“Everything was wrong, we just want to work, nothing else”.

(Summary of blog post written in Portuguese by Soraya Simões and Laura Murray posted on June 6th).

Photo: Soraya Simões

Photo: Soraya Simões

On June 4th, sex workers from Niteroi participated in a public hearing at the Rio de Janeiro state legislature regarding the rights violations and abuses committed by the police during the illegal police raid on May 23rd. The public hearing was organized by the Human Rights Commission and the Commission for the Defense of Women’s Rights, and presided over by two state legislators, Marcelo Freixo from the Human Rights Commission and Inês Pandeló from the Women’s Commission. The audience at the hearing brought together sex workers, activists from Davida and the Prostitution Observatory, lawyers, attorneys, public defenders, and legislative assistants. The audience did not include the representatives from the civil police force, nor the precincts involved in the abuses – although they were invited to participate and explain their actions.

The first person to speak was Joyce, a sex worker who worked and lives in the building. She spoke of the illegal warrants that were passed out prior to the raid on the 23rd and all of the violence, robbery and sexual abuses suffered by sex workers on the day of the raid. As she said, “everything was wrong, we just want to work, nothing else”. Joyce also emphasized that the women’s police precinct in Niterói, DEAM, refused to register her complaint against the police officers’ behavior and abuses, “The precinct chief said that they couldn’t interfere in the operations of the 76 (police precinct). So none of the women were able to register their complaints in the DEAM, she (the officer responsible) refused to do it”.

Indianara Siqueira, a sex worker and congressional assistant of Federal Deputy Jean Wyllys who has accompanied the case from the very beginning also spoke of the long series of rights violations that have occurred in the building over the past months. She emphasized that the, “violations continue. Women are without a place to life, without a place to work and their children are depending on the help of others”. She proceeded to read a list of questions that Federal Deputy Jean Wyllys demands be responded to by the police.

The public defender who took on the case, Clara Prazeres Bragança from the Women’s Rights Defense Nucleus of the Public Defenders Office, spoke next, affirming, “It is not clear what led to the prison for questioning, and more, in conditions that were not the best…we keep asking if it is the State that has to protect, or the State that protects under and idea of ending that which bothers it. And who does it bother pale face?… There was no need to take these women to the police precinct, if there had been Representative Freixo, I wouldn’t be here.”

Ms. Prazeres had been to the 76th police precinct and talked with the police officers responsible for what happened. She confirmed that “there was no legal motive, but perhaps in their head there was a moral motive…[a justification] which I sincerely disapprove.”

The lawyer from the Human Rights Committee of the Brazilian Lawyer’s Association (OAB) Gustavo Proença, lamented the continuation of the practice of “prison for questioning” , which violates all of the citizen’s rights yet unfortunately have become common practice of the police. He also added that the night before a meeting with building residents was held at the police precinct, and created a humiliating and hostile environment for the sex workers who attended, until being thrown out, along with the lawyers from the OAB present.

Representative Freixo was the last to speak, and he publicly lamented the absence and silence of the Rio de Janeiro State Social Work and Human Rights Secretariat (SEASDH) and of the women’s police precinct (DEAM). He also affirmed that the short response of the 76th Precinct to the Human Rights Commission questions sent did not justify the police action and their treatment of sex workers as criminals, rather than victims of a crime (were the police to follow their logic of investigating exploitation). He was especially upset that DEAM nor responded to the Commission’s letter nor appeared at the hearing.

Furthermore, the Human Rights Commission also investigated and found out that the Civil Defense (Defesa Civil) had never visited the building, in which case the allegation that the building was unstable or a danger, and needing to be partially condemned is unfounded and unjustifiable. Representative Freixo concluded that, “it was an absolutely disastrous and illegal procedure that violated an enormous quantity of fundamental rights of the people affected”. He closed announcing that they will schedule another public hearing later this month in which the police forces will be required to attend and respond for their actions, in addition to the Civil Defense who will also be invited to explain their actions, or non-action, in the building.

The hearing was very important because it confirmed the illegality of the police actions, the unacceptable and deplorable attitude of the DEAM in refusing to register the women’s complaints, the lack of structural evidence to justify the condemning of the apartments where the women work, and moral, rather than legal, motives behind the State’s action.