Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 2.03.37 PM
Thaddeus Blanchette 1

The Orgy that Wasn’t

Anthropologist Thaddeus Blanchette at the Federal University Rio de Janeiro of Macaé presents the Observatory of Prostitution’s preliminary findings of research on the World Cup effect on Rio de Janeiro’s sex industry for the 2nd International Conference on Law Enforcement and Public Health in Amsterdam this October:

It’s routine for the media and the politicians to panic before a mega-event, talking about how it’s inevitably going to bring in sexual exploitation, exploitation of children, trafficking of persons, we all know the stats, or we should.

That for example in 2006 the media and police predicted there would be 40,000 sex slaves trafficked to Germany [for the World Cup]. And they found four.

Also in 2010, the police and the politicians again predicted there would be the same number, 40,000 sex slaves trafficked in South Africa. In the event, they found none.

All of this began, of course, with the 2004 Greek Olympics, where they didn’t find anything either.

Now the predictions for the 2014 World Cup were even more dramatic. We were told by the media that there were tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of prostitutes who would be brought into the host cities of the World Cup for sexual slavery during the games. And there was a new twist on the story. Large numbers were supposedly going to be children and adolescents.

We know, because we’ve read scientific studies on the supposed connection between mega-events and sexual exploitation, we knew that this was probably pretty much bullshit. In the scientific sense of the word.

In early 2013, we started a mapping project of brothels in Rio de Janeiro, and went out visited the major brothels that were being frequented by both sex tourists and Brazilian men. There are 279 points where sex is sold in Rio de Janeiro.

We visited around 80 or 90 of these in the lead up for the games, the ones we had found out during our prior research were the most frequented and most popular. We got headcounts on how many tourists were there, how many local men, how many women were working, what the work conditions were. We did interviews with the women in these places and kind of documented what their normal working conditions were.

During World Cup, we spent more than 2,000 hours doing in-field anthropological ethnographic work in these same 80 or 90 brothels and commercial sex points, and charting the changes during World Cup. We just produced our preliminary report on this, and we can say that overall, sex work probably dropped by about 15% in Rio de Janeiro during the month of World Cup.

This is because the vast majority of brothels are downtown or in Rio’s North Zone, and those places are typically frequented by working class Brazilian men – who did not come [to work] downtown, neither on the days that Brazil played, because it was a national holiday, nor on the days that there was a game at the Maracanã Stadium, because that was a municipal holiday. So two days out of the five working days of the week, men were not coming downtown. And that was where at least 90 of the 279 – actually, more like 100, when you take in Vila Mimosa and that whole area – of the 279 commercial sex points in Rio de Janeiro are, also the largest venues are in that 100.

So these places closed down, basically, during World Cup. We’ve got photos and photos and photos of doors closed shut, we’ve got tons of interviews with the women who were there and the managers working there, all complaining about how there was no movement during World Cup.

One small area had an increase in prostitution, and the increase was not small there. That was the strip in Copacabana in front of the FIFA Fan Fest. There, prostitution increased about 100-150% during World Cup. A lot of the women who were not working downtown ended up migrating to this strip in order to work during World Cup. So we saw a huge migration of women from other areas of rio to this region during World Cup to do sex work but we did not see a migration from outside of town.

We talked with some 500 sex workers during World Cup, and formally interviewed 116. Of these, we found about twenty who had come in from out of town, and most of them were from other areas in the state of Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. A very small number came in from Bahia, Rio Grande do Sul and places like Belo Horizonte. We found precisely one international woman, a Peruvian who came to work downtown, and was very disappointed. We saw no children being prostituted anywhere in the 83 venues we repeatedly visited.

We did see a couple of people who we considered to be adolescents working in front of the FIFA Fan Fest, but every time we tried to verify it and even asked for their IDs, we were not able to verify it. On every occasion that we talked to someone that we thought was an underage prostitute, they ended up proving or showing that they were not, that they were almost certainly adults, and many times they actually showed us their ID.

So we did not see any increase in sexual exploitation of children over World Cup. And this data has been backed up by the authorities as well. The Conselho Titutlar of Rio de Janeiro’s South Zone, which is the organization that basically deals with all the accusations of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, had no reports of sexual exploitation during World Cup that had to do with World Cup. There were two reports in the north zone that had nothing to do with the World Cup.

We also talked to the CREAS and the social organizations that deal with this, we have a meeting on October 31 to get the final numbers, but so far we found out that they two only had two cases of sexual exploitation over World Cup, that they had to investigate. One turned out was just a rumor. The other was indeed who young women who were in Lapa.

We knew this, actually, because this had been announced on Facebook. They were flirting with foreign foreigners to try to get them to buy buy sex. I think one woman was 15 and one was 16.

But the interesting thing about it is that they had been detained on several different occasions for doing this before World Cup. When I talked to the people from CREAS about this, they said, ‘We already know those girls,’ they had already been through the system three or four times. They weren’t in town specifically for the World Cup.

The two women were immediately identified and taken up by CREAS and taken wherever CREAS takes their kiddie criminals these days.

Of the 83 brothels we actually monitored during World Cup, or rather points that are selling sex, as not all these areas are actual brothels, they’re also street scenes, things like that – six of them had more or less the same flow of customers and prostitutes that they would normally have.

17 of them had an increase. In some cases up to 100% increase, but most cases not too much, maybe 20 or 30%. And in the other sixty cases, there was a decrease. So there was nothing showing that World Cup caused an increase in prostitution or child sexual exploitation.

We didn’t see anything like the numbers of prostitutes that were supposed to be working World Cup, and the only place we did see an increase was the area where predictably it would occur.

One thing that was quite annoying was that the only operation, the only police operation that occurred to actually deal with these issues during World Cup was the closing of Balcony Bar. Balcony Bar is a place right in front of FIFA Fan Fest. And since the closing of the HELP discotheque [a few blocks away] a couple of years ago, it has become the principal area for sexual tourism. Tourists go there, they meet prostitutes and they go off to hotels in the region. Balcony Bar does not sell rooms or rent rooms, it doesn’t take any percentage of the prostitute’s profits, it’s just a meeting place.

This place was closed down [on June 12, opening day of World Cup] by the local police on the accusation that it was involved in the sexual exploitation of children. The interesting thing is they didn’t have any proof of this whatsoever – nor did they arrest anybody.

They just basically closed it down at the beginning of World Cup and immediately reopened it after World Cup. Even though there was no proof whatsoever that Balcony was involved in sexual exploitation of children.

Balcony Bar on several occasions, the owners have in fact complained to the police about the fact that adolescents use the park next to Balcony Bar to try to turn tricks. This is something that has been going on for several years now.

Well, because of the closure of Balcony Bar, the entire scene from Balcony just moved five meters into this park where there have been cases of adolescents turning tricks, adolescent prostitution.

So for the entire World Cup, what was a fairly well-contained and fairly regulated prostitution situation, Balcony Bar was now put into a public park where there were actually adolescents selling sex? Mostly trans adolescents. Also, there were street vendors out there with their entire families, there were street children, it was just a huge confusion of sex workers and vendors and kids running around all hours of the day and night.

So the police operations that were set up to actually repress sexual exploitation of children in Rio de Janeiro during World Cup ended up creating a situation that made it that much easier to, if someone were so inclined, to pay for sex with children, by basically mixing in all these sex workers with street families, merchants and things like that in the park next door.

Our results are pretty geared to Rio de Janeiro right now. That was where our main team was working. But we also had smaller teams working in Recife, Fortaleza, São Paulo, Campinas and Belo Horizonte, and these teams are now offering their reports, and we’re basically hearing the same things from them.

That prostitution was a bust during World Cup, the only places it increased were the relatively elite prostitution areas in the tourist districts. These areas were in general highly policed. There was little to no indication that there were children or adolescents involved.

Right now this looks like another case in which the media, politicians and the police force got on the anti-trafficking bandwagon, really whipped up a panic, and spent a lot of money doing pretty much nothing.

I should point out that one of the things that really needed to be done during World Cup was safe sex education. There was no distribution of condoms or other safe sex information that we could see at any of the brothels we visited. In fact, the first aid and medical care units that were set up near the FIFA Fan Fest, Ground Zero for prostitution during this event, didn’t even have free condoms to distribute.

So it’s annoying and infuriating, frustrating, to see the amount of money and energy that was spent on “repressing sexual exploitation during the World Cup” that got translated into a couple of police operations that closed down brothels to no useful purpose, as was the case in Niterói, or closed down bars to no useful purpose, as was the case with Balcony, where 122 employees were put out of work over World Cup. And had families they were supporting.

It didn’t put a dent in prostitution in the slightest. Prostitution just moved slightly over to the left and started working again. And what really put the kibosh on prostitution in Rio de Janeiro, frankly, is that most of the guys [most of whom were Argentinean] who came over here came to drink beer and watch the games. They weren’t interested in spending money on sex.

And this is the same result that we have seen time and time again when it comes to mega-sporting events. We need to start directing larger amounts of resources and attention to other issues that have to do with the human rights of sex workers, that have to do with health rights of sex workers and their clients. These are issues that are being completely ignored in the build-up of these events in favor of these tens of thousands of phantom sex slaves that never manage to show up.

 

Read on:

The Observatory’s Preliminary World Cup Report indicates that the vast majority of sex workers in Rio de Janeiro considered the World Cup to be bad for business. Observatory researchers attribute the decline in business neither to the severe campaigns of police repression against the city’s sex industry that preceded the games, nor the mobilization of international NGOs to discourage foreigners from purchasing sex — but to a disconnect between inter-city migration patterns among sex workers and foreign tourists during 32 days of games.

Download the report in English (link) and Portuguese (link).

Brazil’s Ugly Sex Worker Crackdown – Rio’s brutal pre-World Cup sex crackdowns in Rio and Niterói, and the ensuing protests. For CityLab, 6.02.14

Are Rio’s World Cup Sex Raids for Real or Just for Show?  — Inside the Copacabana bar police raided hours before the World Cup kickoff on June 12. For VICE News, 6.23.14

On the Run during World Cup with Brazil’s Most Wanted Prostitute — An interview with the only victim of the Niterói raids to testify. For VICE News, 6.12.14

Panic Attack: What actually happens when cities crack down on sex trafficking during large, international sporting events? — A (non)history of mega-sports and sex trafficking. For GOOD Magazine, 7.10.14

 

 

You Might Also Like

  • […] own children’s economic well-being. Yet by the time Germany won in July 2014, there had been “no reports of sexual exploitation during World Cup that had to do with World Cup” according to the Conselho […]