“Sexual Exploitation” as a Logic, and Its Effects of Power in Contemporary Brazil
These agents, who are the “guardian angels” of children, end up being confused with the agents of repression who remove the “underaged” from the street and send them somewhere else, as some interviews presented here point out. In some cases, [Youth] Guardianship Councils are unconnected, from the language, practices, and imaginations of the children and adolescents involved in sexual exploitation networks. Often, these [two] worlds are split apart and become remote [from each other]; producing more fear and increasing the distance between institutions and the logic of the street1.
2. Materials and Methods
3.1. The “Institutional Sphere”
In this document, sexual violence, expressed in two ways (sexual abuse and sexual exploitation) is understood as any act, of any nature, that violates children and adolescents’ human right to sexual development; an act practiced by an agent who has an unequal position of power and development as compared to their child and adolescent victims.
The important thing is to have religion, insofar as this has the literal meaning of “re-ligare”; of being linked to a divine order, or—as they say in popular language—“to be fearful of God”. (…) It is through the Catholic religion that children and adolescents in situations of sexual exploitation place themselves in the symbolic space of “believing in something” as a reference for “someone” who can save them.(pp. 63–64)
This logic exposes an ambiguity in the way in which children and adolescents’ rights in Brazil are conceived, in which the “other” is only protected insofar as they remain a victim.
… [T]he means by which an individual obtains financial profit from the prostitution of another person or from sexual violence against another person. (…) In this case, the practice of prostitution can take place in different ways, such as in brothels, on the street, in nightclubs, bars, apartments, massage parlors, hotels, through escort services, and in pornographic production companies (films, magazines, etc.). Sexual exploitation is not restricted, however, to exploiting the prostitution of another.(p. 8)
Art. 2—The practice of sexual exploitation is prohibited.Sole paragraph: the following are types of sexual exploitation, in addition to others stipulated in specific legislation:I—the total appropriation, or appropriation of greater than 50%, of the income generated by the provision of sexual service by a third party;II—non-payment for contracted sexual services;III—forcing someone to engage in prostitution through serious threat or violence.
3.2. The “Logic of the Street”
One day, my colleague saw two girls leaving a room with a military man. A cute little girl. We know he’s not dating her, right? He doesn’t date. A military man doesn’t date: a military man has sex. They rarely [get romantically involved] because most of them are already married. They come here to spend two years and they leave, or they don’t even go through all that. The girls have this idea in their heads that [these men] can give them a better life … They are not wrong … These two … it was very early in the morning. Three days later, one of their mothers came here saying that they had disappeared. I saw the name and remembered the girl, because one of those was on the list of students who were not going to class … She was leaving a room, probably a man’s room; a rented room where a military man lives. Two with a man … But who am I to ask her [about what she did] or what he gave her? Two or three days passed and the girls were found, the mother contacted. Now think: in your understanding, in my understanding, what is that girl doing in a bedroom with a man? What did the man give her? Did he go over to her mother’s house and say he wanted to date her daughter? “I want to be with her, I want to marry her?” No. He found her somewhere and took her into the room. Not just her, but two girls. Just so you understand, the [girls] are from a very poor community.
AS 2: Twenty years ago, perhaps more, many girls would go out like this. Because if the guy was a [drug] dealer, then he had status. He might even be married, but mothers would let their daughters go out with him because he was going to give them a motorcycle, he was going to give them jewelry, right?AUTHOR 1: And the mothers allowed this?AS 2: Most did. And the girls were not prostitutes.AS 1: They did not consider themselves be prostitutes.AS 2: They were girlfriends; they dated. But he gave them everything, right?
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The purpose of this quote is not to denounce or emphasize anyone’s personal position, but to exemplify a trend. For this reason, we have maintained its authors’ anonymity.
Elsewhere, Olivar (2016a) has called attention to the need to pay more attention to these criticisms. See also Landini (2006), Diógenes (2008), Blanchette and Silva (2016). “Excuses”, sympathy and self-regret in the bureaucratic field have been studied by authors such as Das (2007) and Sontag (2003) (although in different ways), particularly with regards to their relationship with pain, violence and suffering. Sontag takes a more accusatory approach while Das approaches “excuses” by attempting to understand the illegibility of the state (Das 2007, pp. 162–83).
We do not refer here to children in the legal (under 12 years old) or psychological sense, nor in terms of self-definition. Here we are talking about people who are legally and socially understood to be youths and adolescents. This differentiation is extremely important, as if we were working with children, this would imply other types of methodologies, approaches, theoretical discussions, and legalities.
We rely on a theoretical framework that provides analytical resources to perceive these exercises of power (state policies, projects, and governmental practices) from their logical, embodied, and territorial margins, as well as the conflicts and contradictions they create (Das and Poole 2004; Asad 2004; Sharma and Gupta 2006).
The Sex markets in cross-border territories: gender and circulation on the Brazil-Colombia border (Gender Studies Center Fapesp #2010 /50077-1) and the Gender in Frontier Territories in the Brazilian Amazon Project (Young Researcher Fellowship Fapesp #2013/26826-2) postdoctoral projects, both situated at PAGU-UNICAMP—Campinas, SP, Brazil. As of 2018, the research continued, now based at FSP/USP, with the Through the limit: differentiation, relationship and care practices in critical contexts in the Amazon frontier—emphasis on sexuality, gender, life cycles and ethnicity, Project (FAPESP #2019/01714-3). It has since progressed along other theoretical and methodological paths. One of these culminated in Farias’ work, the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents—“Review of Health Brazilian knowledge production and Implications for Care” Project that will also be important in the present article.
Hunter employs his research in Africa to create the notion of “transactional sex”, indicating exchanges of sex and money that are more or less systematic, but are also not congruent with the notion of institutionalized notion of sex work nor “prostitution”. Groes-Green (among others) has employed this category with regards to young people.
The Brazilian sex workers movement has preferred use of the words “prostitute” and “prostitution” (and more recently “whore”) as a combative way of dealing with stigma and of creating a more situated, complex, ambiguous, and sexualized field of political struggle (Olivar 2010; Murray 2014). We thus occasionally opt to use “prostitution” instead of “sex work” in various parts of the present text.
“Sexual Commercial Exploitation of Children and Adolescents: a review of the production of scientific Public Health knowledge and the implications for care”, a paper presented at the USP International Scientific and Technological Initiation Symposium, 2019.
Foucauldian ideas associated with the author’s reflections on “power” as an exercise and on the practical conditions of the possibilities facing the state. Its methodological employment here indicates that special attention is being paid to the appropriations and reworkings of the techniques, speech, and knowledge of power that different agents employ, as well as to the effects of these (Foucault 1980a, 2008; Lemke 2000).
For a global-scale comprehension of “children” in sex markets, see O’Connell Davidson (2005). On the history, definitions, and regulations of sexual exploitation in Brazilian, Colombian and Costa Rican contexts, see García (2010).
From the end of 2015, the SDH became part of the Ministry of Women, Racial Equality and Human Rights. It was further transformed into a special secretariat in the Ministry of Justice in 2016 by the interim government of Michel Temer. In 2019, the government of Jair Bolsonaro created the Ministry of Women, the Family and Human Rights, which was given as a political concession to the most reactionary conservative Christian right-wing groups in the government under the leadership of Damares Alves (a lawyer, long-term politician, and evangelical pastor).
See for example, Leal and Leal (2002), Torres and Oliveira (2012).
In the national plans formulated to tackle sexual violence against children and adolescents in 2000 and 2013, the Strategic Axis promotes this logic. In it, “youth protagonism” comes in last place. (Ministry of Justice 2002; SDH 2013).
People linked and supported by pentecostal/evangelical churches have been gaining space in the field since 2015, becoming increasingly prominent. From 2015 until today (2020), relations between the state and religion have radically changed in Brazil. We have seen the institutional and political growth of conservative and fundamentalist “evangelical” Pentecostal actors inside all level and domains of the state. Currently, Brazil is under the political hegemony of a coalition of extreme right groups that have a clearly anti-secular project for the nation-state.
These recent radicalizations and battles are associated with several issues that cut across the broader national political scene: the transnational circulation of discourses and knowledge about/against sex work; the internal policies of Brazilian feminisms, especially of the younger generations, and their relationships with political parties; and transformations in the Brazilian and Latin American movements of prostitutes/sex workers. See: Gomes (2013), Prada (2016), Moira (2016), Martin (2016). On similar conflicts in the North American context, see the work of Berstein (2010), among others.
On the dynamics and ways in which young people and adolescents under 18 participate in sex work and mobilize erotic economies and experiences of exploitation and violence in contexts of war and borders, see Olivar (2008, 2014). See also the works of Montgomery (2001) in Thailand, O’Connell Davidson (2005) in different contexts of the “third world” and in the global framework, and Diógenes (2008) in Ceará; see also the works of, Mai (2007), with “delinquent” boys in Europe, and those of Mujica (2013) on the “microeconomics of sexual exploitation” in the Peruvian Amazon.
Drivers who’d pick up hitchhikers and then either sexually abuse them or pay for sexual services. Again, the distinction was unclear in these official tales.
Taking into account that in Brazilian national policy, sexual exploitation and abuse are woven together to compose the overarching concept of “sexual violence” (SDH 2013, p. 22), We understand that these local accounting practices are the result of some kind of guideline or political agreement.
It is important to highlight that “the military” is not only the largest, oldest, and most powerful state institution present in many cities on Brazil’s Amazonian border, it is also an important agent of dis/reorganization of sexual, conjugal, and gender relationships in the region. This is directly associated with flows of money and discourses of nationhood, development, and, etc. Over the last 10 or 15 years, in addition to “the military”, Brazilian Federal Police officers and members of other special security forces have appeared in the sexual, economic, racial, and gender discourses of the border cities. Commercial and economic agents along the border (who often have with connections with “the military” and “the police”) also exercise power over local societies and embody specific expressions of the state. For the past 40 years, transnational and cross-border cocaine traders have been particularly entangled with power with economic and power structures and the state, deeply affecting local sexual and economic lives along the Brazilian border with Colombia and Peru. By contrast, the majority of local public officials responsible for ensuring the rights of children and adolescents are women who people from the community; neighborhood leaders with little technical training, poor institutional support, low-income, and little power.
As mentioned previously, the object in this text is not adolescent practices (for this, see Olivar 2008, 2014), but the political logic of “sexual exploitation” in its capillarity. In this way, “the girls” to whom we refer are a position, a narrative subject, a function of the practical operation of the “institutional sphere”.
This is the place where one or the other theoretical and disciplinary frameworks make a difference. Attention must be paid to the positivity of the ethical and conceptual constructions of stigmatized local groups, of young people, women, prostitutes. We must take their local understandings, contradictions and micropolicies seriously, as well as their forms of resistance and agency in the world, above or below, against or through, structures of oppression or domination. This is a task presented to us mainly through the work of feminist anthropologists such as Claudia Fonseca (2004), Sherry Ortner (2006), Marylin Strathern (1990), Heather Montgomery (2001), Lila Abu-Lughod (2002), Adriana Piscitelli (2013), among others.
Youth disappearing from home for a few days or weeks, usually engaging in sexual adventures, often in exchange for money or other material advantages.
A wide range of anthropological production has focused on these transactions between sex, affect, and money, showing how they are closely linked to socially structured forms of exchange marked by gender, kinship, the production of conjugalities, access to money, sex, weddings, mobility projects, etc. (Hunter 2010; Fonseca 2003; Piscitelli 2005, 2013, 2016; Cabezas 2009; Motta Ochoa 2010; Piscitelli et al. 2011; Garcia and Olivar 2020). As demonstrated by Piscitelli (2013), these transactions can take more or less commercialized forms, moving and negotiating between the analytical polarities of a “trick” (closer to sex work) and “help” (closer to affective relationships and reciprocity). Another path is outlined by Agustin (2007), referring to the analysis of large sexual economic circuits on a transnational scale, and presenting the idea of the Sex Industry and the Rescue Industry.
São Gabriel da Cachoeira is an emblematic case in these discussions. It is a city of colonial contest (Olivar 2018), with a huge indigenous majority, vertically governed by foreign military and non-indigenous traders. In the city, colonial history is violently updated and reconstructed every day, fueling systematic racism against the indigenous peoples of the region. On the other hand, the relevance of the struggle, the tensions, and the demands by the indigenous organizations in the face of this oppression needs to be highlighted.
The history of police abuse in the field of sex work in Brazil is well documented (Olivar 2010; Blanchette and Pereira 2017; Blanchette et al. 2017; Santos et al. 2021).
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Olivar, J.M.N.; Farias, N. “Sexual Exploitation” as a Logic, and Its Effects of Power in Contemporary Brazil. Soc. Sci. 2021, 10, 41. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10020041
Olivar JMN, Farias N. “Sexual Exploitation” as a Logic, and Its Effects of Power in Contemporary Brazil. Social Sciences. 2021; 10(2):41. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10020041Chicago/Turabian Style
Olivar, José Miguel Nieto, and Natália Farias. 2021. "“Sexual Exploitation” as a Logic, and Its Effects of Power in Contemporary Brazil" Social Sciences 10, no. 2: 41. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10020041