Julie Ruvolo


Panic Attack

Human trafficking activists are out to protect the rights of society’s most vulnerable, right? Tell that to Brazil’s sex worker community.

As millions of tourists have descended upon Brazil this past month for the single largest sporting event on the planet, human rights organizations have been mobilizing for their own watershed moment: the explosion of sex tourism within the World Cup host nation. If you take what the U.S. State Department says as gospel, even before the World Cup 250,000 children were selling sex across the country. Brazil’s National Forum for the Prevention of Child Labor estimates that number at closer to half a million. It stands to reason that those numbers would skyrocket as those millions of tourists open their wallets to the tune of $2.97 billion.

The causal relationship between sports’ mega-events, increased sex tourism, and the vulnerability of children is ingrained as conventional wisdom around the globe. As a result, we are largely comforted when Brazil’s Human Rights Secretariat funds a $4 million campaign to combat child prostitution during the World Cup; or when nuns backed by the Vatican are tasked with passing out fliers on how to spot sex trafficking; or when Brazilian defender David Luiz asks British Airways in flight passengers to “protect our kids” as part of the “It’s a Penalty” campaign coordinated in tandem with Britain’s National Crime Agency; or when a large, walk-in street installation (the “GIFT box,” a project of the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking and the nongovernmental organization STOP THE TRAFFIK) filled with images of women, men and children posing against headlines that read “I was trafficked!” is installed in the red light district of Vila Mimosa in Rio de Janeiro.

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