Interviews 0


Essa ė segunda parte de uma entrevista rara com a Graça, presidente da AMOCAVIM e ex-prostituta na Vila Mimosa. Primeira parte aqui. Video em português.

This is the second part of a rare interview with Graça, the president of AMOCAVIM, the association of brothel owners of Vila Mimosa, and a former sex worker in Vila Mimosa. In the first part, Graça talks about why prostitution can be a good thing for a woman (“Here you can earn your independence“). In this part, she responds to the question, “What is allowed, and not allowed, in Vila Mimosa?”


What is allowed, and not allowed, in Vila Mimosa?

Graça: It’s not permitted to walk around the streets naked. You can’t just wear a bikini here. Everyone thinks that’s cute in the Zona Sul.

But if a woman leaves here in a bikini and crosses the street… you’d think it was the end of the world.

If a woman is wearing a little shirt and jean shorts, she’s automatically labeled a “puta” in this neighborhood.

People will harass her?

They will.

People should have more respect. Why can a woman in the Zona Sul [Ipanema, Copacabana, etc] wear a crop top and shorts, but a woman in this neighborhood can’t?

So this [rule] is so the women here don’t visibly demonstrate they are prostitutes [and get harassed coming to and from work]. I tell them, if they dress like that, they’ll be reproached, men will try to bother them.

Inside Vila, a man is not going to bother you. If you’re well dressed… He can still approach you, of course, and ask. But if you say, “No,” you can go about your business and he’s not going to bother you again.


A couple of relevant points of context:

I had just finished comparing working conditions in Vila Mimosa, where women are more or less free to come and go as they please, when they please; and luxury brothel Centaurus, which requires committing  to obligatory five- or six-day work weeks, twelve hours a day. (Also worth noting that Centaurus keeps about 50% of the money the client is charged; the brothels in Vila keep 20-25% on average, or half the “exploitation rate”.)

In this context, I ask Graça about the rules of Vila Mimosa. It’s interesting to note both what she mentions and what she doesn’t mention:

What she mentions: Women are told to “dress normally” coming and going to work, out of concern for their own protection.

Soraya Simōes (anthropologist and coordinator of the Prostitution Policy Watch at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) talks about this “moral code” in her ethnography Vila Mimosa: etnografia da cidade cenográfica da prostituição carioca as a way for the association of brothel owners to maintain a good relationship with residents in the surrounding neighborhood. (When Vila was relocated to its current location in the 1990s, residents met the sex workers with aggressive protests; that era has long since passed, in part due to this kind of coexistence).

When I asked Simōes for her take on Graça’s description of the rules, she said that Graça’s “social intelligence,” in terms of understanding the stigma of sex work and trying to give other women this kind of orientation, is something to be valued:

One thing I always kept in mind [during my field work in Vila Mimosa] is that, for many people in Vila, above all the administrators, this isn’t looked at as a problem worth fighting against. To the contrary: It’s a recognition of the customs and local values of the neighboring residents, a species of “traditional domination” à la Weber, or a kind of customary law, which Laura Murray  has written about.

What Graça doesn’t mention: Vila Mimosa is controlled by a militia group (militias in Rio are consortiums of corrupt current and former cops, and are a bigger threat to public safety than drug traffickers). And for women that owe debts (for drug addictions or otherwise), the risk can be death. I heard two accounts from sex workers in Vila Mimosa, while we filmed the Red Light Rio project, of colleagues who were executed by police or militia for this purported reason. “Security” in Vila Mimosa was the subject women we interviewed were the least interested in speaking about, more than even rape or sex trafficking, and will be the subject of an upcoming video.


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