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Brazzil - Prostitution - February 2004

The Price of a Slave in Brazil

Brazil is responsible for 15 percent of women trafficked in South
America, a great majority being from the North and the Northeast.
Most of them are young—between 12 and 18 years old—have
little schooling, and are of African descent. Currently, the
"market value" of a Brazilian woman is up to US$ 15,000.

Bernardete Toneto

Although slavery officially ended in Brazil at the end of the 19th century, it continues in practice into the 21st century in Brazil and in other parts of the world. One modern form of slavery that has most recently manifested itself is "human trafficking." Worldwide, there are over 4 million victims of this type of slavery which generates 12 billion dollars per year. The majority of victims are women and children.

Next month, a new study concerning human trafficking will begin in four Brazilian states: Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Ceará and Goiás. The Ministry of Justice has already determined that in all airports and bus terminals there will be phone numbers posted to where people can call when they suspect a case of human trafficking. However, various women's groups, such as Service to Marginalized Women, have complained that those who administrate airports and bus station are not given proper orientation. They say it is easier to find a phone numbers to denounce trafficking wild animals than humans.

The difficulty of implementing a program against human trafficking, women specifically, is partly due to the nature of the crime; that is, due to machismo in the society, many men do not feel that women have any rights to begin with, much less women who are engaged in prostitution. This attitude is evident in that very few cases of women trafficking are investigated and the perpetrators punished.

Leila Paiva, the coordinator of one governmental initiative called the Global Program of Prevention of Human Trafficking, explains that one of the objectives of her program is to expose the barriers which prevent culprits from being punished. The study being done by this group will include an analysis of cases which are currently being investigated. And this will only be a study of known cases.

Paiva further commented that the well of violence is probably much deeper because, according to a study that the US State Department did in 2001, Brazil is considered to be one of the main sources of human trafficking domestically and internationally. Regarding the trafficking of women, Brazil is responsible for 15 percent of women trafficked in South America, a great majority being from the northern part of the country where there are borders with seven countries.

The majority of the women who are exported to other countries are lured in by false promises. These women want to better their lives, but find themselves in worse situations than they had at home—they often are held prisoners, are treated poorly, have their documents taken from them, and are in the country illegally, and hence no recourse.

Most of the women are young—between 12 and 18 years old—, have little schooling, and are of African descent. Many are trying to support a child, and have suffered some sort of sexual violence. Currently, the "market value" of a Brazilian woman is up to US$ 15,000. A study of the Center of Studies of Children and Adolescents showed that there are 241 trafficking routes in 20 states of Brazil. More than half of these routes lead to international destinations. The majority of these routes originate in the North and Northeastern states, which are the poorest regions of the country.

An Animal in a Zoo

Below is the testimony of L.A.S., a young woman ensnared in the traps of human trafficking:

I was born in Poranga, Ceará, near the border with Piauí. Like all of the young girls in my city, I began to go out with boys early, at 12 years of age. At age 14, my father kicked me out of the house because of a boy I was dating. My mom didn't say anything, so I just had to leave. I hitchhiked alone to Fortaleza.

I had never seen such a huge city. I started to "make a life" [as a prostitute] for myself, some days earning up to R$ 100 (about 30 dollars), while other days I didn't even make enough to eat. At one point, I tried to be a cashier, but one day a former client recognized me, so I got scared and left the job. I later had to return to prostitution.

One day, a taxi driver talked to me and invited me to go to Europe. He said that I was pretty, and I could work as a model. Who knows, maybe I could marry and get my life in order. I was 17 at the time. I was afraid in the beginning, but after talking to him everyday, I finally accepted.

It took him a month to arrange everything for me. He got me a passport, a ticket, and some clothes for cold weather, which he said I would need. I traveled on August 18, 2002 to Spain. He told me that when I arrive, there would be another taxi driver who speaks Portuguese and would leave me at the house where I would be staying. I had US$ 100 and all of my documents with me, along with a lot of fear and many dreams. Three other girls went with me.

I thought I was going to make a lot of money and would be able to help my family. But it was all a lie. After we arrived at the airport, the taxi driver, who was a Spaniard and didn't speak Portuguese, took our passports. He said that we should trust him because the city was very dangerous.

When we arrived at the place, we saw that it was in fact a house of prostitution. It was only then that we got the truth: the work was from 6 pm to 6 am, everyday, except for Monday. The house manager had paid for the air fare, some R$ 5,000 (US$ 1,600), which they had not told us in Brazil. If we wanted to leave, we could get back our passports, but only after we paid off the manager. Later we discovered that the taxi driver was connected to a European trafficker who got us in Fortaleza.

Before leaving Brazil, I suspected prostitution but I never imagined that I would be a prisoner, threatened day and night. At the house, we were slaves. I never got anything, not money, not clothes. I didn't have my documents so I couldn't leave. We were given very little food, and we had to stay up until 5 am every day, trying to get customers.

We couldn't even leave the house without being accompanied by "security." One of the girls was threatened with death after she left for a weekend. They thought she went looking for the Brazilian consulate. We never had routine medical exams, much less tests for AIDS.

I fled when I met a Brazilian customer to whom I told my story. It seems that he had contact with other groups because nine days after I told him my story he returned, gave me a false passport and a ticket back to Brazil.

I escaped, but even today I think of my friends there who are being held prisoners, like animals in a zoo.

This article appeared originally in Portuguese in the newspaper Brasil de Fato -
. You can contact the author writing to

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