by THADDEUS BLANCHETTE
A favela (that is, slum) in Manaus, Brazil. PHOTO / Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP / Getty Images /Time
Time Magazine has now thrown its hat into the ring regarding the sex tourism panic in Brazil. Here’s my response. I’m an anthropologist who has been studying prostitution, sexual tourism and trafficking in Brazil for some ten years now. Let me address some of the misconceptions this article raises.
1) Brazil has a very large problem with the sexual exploitation of children. Like most countries, however, the vast majority of this problem is not concentrated in brothels or in the tourism sector, but out in the neighborhoods and in the Brazilian family itself.
As an example, the city of Fortaleza, one of the host cities of the World Cup, currently has open twenty cases of underaged prostitution (six of which involve foreigners) and TWO THOUSAND cases of sexual exploitation of children that have nothing to do with prostitution or tourism.
This is an issue which our family-values oriented congressmen and -women, like Ms. Liliam Sá, cited in the article, simply do not want to deal with. It is much more politically expedient to bang the sexual tourism panic drum than to say anything against the sacred Brazilian family, which generates the vast majority of cases of sexual abuse and exploitation in our country.
2) Not to suggest that an ex-pimp and child trafficker who’s claimed to have found Jesus might not be an honest or accurate witness, but in ten years of work researching Rio de Janeiro’s brothels – and particularly the sex work venues that cater to tourists – I have not encountered a single child prostitute.
Frequent police raids on these establishments also generally come up a cropper. There are a few cases, of course, but I can count them on the fingers of one hand, from over a ten year period.
Where, then, are these legions of child prostitutes? If the police and I and my co-researcher, Dra. Ana Paula da Silva, can’t find more than a handful in all the hundreds of commercial sex venues in Rio de Janeiro – and believe me, we’ve been actively looking for underaged sex workers – then where are these kids?
3) Before every major sports event over the last 20 years, there have been apocalyptic claims that the invasion of legions of sports fans would lead to an increase in prostitution and a consequent increase in trafficking.
These claims have NEVER been substantiated: in fact, they’ve been consistently debunked. Before the World’s Cup in Germany, it was estimated that 40,000 women would be trafficked for the games: during the event, massive police actions discovered five.
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