Note from BW of Brazil: It’s known as the world’s oldest profession and surely there are thousands of women working as professional ladies of the night in Brazil. And while the word has come up occasionally, this blog hasn’t really touched on how prostitution plays out in Brazil and how race factors into the sex industry as a whole. In 2012, we contemplated the message in a black woman being named “Miss Prostitute” in a country where black women aren’t usually honored for anything of great importance. In 2014, we also featured a documentary that took a peak inside the sexual tourism industry in the northeast region of the country.
Most other articles in which the words prostitute or prostitution came up were within the context of the image of black women being almost exclusively associated with sensuality or events such as Carnaval in which the sexual imagery of negras and ‘mulatas’ is broadcast to millions of viewers around the world or used to attract foreign tourists to the biggest spectacle of the year. The article below takes a more critical analysis at how race, like so many other genres in Brazil, also places the black woman at a disadvantage in the world of prostitution.
Black women suffer prejudice even in prostitution
Even in an at risk group, black women are passed over and suffer more attacks
By Gabriel Dias – Photos by Cristiana Dias
From the top of some high heels, the frightened look because of an old green Chevrolet coming to offer more than what was expected. For the 16 year old girl who had run away from home, R$50 could represent the solution to her problems. The teenager sat in the car’s passenger seat and headed for her first programa (trick). It was unforgettable, in the most negative way possible.
“We were going on a weird path. Suddenly, he pulled out a gun and pointed t at me. I was so scared I urinated on my clothes and my only reaction was to unlock the door and throw myself on the ground,” she said. According to research from UFPE, prostitutas negras (black prostitutes) such as Renata*, now 21, are abused more often than the prostitutas brancas (white prostitutes).
Black women are passed over even in a group in which they all live at risk. They need to work harder and stay longer in the profession than white women. So says a doctoral student in sociology, Alyne Nunes, responsible for the study. “The street is often not an option but a destination. Many try to work elsewhere. But, as mulheres negras (black women), they suffer discrimination and have no other way to support themselves, “said Nunes. In Recife (capital of the state of Pernambuco), she adds, there are two major areas of prostitution: the city’s downtown, with clients who pay from R$20 for a programa, and the South Zone, where the girls charge up to R$150.
According Alyne, the profile of prostitutes varies according to their work locations. “Skin color matters more than the physical type for Brazilians, the main audience for this type of service. Whoever can pay more, such as the client from Boa Viagem, choose the brancas.” Also according to her, the negras end up migrating over time. “The few who work in affluent neighborhoods are young. The problem is that prostitution is an activity that degrades a lot, and when they get older, they are no longer sought. To maintain themselves, they go where there is a less demanding public. “
President of the Associação Pernambucana das Profissionais do Sexo (APPS or Pernambuco Association of Sex Workers), Nancy Feijó, notes that there are several reasons for entering into prostitution. “Many are poor, have a dysfunctional family and suffered violence during youth. Some come from the interior (countryside) trying a better life and use prostitution to pay for college. Others are from the middle or upper class, but enter the market after a broken heart, as in my case.”
Nancy is 58 years old and has served as an escort for 40 years. According to her, negras have even more difficulties. “Black women are beat up more and are less likely to do plastic surgery and go to gyms,” she says.
For the psychologist, Sylvio Ferreira, many factors can lead women into prostitution, but one in particular draws attention. “Every girl waits for her father to pour upon her a look of appreciation and affection. When this does not happen, in a situation of domestic violence, for example, the girl can look for this affection she lacks outside of the home and resorts to prostitution,” he says. For him, the racial factor is still a reality in Brazil.
In the game for less than a year, the black transvestite, Samantha Close, who works on Domingos Ferreira Avenue in Boa Viagem spoke about the area where she works. “Here, there are many rich businessman who demand the service, but most women are white,” says Close.
All discrimination can increase the degree of vulnerability of a class. According to coordinator of STDs/ AIDS of the State Department of Health, François Figueiroa, it’s important to ensure human rights in order to reduce prejudice and stigma in society. The more prejudice, the more the exclusion and more likelihood of acquiring problems due to a lack of information. “We have an agreement with the APPS. Two years ago, it received R$50 thousand for consciousness raising actions,” he said. In 2015, the Ministry of Health allocated to the same association another R$50 thousand for rapid diagnostic tests for STDs in the streets of RMR (Metropolitan Region of Recife).
Rights within the limits
Viewing prostitution as a profession is one of the main demands of the activists of the subject. Vice-President of the Conselho Estadual de Direitos Humanos (State Council of Human Rights), Edna Jatobá is emphatic. “Like any other, we must treat the work with due seriousness. All rights must be guaranteed, including adequate salary,” she said.
The militant talks about the line dividing the service of sexual harassment. “We need to regulate the profession, but repudiate exploitation. There is no prostitution for minors. In such cases, what happens is a crime,” she said. “With regard to adult prostitution what differs is the consent. For them permission of the act is always necessary. The cafetões (pimps) should also not exist.”
Edna also cited some of the rights that are guaranteed to sex workers. “They can participate in associations and it’s necessary to emphasize that brothels are illegal. In addition, the activity of the pimp is considered a crime of rufianismo (1), provided for in the Brazilian Penal Code. No one can make money on the prostitution of others,” she concludes.
Source: Folha PE
- According to the Brazilian penal code, the act of taking advantage of the prostitution of others.