Sexual Exploitation at the 2014 World Cup? New Campaign Links Paying Minors for Sex to Masculinity

When you think of the World Cup, you probably think of soccer. For NGOs focused on protecting child welfare, the tournament conjures something different: the sexual exploitation of minors. As the 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil, one organization has launched a campaign to fight the practice of paying minors for sex, which is thought to burgeon during the World Cup every four years. The charity Promundo, which focuses on reconstructing ideas of masculinity, developed the campaign after interviewing "clients" of underage sex workers. The focus of the initiative is traditional ideas about what it means to be a man and their connection to abusive behaviour.

Promundo will be distributing leaflets and putting up posters all over the host cities and has also posted videos (scroll down to watch) on Youtube. All materials are in both Portuguese and English. The whole campaign is constructed around the idea that certain notions of masculinity are closely linked to the motivation to abuse young girls. The posters display strong statements taken directly from interviews with abusers like, “I feel more like a man when I am teaching sex,” and, “What happens here, stays here” (said by a tourist).

According to the research done by the charity, it is that sense of "adult provider" that appeals to abusers who seek sex from minors. Their search for masculinity causes them to seek someone they can protect or teach. Promundo coordinator Vanessa Fonseca says this information guided the charity to focus on men to prevent the abuse in the first place.

She told Bustle, “When we started doing research and reviews of literature in 2007, we started realizing that issues of gender, in particular masculinity, produce vulnerability to sexual exploitation of minors.

“I remember specifically in a poll done with clients [of underage sex workers] that they said they were involved with the girls because being with a younger girl made them feel more like a man, they felt better because they were teaching" her about sex and contributing financially to her family.

Fonseca said the research revealed that most people don’t recognize paying for sex with underage children as abuse — in fact, most of the 607 people interviewed by the researchers blamed the minors for the abuse. Even more frighteningly, 77 percent of men interviewed said they find having sex with underage sex workers a "normal occurrence" and that every man should try it at least once in his life.

The study reads: “41% of men and 46% of women in Rio de Janeiro asserted that they consider the act as 'adolescent prostitution' and not sexual exploitation. At this point, it’s important to note that the practice of sexual exploitation of children and teenagers seems to be connected to the ‘availability’ of the child for commercial sex.”

In May Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff signed off on a law that made sexual exploitation of minors a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The law also states that suspects awaiting trial have no right to bail.

This is an important step towards progress in a country where 87 complaints of sexual violence against minors are registered daily — that’s three abused children every hour. With the upcoming World Cup, activists expect a huge rise in demand for sex workers. Brazil, a country known as a sex tourism paradise, is welcoming 3.7 million soccer fans in a couple of weeks. While sex workers over 18 and their clients are free to make transactions, minors are put in a vulnerable position during this period.

Children and teenagers in low income areas were being offered close to $7,000 to be available at all times to tourists during the 15 days of World Cup.

Ana Maria Drummond, executive-director of the Swedish NGO Childhood, told Brazilian magazine Veja, "The influx of tourists, intake of alcohol and school holidays are part of the scenery that aggravates children’s exposure to such crimes." In April the national newspaper O Globo reported that police were investigating the recruitment of minors to perform sex work for the World Cup in the host cities. In Cuiabá, for example, children and teenagers in low income areas were being offered close to $7,000 to be available at all times to tourists during the 15 days of World Cup.

In response, the federal government has developed a program of communication between federal, state and municipal governments to better police the complaints of these types of crime. At a conference I attended on May 26 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's Minister for Human Rights, Ideli Salvatti, went so far as to say that the program will be "one of the most important legacies of the World Cup."

The campaign and the sanction of the new law are welcome, but Brazil still has a long way to go. More often than not, minors go into sex work because they need money, food, shelter, or because they were victims of violence. To Drummond, the foundation of a program that would protect children from sexual exploitation during the World Cup should have been established years ago.

“A law that recognizes the heinous crime that is sexual exploitation is progress, but it won’t generate the change we need,” she said to Veja magazine in May. “Brazil already has a legislation that approaches the issue that is well evaluated in comparison to other countries’ legislations. But despite the existence of these laws that dictate children and teenagers must be protected, we know the practice of these crimes still happen. The complaints system has to advance a lot.”

But it seems that the problem runs deeper than striving for a better complaints system. The charity ViraVida conducted interviews with victims who got their education from their education programs to try and understand how they went into sex work. According to the study, 78% of victims of sexual exploitation in Brazil are female, 17% are male, and 5% are transgender.

Most of the victims have suffered abuse in the past, with 12% of them the victims of sexual violence and 66% of them physical violence.

Most victims also have a bad or no relationship with their parents.

“He does what my father doesn’t do,” explained a female victim, referring to how her "boyfriend" takes care of her.

All of the victims expect reciprocity when providing sexual services — most of them seek their "partners" out of need. One of the biggest challenges of recognizing sexual exploitation is destroying the stigma that the transaction has to include money. Sometimes, sex can be exchanged for a much needed meal or clothes, which turns the groomer into a provider.

The most revealing and recurring statement of the research conducted by ViraVida is perhaps the following:

“If I had financial independence,” a survivor explains. “I would not be with [the abuser].”

While the complaints of sexual exploitation increased in 66% during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the impact of the 2014 event on young girls and boys remains to be seen.

As for the international tourists planning to have sex with minors while at the World Cup, Salvatti, the Minister for Human Rights, says anyone with a record of a sexual crime will be barred from entering the country. But since paying minors for sex isn't considered a crime in most countries, many of those who have enjoyed this type of "tourism" in the past and are likely to again won't have a record and thus won't be banned. They are the visitors the Promundo campaign hopes to reach. And if they're caught exploiting minors for sex, Salvatti can at least promise this:

“We won’t ever let them in again. We don’t want them here."

Campanha Não é curtição on YouTube