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Without Prospects, Brazil's Transvestites Fall Victim to Human Trafficking

This post, written by Andrea Dipp, was originally published as a report entitled “I'm Going to Pump Up So I Can Charge More During the Cup” [pt] and is part of investigative journalism agency Pública's special #CopaPública [pt] coverage of the 2014 World Cup. This post is the second in a series of three articles that will be published on Global Voices Online.

Previous post: Brazilian Transvestites Pump Up with Silicone to Attract World Cup Clients

Marcela (fictitious name) is a 22-year-old transvestite prostitute who works at a porn theater in the center of São Paulo from ten in the morning until nine at night with a break for lunch. After vocational courses and various attempts to find work, she ended up turning to the streets. When we met with her one morning in a shopping mall in the center of São Paulo, she caught many looks from men because of her beautiful body, a product of the popular silicone injections provided by a network of madams, as explained by transvestites Carla and Luana in the first post of the series.

“I came to São Paulo in April last year. I paid for the body implants in three months, added more, paid in one month and I stopped using the breast prosthesis in 20 days,” Marcela, who is from the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará, proudly stated:

Chego a tirar oito mil reais por mês mas trabalho muito e não saio nem uso drogas. Todo o meu dinheiro vai para a minha mãe e para o banco porque quero comprar uma casa.

I can make up to 8,000 Brazilian reais a month [about 4,000 United States dollars] but I work a lot and I don’t go out or use drugs. All of my money goes to my mother and to the bank because I want to build a house.
Projeto ViraVida SESI oferece cursos profissionalizantes para criança, adolescentes e travestis/ Vira Vida SESI/Facebook

Projeto Vira Vida (Project Life Change) of the SESI (Social Service for Industry is one of the partners of the Associação Barraca da Amizade (Friendship Tent) that offers vocational courses for transvestites/ Vira Vida SESI/Facebook

But Lívia Xerez, the state coordinator for the Human Trafficking Confrontation Center of the Department of Justice and Citizenship for the state of Ceará, said that despite claims by the transvestites that they make the journey for the silicone implants of their own free will, the situation can certainly be considered human trafficking. Referring to the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime Protocols, ratified by the Brazilian government in 2004 [pt], she explained:

Por mais que elas não denunciem ou achem que estão indo porque querem, o protocolo de Palermo define o tráfico de pessoas como ‘o recrutamento, o transporte, a transferência, o alojamento ou o acolhimento de pessoas, recorrendo à ameaça ou uso da força ou a outras formas de coação, ao rapto, à fraude, ao engano, ao abuso de autoridade ou à situação de vulnerabilidade ou à entrega ou aceitação de pagamentos ou benefícios para obter o consentimento de uma pessoa que tenha autoridade sobre outra para fins de exploração’. Neste caso, elas seriam as vítimas e os aliciadores os criminosos.

Even if they don’t report it to police or that they think they are going because they want to, the Palermo protocol defines the trafficking of persons ‘as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation'. In this case, they would be the victims and the enticers the criminals.

When it comes to the silicone implants network, there is a lot of prejudice and fear on the part of the actual victims in denouncing the criminals, Xerez said:

Elas são ludibriadas com promessas de uma vida nova, por vezes luxuosa, de ganhar mais dinheiro e por isso não conseguimos chegar. Muitas também têm medo, talvez por sermos um aparelho oficial, de que serão criminalizadas, quando na verdade elas são as vítimas. Por isso ainda não conseguimos provas de que isso têm aumentado por conta da Copa, apesar de termos fortes suspeitas.

They are tricked with promises of a new life, sometimes luxury, earning more money and because of this we can’t reach them. Many of them are also afraid that they will be criminalized, maybe because we are an official body, when in reality they're the victims. For this reason we still haven’t been able to get proof that this has increased because of the Cup, even though we strongly suspect it has.

Another factor that drives trafficking is the lack of professional alternatives for transvestites, explained Lídia, an educator from the Barraca da Amizade [pt] [Friendship Tent], a non-governmental organization that combats sexual exploitation:

Nós temos uma parceria com o programa Vira Vida do SESI, que dá cursos profissionalizantes para elas mas, no fim das contas, quantas empresas contratam travestis? Nós trabalhamos com muitos garotos que nem eram travestis, eram apenas homossexuais, mas foram colocados para fora de casa e apareceu uma cafetina que ofereceu dinheiro caso eles se montassem. Para a juventude não existem políticas públicas em Fortaleza como existem para crianças e adolescentes – que ainda assim são escassas. As travestis têm o discurso da emancipação, como se a prostituição fizesse parte da própria identidade de ser travesti. Mas nem todas estariam ali se tivessem outras opções.

We have a partnership with the SESI [pt] [Social Service for Industry - non-profit private institution] program called ViraVida [Life Change] [pt] which offers vocational courses for them but, after all, how many businesses hire transvestites? We work with many boys who weren't even transvestites, they were only homosexual, but were kicked out of the house and a madam approached them and offered money if they were willing to make themselves up. For youth, there aren't any public policies in Fortaleza like there are for children and adolescents – and even they are scarce. The transvestites have the speech of emancipation, as if prostitution were part of the actual identity of a transvestite. But not all of them would be there if they had other options.

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