The Brazilian Network of Prostitutes is a national network of more than 30 organizations founded in 1987 amidst the popular movements that emerged during the country’s redemocratization after two decades of dictatorship. In the first national meeting of sex workers in 1987, organized by Gabriela Leite, sex workers denounced police violence and called for an end to the historical association between prostitution and disease. Confronting police violence remained a priority of the group at the local level, yet their fights against being seen as a “risk group” for HIV brought them into the national level HIV/AIDS policy debates. In the early 1990s, the Network worked in partnership with the Ministry of Health to design and implement HIV prevention projects centered upon human rights, stigma and discrimination, decriminalization of prostitution, access to health services and strengthening the capacity of sex worker organizations in Brazil.
Outcomes of the Network’s political advocacy include sex work being recognized as an official occupation in the Ministry of Labor’s Occupational Registry in 2002, thereby entitling sex workers to social security and other work benefits. Prostitution itself is not illegal, however, many activities, such as benefiting from the proceeds of prostitution and maintaining premises where it occurs, are illegal, thereby limiting the labor rights of sex workers. In 2003, in consultation with the Network, a federal law was proposed to the Brazilian legislature to treat the profession as labor and remove the penal codes associated with it. The law was not passed. Law reform of this kind remains one of the main goals of the Network, which is currently working with members of congress to propose legislation similar to the 2003 bill.
In June of 2005 the Network received wide-spread international attention for the mobilization around a policy directive from the United States Agency for International Development – USAID – that mandated that all recipient organizations have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution. Sex worker organizations in Brazil refused to accept such funding. Further Brazil—in a decision made in partnership with the Network—was the only country worldwide to take a strong political stance and publically refuse to sign what came to be known as the ‘prostitution pledge’ in contractual agreements, thereby rejecting over $40 million dollars of restricted USAID funding for HIV prevention.
The Network considers demands for human and labor rights as current priorities of the movement to strengthen citizenship, improve quality of life, and affirm a professional and collective identity. They advocate for the use the term “prostitute” instead of “sex worker” as a way to destigmatize and reclaim the word prostitute. The Network’s position is explicit in their “Letter of Principles”, which formally establishes prostitution as a labor and sexual right and denounces the victimization of sex workers, sanitary control, restrictive zoning, and offering medical exams in areas where prostitutes work. They assert a strong position against commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, emphasizing the ways that decriminalization could contribute to ending it. The Network defends the right to migration for legal work and the provision of services to both Brazilian and foreign tourists, noting that commercial sexual consensual relationships are not a crime. Sex work, as the Network constantly repeats, is a sexual right.
The Networks advocates for these principles in a context full of challenges. A study of national level policies in Brazil carried out in 2012 by the Brazilian Interdiscliplinary AIDS Association (ABIA) and Davida, the NGO Gabriela founded in 1992, found that there are not any policies that proactively promote the human rights or citizenship of sex workers (see story in Beijo da Rua). The topic of prostitution was only found in federal policies associated with human trafficking, child sexual exploitation and, to a lesser extent, HIV/AIDS. Even more troubling, the study noted a shift in HIV prevention efforts towards focusing on individual risk factors and behaviors rather than social contexts – a substantial retreat from the rights based citizenship model that the sex worker movement developed with the Ministry of Health two decades ago.
Violence – especially that committed by the police – continues to be one of the biggest problems facing sex workers in Brazil, and is largely ignored by public officials (see Davida report on human rights violations and prostitution). Urban “revitalization” efforts and clean-up campaigns promoted as part of the preparation for the World Cup soccer tournament in 2014 and Summer Olympics in 2016, often cloaked in misguided anti-trafficking rhetoric have led to the biggest crackdowns on prostitution in Brazil in a decade (see recent article in “The Atlantic”: http://t.co/s9FVIOdG).
Movements for sex worker rights continue despite these worrying trends. In 2012, the Brazilian Congress is considering two pieces of legislation that would substantially expand prostitute rights: a revision of Brazil’s penal code that would completely decriminalize prostitution and a law to clearly separate “sexual exploitation” from prostitution and regulate houses of prostitution. Davida was consulted on the formulation of the proposed law, which was named in honor of Gabriela Leite. Religious groups with high levels of influence and financial backing in the national congress are mobilizing to fight these pieces of legislation. This pushback, combined with the overall conservative trends and efforts to restrict sexual rights make mobilizing sex workers and informing the broader public about these issues especially critical.
NGOs that support sex worker rights in Brazil and form part of the Prostitute’s Network:
Vitoria Regia – Associação de Profissionais do Sexo, Ribeirão Preto – SP, firstname.lastname@example.org
APROSMIG – Associação das Prostitutas Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte – MG
NEP – Núcleo de Estudos da Prostituição. Porto Alegre – RS, email@example.com
Grupo Liberdade – Direitos Humanos da mulher prostituida. Curitiba – PA firstname.lastname@example.org
Dassc – Dignidade, Ação, Saúde, Sexualidade e Cidadania, Corumbá – MS email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ampsap – Associação de Mulheres Profissionais do Sexo do Estado do Amapá, email@example.com
GEMPAC – Grupo de Mulheres Prostitutas do Estado do Pará. Belem – PA firstname.lastname@example.org
As Amazonas – Associação das Prostitutas do Amazonas. Manaus, email@example.com
Núcleo Rosa Vermelha, Manaus, firstname.lastname@example.org
APROSBA – Associação de Prostitutas da Bahia. Salvador – BA email@example.com
APROSMA – Associação das Prostitutas do Maranhão. Sao Luiz – MA firstname.lastname@example.org
APPS – Associação Pernambucana das Profissionais do Sexo. Recife – PE email@example.com
APROS-PB, Campina Grande
APROSPI – Associação de Prostitutas de Piauí. Teresinha e Altos – PI