Saturday, December 14, 2013

TIME Magazine adds to the hysteria surrounding the sexual exploitation of children at the World's Cup

TIME magazine has now tossed it's hat into the ring in the sexual exploitation of children panic that's brewing surrounding Brazil's World's Cup. You can read it here.

This is my response, which Time won't let me publish in their "Comments" section.

Hi. I'm an anthropologist who has been studying prostitution, sexuakl tourism and trafficking in Brazil for some ten years now.

Let me address some of the misconceptions this article raises.

1) Brazil has a very large problem with the sexual exploitation of children. Like most countries, however, the vast majority of this problem is not concentrated in brothels or in the tourism sector, but out in the neighborhoods and in the Brazilian family itself. As an example, the city of Forteleza (one of the host cities of the World's Cup) currently has open twenty cases of underaged prostitution (six of which involve foreigners) and TWO THOUSAND cases of sexual exploitation of children that have nothing to do with prostitution or tourism. This is an issue which our family-values oriented congressmen and -women, like Ms. Liliam Sá, cited above, simply do not want to deal with. It is much more politically expedient to bang the sexual tourism panic drum than to say anything against the sacred Brazilian family, which generates the vast majority of cases of sexual abuse and exploitation in our country.

2) Not to suggest that an ex-pimp and child trafficker who's claimed to have found Jesus might not be an honest or accurate witness, but in ten years of work researching Rio de Janeiro's brothels - and particularly the sex work venues that cater to tourists - I have not encountered a single child prostitute. Frequent police raids on these establishments also generally come up a cropper. There are a few cases, of course, but I can count them on the fingers of one hand, from over a ten year period. Where, then, are these legions of child prostitutes? If the police and I and my co-researcher, Dra. Ana Paula da Silva can't find more than a handful in all the hundreds of commercial sex venues in Rio de Janeiro - and believe me, we've been actively looking for underaged sex workers - then where are these kids?

3) Before every major sports event over the last 20 years, there have been apocalyptic claims that the invasion of legions of sports fans would lead to an increase in prostitution and a consequent increase in trafficking. These claims have NEVER been substantiated: in fact, they've been consistently debunked. Before the World's Cup in Germany, it was estimated that 40,000 women would be trafficked for the games: during the event, massive police actions discovered discovered five. You can read the report of one of the oldest and most prestigious global anti-trafficking organizations regarding the false claim that sports creates trafficking here: Please read it and decide for yourself what evidence exists that sports causes trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children.

4) The moral panics surrounding trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children at mega sporting events have often resulted in public policies that do not help children but which criminalize and mistreat prostitutes. This was the case at last year's Superbowl in New Orleans, where a local and federal task force arrested close to 100 women and found 5 possible victims of trafficking (who were released and never showed up to court). The arrested women lost their children, lost their non-prostitutio-related jobs, acquired police records, got jail time (in some cases, years) and were stigmatized, all in the name of saving victims that were never found. In city after city, pre-game "anti-trafficking" campaigns have been used to arrest and brutalize prostitutes and they have never - repeat NEVER - discovered the hordes of trafficking victims police claim exist. Either the world's police are completely incompetent when it comes to finding these victims or we are being lied to by people who profit - politically and otherwise - from a terrified populace.

5) It is particularly disheartening to see Brazil's award-winning anti-HIV campaign maligned by Liliam Sá as somehow "promoting child prostitution". The cornerstone of Brazil's campaign, which has been proven effective, has been to treat prostitutes like adult citizens, with all the rights and responsabilities that entails. This is because it is a well known fact that HIV prevention campaigns have a direct link in efficacy with sex worker self-esteem. The campaign in question was organized and created by sex workers themselves and it was set up to encourage people to see them as citizens worthy of dignity and respect and not as criminals or powerless victims. It had NO connection to child sexual exploitation, nor did it portray prostitution as a great experience. The campaign was cancelled after complaints by the Christian far right: not because it encouraged child prostitution. It verges on journalistic dishonesty that TIME would cast the campaign in this light without allowing a dissenting voice to contradict Sá's incredibly ideologically-imbued reading of the campaign. Listening to Liliam Sá regarding prostitutes is like listening to Michelle Bachmann regarding gays.

Brazil has dozens of sex workers'rightds associations: how is it that TIME magazine couldn't be bothered to talk to even one of these, but has instead taken all its primary sources from groups which have a vested political interest in the criminalization of sex workers, particularly far right religious groups?

In short, as someone who is intimately associated with prostitutes' rights organizations in Brazil, I fear that the frankly yellow journalism which surrounds this issue is going to lead - as it has lead in other World's Cups and Olympics - to the criminalization, expulsion and marginalization of an already vulnerable population: sex workers. Arresting and stigmatizing adult, consensual sex workers does absolutely NOTHING to save enslaved children.

Oh, and by the way... Speaking from long experience, I highly doubt that "Thiago" is telling the truth about a single damned thing when it comes to his past experience. If he's being honest about himself, this is a guy who ran child sex slaves, didn't spend a day in jail for it and who now claims that Jesus has made everything all better. This is obviously the type of guy TIME should NOT use as primary source when it comes to reporting on a very sensitive and complicated story. Why has "Thiago" been interviewed and not a single woman from any one of Brazil's numerous sex worker organizations?

Apparently, TIME - like Liliam Sá - doesn't feel that sex workers have anything worthwhile to say about themselves.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

ESPN gifts us with free Nelson Mandela


So, are you sick of hearing The Special's  Klassic hit on corporate T.V. yet?

"Think Progress" has just posted this much-needed corrective to all the insti-hagiography's being produced by mainstream media's busy little worker bees...

When Nelson died, Ana was watching American ESPN. I listened in and I couldn't believe how they were treating Mandela: like a saint!

Now don't get me wrong: the first time I was arrested, it was for building a shanty town on the Wisconsin Capitol's lawn, protesting the state's investments in South Africa.  The Special's "Free Nelson Mandela" was the first song on my killer Anti-Apartheid cassette tape mix.

I literally jumped for joy the day Mandela got elected and felt that my political efforts had - in a very tiny way - aided in putting the man in the presidential seat, where he belonged. It felt like I was a teeny part of a very hard fought and necessary victory. I remember dancing down Avenida Paulista that day!

But even in those times, when I listened to Caron Wheeler and Claudia Fontaine begging us to free Nelson Mandela, I mentally added "...with every 40 dollar purchase" to the end of the chorus.

Nelson was a freedom fighter, a rebel, a guerrilha and - yes - a terrorist. For the world's best cause, but that is indeed what he was. He didn't convince South Africa to change through being a great guy in prison: he helped build a movement that FORCED the end of apartheid, using bloodshed, if necessary. And, even so, it took almost a half century to do it.

Nelson was also a complex man and, like any other human being, full of fail.

Now, it just so happens that I agree with every thing that Mandela believed that's on this list, but good luck seeing any of this coming out in the wave of pre-chewed corporate-built life retrospectives that are currrently inundating us.

So to see these dumb jock commentators hauling Mandella up as a candidate for post-modern sainthood really brough up some complex feelings for me. These were the guys who, back in the day, didn't give  wet rat's ass about apartheid and, if they thought of Manela at all, probably pigeon-holed him as a commie agitator and dangerous man ( which he was) who was justly imprisoned (which he wasn't).

Listening to ESPN's blow-dried beauties blathering on about the South Africa of the 1980s and calling it fascist - on coprorate T.V. , no less - made me shake my head. Now that Nelson is good and dead, corporate media can safely turn him into another saintly black sufferer-for-justice, a man with no teeth and no balls.

The ESPN documentary on Nelson even had  Morgan Freeman doing the voice over, ferchrissakes. I mean, talk about your complete "Magical Negro" package....

Cracker, please.