Same Old Story: Sex Workers Targeted through 'Hygienist Policies' Before the World Cup in Brazil

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As the World Cup 2014 in Brazil gets closer, several human rights violations against sex workers can be observed across the country. Current public policies related to sex work is being framed under anti-trafficking efforts and combatting sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, as part of the agreement between the Brazilian government and FIFA.

Considering that victims of trafficking are rarely found and that evidence on sexual exploitation of children and adolescents is generally limited, other legal mechanisms have been used to close sex work areas where consenting adults engage in selling sex.

For instance, police actions that took place in Ribeirão Preto, state of São Paulo, targeted organised forms of sex work (prohibited under the Criminal Code), which were closed due to sanitary and security reasons. The operation aimed at rescuing exploited children in the sex industry resulted in closing of several brothels and arrests of sex workers who were holding drugs.

Likewise police operations are common across the country before the World Cup and are normally part of gentrification projects of city majors, focused on eradicating prostitution from central neighbourhoods.

Among the violations are police violence against sex workers, closing of brothels, disclosure of private data of sex workers, forced exposure of sex workers to the media, lack of legal assistance and redress to sex workers, as well as actions targeting sex tourism. The outcomes of these interventions are clearly anti-sex work rather than protectionist measures to victims of trafficking and/or young persons engaged in selling sex. 

After intensive lobby of the Brazilian sex worker movement led by the sex worker Cida Vieira from APROSMIG and the anthropologist Thaddeus Gregory Blanchette, the Brazilian National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons (CONATRAP) publicly affirmed their concern regarding gentrification processes in Brazilian cities and rejected public policies that impact negatively on sex workers.

The CONATRAP considers particularly serious the effects of these processes on sex workers, who are considered more vulnerable to human trafficking. The public note clearly states “agents responsible for the suppression of human trafficking should be the first to ensure the safety and security of society and the rights of sex workers. An environment of mutual trust relationship should be maintained in order to confront human trafficking.”

The CONATRAP recalled that any action aimed at preventing sexual exploitation and trafficking in persons should take into account the difference between criminal conduct and other lawful labour activities such as ‘voluntary prostitution’, now recognised and regulated by the Ministry Labour and Employment, since 09 October 2002. Under no circumstances repressive actions can lead to the violation of rights and dignity of sex workers, including the most vulnerable populations.