The tourists are coming, and the girls are getting ready.
With the World Cup just around the corner, Brazil is preparing more than just the stadiums where soccer matches will take place — they're preparing the sex trade for a huge influx of horny, soccer-loving tourists.
There are 23 brothels — or zonas — in downtown Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in the state of Minas Gerais. As of 2000, Prostitution is legal in Brazil and a valid profession.
So what are Brazil's sex workers doing to prepare for increased traffic during the World Cup? At the top of the list: learning English. There will be six matches played at the city's Mineirão stadium, and according to Laura Mario Do Espirito Santo — a founding member of Aprosmig, a union for prostitutes within the state of Minas Gerais — "[English] gets you ahead."
Says Santo, women "are given all the medical checks they need" and pay $4.36 US per month for a union membership that allows them unlimited condoms. They pay 130 reais ($57.30 US) per day for a room in the zonas. For the prostitutes, it's safer than working the streets because in order for anyone to access the zonas, they need to walk past a bouncer and go through a metal detector. As far as their English lessons go, "We are learning the basics [of English]," says Santo, who noticed an increase in sex tourism during the Copa Libertadores. "They say there’ll be 2000,000 tourists in Belo Horizonte so it makes a lot of sense."
For Santo and the members of Aprosmig, pride is huge. They are proud of their profession and the independence it provides them. They can pay their bills and support their children with the money they make, and they don't have to rely on anybody else. "I never asked anyone for anything," says Santos, "…why should I be ashamed? Why should any of us?" There is even an annual Miss Prostitute pageant that Santos hopes will aid in diminishing prejudice against the profession. However, she says, "There is still much prejudice though, especially from housewives because their husbands come to us."
Beyond Belo Horizonte and Aprosmig, other cities are prepping similarly. A prosecutor in Fortaleza stated, "Foreign clients order underage prostitutes who are delivered directly by the hotels' pimps." Yes, even the hotels have pimps. Continuing with the English trend, a massage house beside the Congohos airport is reportedly offering an improved limousine service by hiring English speakers.
There are, however, those who are against prostitution as a profession. The female members of Cut, Brazil's major trade union federation recently debated the issue. Secretary Rosane Silva stated, "What we need is to fight for politics that take women out of this condition." Para Cleone, a former prostitute added, "Of course I'm against this. These women are being exploited by the people who run the zonas."
Brazilian officials, in a bid to clean up the country's image before the World Cup and 2016 Olympics, are cracking down hard on the nation's sex workers. The New York Times reported that the government is in a big of a tenuous spot, as prostitution is legal in the South American country.
Brazil is expecting a total of 3.7 million tourists for the World Cup, and sex tourism seems inevitable. By learning English, prostitutes in Brazil are hoping to capitalize on the large number of tourists. Cida Vieira, Chairwoman of Aprosmig, even announced last year that Belo Horizonte prostitutes would be accepting credit cards during the World Cup. With unions like Aprosmig, they are preparing for a busy season whether opposing groups like it or not.