Research has shown that legal prostitution increases sex trafficking by increasing the market for sex, and thus increasing the demand for prostituted persons.18 Brazil’s model of legal prostitution is a major hinderance to anti-trafficking efforts because it acts as a magnet for traffickers, pimps and johns, as well as increases the demand for men, women and children to be sold for sex.

Distancing themselves from the violent reality of prostitution, and denying the causal links between legal prostitution and human trafficking,19 the government stands on a legalized framework that promotes prostitution as a legitimate form of “work.”  The government goes so far as to sanitize the horrific reality of prostitution by calling the sexual acts of prostitution, “programs,” and the women and girls who are prostituted, “Garota de programa”  (“program girls”) or “Mulher da vida” (“Life women).20

Government Complicity

A vocal cultural advocate within the emerging social movement has called for the regulation and normalization of prostitution as a legitimate job that all individuals should have access to. Part of the faulty reasoning for these actions is to attempt to reduce the stigma associated with prostitution, however, legalizing, unionizing, and rewording exploitation does nothing to help the cause of prostituted women or reduce stigma. Examples of this are seen in Germany and the Netherlands, countries where prostitution is legal and where unions have been created.  In Germany, the service union ver.di offered union membership to Germany’s prostituted women. They would have been be entitled to health care, legal aid, thirty paid holiday days a year, a five-day workweek, and Christmas and holiday bonuses. Out of an estimated 400,000 women, only 100 joined the union. That’s .00025% of German prostituted women.21

The reason they did not register was because they were ashamed to be known as working in the sex industry; unionization did nothing to reduce the stigma and shame. Contrary to having any positive benefit, pro-prostitution lobby groups and organizations work against those who are fighting for the cause of the thousands being trafficked into the sex industry in Brazil. By promoting prostitution as a legitimate form of work, the inherent harms of prostitution are concealed, making it more difficult for the public and the government to see prostitution as a form of violence against women and a phenomenon that fuels sex trafficking.

Further evidence of the Government’s support of prostitution was an incident in 2005, where the nation refused to accept $40 million from the United States Agency for Aid and Development (USAID) for AIDS prevention and treatment because it was contingent upon the Brazilian government condemning prostitution. The US government recognizes prostitution (which could otherwise be described as having sex with hundreds if not thousands of people under circumstances that cannot reasonably be controlled and cannot be made safe because prostitution is inherently harmful), as a cause of HIV/AIDS, sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.22

In response to questions about the Brazilian government’s refusal, Pedro Chequer, the President of Brazil’s National HIV/AIDS Commission publicly said that prostituted women were the government’s “partners” and rejected the US research-based mandate, claiming that it was based on the promotion of religious beliefs.  What Chequer failed to recognize is that the government’s so-called “partners” were continually being exploited, raped, forced to prostitute, physically and psychologically abused and often killed,23 and that hundreds of thousands of these “partners” were actually children being robbed of a childhood and a future.


In addition to legalizing the purchase of sex in Brazil, many of those in places of authority are participating in or turning a blind eye to the obvious oppression that is occurring in the nation. The US Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons TIP Report noted in 2012 that federal judges were lessening human trafficking and slavery sentences of four years imprisonment down to community service, “thus undercutting in practice the otherwise stringent penalties set forth in the relevant anti-trafficking statutes.”24 Also in 2012, there were “no reports of investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for official complicity involving sex trafficking” despite NGO knowledge of corruption and official complicity.25

The Brazilian Prosecutor of the Federal District and Territories report on corruption and human trafficking states that, “In Brazil, both corruption and human trafficking have increased greatly over the past few years,” described by expert Kevin Bales as critical ‘push’ factors.26 This multivariate study has concluded that trafficking of humans beings is highly dependent on corruption and that “by lowering the overall rate of corruption and strengthening the integrity of public officials, the occurrence of THB (trafficking of human beings) will decline.”


Despite all of these horrendous activities, Brazil has been chosen as the host country for both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games and is now classified as one of the four emerging economies, seen as “fast-growing superpowers-in-waiting.”27 Brazil is in the middle of a multi-billion dollar makeover for the upcoming sporting events, yet a national action plan to protect the thousands of vulnerable women and children fails to appear. As we pray over Brazil, we’re believing that this can change. Your partnership with us in prayer will be critical to our Prevention, Intervention and Restoration efforts in the upcoming months. Day-to-day intercession will be key as we send out teams to raise awareness, lead outreaches, and call forth an abolitionist movement in the nation of Brazil. Together, we can declare freedom over the oppressed and shine light on modern-day slavery in this nation.

To stay connected and partner with us in our new initiative in Brazil, Liberdade (Lee-ber-dajee (f) n. freedom), sign up for email updates.

1. Fabiano Barretto, “Brazils Sex Tourism Boom,” Global Garbage, 30 July 2010,
2. “Press Kit,” Rio Carnival, 10 June 2013, Sarah de Sainte Croix, “Rio’s 2012 Carnival in Numbers: Daily,” Rio Times Online, 12 February 2012,
3. Associated Press Reporter, “The greatest party on Earth’: Rio Carnival reaches its breathtaking climax as thousands of scantily-clad samba dancers gyrate through the streets in an explosion of music and colour,” Daily Mail, 11 February 2013,
4. R.G. Parker, “Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome in Urban Brazil,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 1987:165.
5. “Brazil takes aim at sties that promote sex tourism,” Today- Associated Press, 27 March 2012,
6. Sérgio Luiz Gonçalves de Freitas, Brazil,
7. Alex Bellos, “Inside Brazil’s Upmarket Brothels Hotel Clubs,” The Sabatoge Times, 27 March 2013,
8. Ibid
9. Fabiano Barretto, “Brazils Sex Tourism Boom,” Global Garbage, 30 July 2010,
10. “Brazil Strives for Economic Equality,” Riot Times, 7 Febuary 2012,
11. Sao Paulo, “Prostitution in Brazil, The Wrong Signal,” The Economist, 7 April 2012,
12. U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012 – Brazil”
13. U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009.
14. Kristi Schuck, “Brazilian Travestis”, University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire,
15. “Ladyboy:  — n.  informal a transvestite or transsexual, esp one from the Far East,” Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers.
16. “Trafficking in Persons Report 2012,” U.S. Department of State- Diplomacy in Action, accessed 6 June 2013,
17. United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, “Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns, April 2006.
18. Seo-Young Cho, Axel Dreher, Eric Neumayer, “Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?,” Ideas by Research Divison of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 16 January 2012, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen and Jakobsson, Niklas, and Andreas Kotsadam,“Poverty, Equity and Growth in Developing and Transition Countries: Statistical Methods and Empirical Analysis,” Courant Research Centre, January 2012,, Niklas and Andreas Kotsadam, “The law and economics of international sex slavery: prostitution laws and trafficking for sexual exploitation,” Econ Papers, Göteborg: Department of Economics, School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg,
19. Stephanie Church, “Violence by clients towards female prostitutes in different work settings: questionnaire survey,” BMJ, 3 March 2001, Melissa Farley, “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” Journal of Trauma Practice, Vol. 2, No. 3/4: 33-74, “Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress,” (New York: The Haworth Press. 2003),
20. “English Translation of Brazil’s Labor and Employment Ministry Primer on Sex Professional,”Prostitution Procon, accessed 6 June 2013,
21. Janice G. Raymond, “Ten Reasons for Not Legalizing Prostitution And a Legal Response to the Demand for Prostitution,” Coalition Against Trafficking,
22. “The Link Between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking,” Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, 24 November 2004,
23. Melissa Farley, “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” Journal of Trauma Practice, Vol. 2, No. 3/4: 33-74, “Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress,” (New York: The Haworth Press. 2003),
24. “Trafficking in Persons Report 2012,” U.S. Department of State- Diplomacy in Action, accessed 6 June 2013,
25. Ibid
26. “Corruption and Human Trafficking in Brazil: Findings from a Multi-Modal Approach,” Ministerio Publico do Distritos Federal E Territorios, 29 January 2010,
27. “The B in Brics: The Brazil backlash,” The Economist, 19 May 2012,