The Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association vehemently repudiates the grave human rights violations committed on May 23rd by civil police against more than 200 sex workers and residents in a building in Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro. Sex workers reported that during the invasion, conducted by police without a warrant, violations including robbery, assault, and rape occurred, configuring an overwhelming abuse of power by the police force.
After being humiliated, the women were arrested and taken to the 76th police precinct for questioning. It is intolerable that during the 50th anniversary year of the beginning of the military dictatorship in Brazil this tactic of questioning, common during that dark period, is still being used.
We also repudiate the destruction and the illegal condemnation of the apartments where the women worked. This act violates the rights of autonomous sex workers to freely work in prostitution. These women are currently without a place to live and work.
ABIA understands that this illegal operation is an extension of the “urban clean-up” processes that were initially justified by the World Cup preparations. Brazil is among the countries that most committed human rights violations as part of preparations for the event.
The World Cup and Olympics should not be used as arguments to justify a moral panic in the country surrounding prostitution. Implementing laws against the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents and trafficking of persons cannot be a pretext for the repression of consensual adult sex work.
Prostitution is legal in Brazil and, since 2002, recognized in the Ministry of Labor and Employment’s Brazilian Classification of Occupations. Prostitution is not a crime in Brazil. Any person older than 18 and able can freely work in prostitution, just as any person in the same conditions can use their services.
The criminalization of these professionals, in addition to being an act of persecution and multiple rights violations, also increases the women’s conditions of vulnerability, in particular to HIV and AIDS. According to studies conducted by the World Health Organization and World Bank, there are significant relationships between criminalization of prostitution and rights violations, unprotected sex, and HIV infection.
In the places where sex work is criminalized, the HIV response has been frustrated and limited by structural forces which include stigma, discrimination, and physical violence. ABIA, in partnership with the NGO Davida and the Prostitution Observatory at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) is conducting a mapping of the rights violations of these professionals with the goal, among others, of strengthening the response to HIV and AIDS.
On International Sex Workers Rights Day, commemorated today, on June 2nd, ABIA joins with the other voices that call for justice for the sex workers that suffered rights violations in Niterói and in other cities. We demand that the Brazilian state implements public policies that guarantee the promotion of rights and protection of sex workers as workers – not as victims – as well as the end of abuse, repression, discrimination, and other forms of violence committed against these professionals.
Rio de Janeiro, May 29th, 2014