Nestled between tropical forests and pristine beaches, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is a premier tourist destination best known for its stunning landscapes 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 the capital city of the State of Rio de Janeiro, Rio is a bustling metropolis with more than six million inhabitants. While the city attracts nature enthusiasts from around the world, it is the Brazilians’ intense love of soccer that places Rio at the heart of the 2014 World Cup Games.1
Rio has produced several world-renowned soccer players and is also home to the largest soccer stadium in Brazil. The massive Maracana has the capacity to hold almost 75,000 fans. When the World Cup arrives this summer, Rio de Janeiro is expected to draw fans in record numbers. As a result, the city is scheduled to host seven games, including the final game on July 13th. This is more games than any other host city in the country.2
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 2002.3
What remains illegal though is profiting from sex tourism by owning a brothel or sex club, but this law appears largely forgotten and unenforced. Large, upscale brothels and clubs pepper the various neighborhoods throughout the city, particularly in the famous Copacabana area.4
In addition to the lack of laws regarding commerical 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.5 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.6
Nowhere is this objectification more overt than in Rio’s most popular red-light districts including the “glitzy beachfront” Copacabana area7 and Rio’s largest and oldest red-district, Vila Mimosa8. 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 entertainers9. Clients at these upscale brothels are typically charged 200 USD per “program.”10
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 client11. Lauren Wilks, researcher and writer for Pulitzer Center, said that Vila Mimosa is, “as close as you can get to survival sex.”12 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.”13 When we pretend that these women and girls are “working” in these districts because they want to, we are ignoring the exploitation of a vulnerable population.
“The World Cup Effect”
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 World Cup 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.14
Meanwhile, while discussions about “The World Cup Effect” continue around the world, the Brazilian government is quickly 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.15
This “hygienization” campaign16 involves targeting more than 2,000 sex-solicitation websites and threatening to throw women in prison for posting advertisements in phone booths.17 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.18
Pray With Us
With the start of the World Cup less than four months away, the Brazilian government appears no closer to finding a solution to the problems of exploitation that plague their country. Exodus Cry remains committed to praying for the vulnerable women and children in Brazil’s host cities, advocating for legal reform that would protect those at risk, and reaching out to assist the victims of exploitation.
Please join us as we pray for the city of Rio de Janeiro. To learn more about how you can join us through prayer and action during this world event, visit our Liberdade Initiative page for more information.
- 1“Rio de Janeiro: A Host City for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil,” FIFA, Web. 2013. http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/destination/cities/city=1141/profile.html
- 3Wilks, 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
- 5Froio, 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
- 7Wilks, 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
- 8Wilks, 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
- 9Romero, 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&
- 12Wilks, 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
- 13Wilks, 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
- 14Restuccia, Danielle, “Sporting Competitions and Human Rights: Increasingly Connected,” VOXXI, Web. 19 February 2014. http://voxxi.com/2014/02/19/sporting-competitions-human-rights/
- 15Romero, 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&
- 17Wilks, 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