Soccer, Samba, and Sex: Preventing Human Trafficking from Attending Brazil’s World Cup and Olympics

Vol. 42 No. 4


Natalie Lamela ( is an attorney with Concepcion Martinez & Bellido in Coral Gables, Florida. She dedicates this article to her grandfather, journalist Esteban Lamela, who inspired her to write.

Though originally known for its soccer players, Bossa Nova music, and costumed Carnival dancers, Brazil will also be known as the second country in history to host the World Cup and the Olympics back to back. These honors, however, coupled with Brazil’s growing economy, converge to create a perfect storm for the increase of sex trafficking in and to Brazil. As sex traffickers seek to benefit from the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, Brazil and the international community must focus on preventing the increase in sex trafficking that is predicted to accompany these global sporting events.

Sex Trafficking and Global Sporting Events

This correlation between sex trafficking and global sporting events gained international media attention before the 2006 World Cup, when it was predicted that 40,000 women and children would be trafficked into Germany to sexually serve the 3.36 million expected to attend. This estimate prompted the international community to call on Germany to increase its trafficking prevention efforts. Germany responded by increasing the police presence in host cities, starting informational campaigns about trafficking, and creating hotlines to report suspected trafficking. Jennifer Gustafson, Bronze, Silver, or Gold: Does the International Olympic Committee Deserve a Medal for Combating Human Trafficking in Connection with the Olympic Games?, 41 Cal. W. Int’l L.J. 433 (2011). As a result of its prevention efforts, Germany reported no significant increase in sex trafficking or forced prostitution during the World Cup.

South Africa also increased its efforts against sex trafficking before hosting the 2010 World Cup. South Africa organized a National Trafficking in Persons Inter-Sectoral Task Team, according to a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) report from 2010. The Team increased collaboration between the public, civil service, and government agencies, and implemented the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking Bill. There were also increased numbers of police, specific trainings for the allied criminal justice community, and increased coordination between existing South African organizations and international organizations such as the USAID, the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The Status of Sex Trafficking in Brazil

Brazil is a country of origin and transit, and, to a lesser extent, a destination for victims of sex trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report). Brazilian authorities reported that between 2005 and 2011, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry identified more than 300 Brazilian sex trafficking victims abroad and 337 sex trafficking victims in Brazil. During this same time period, there were 1,163 court cases involving sex trafficking and 381 persons suspected of international trafficking. However, only 158 persons were convicted of sex trafficking between 2005 and 2011. The Brazilian federal government reported having investigated 157 international trafficking cases and 13 transnational trafficking cases, though 428 cases remained open in 2013. In 2012, federal authorities reported at least nine prosecutions under Article 231, six convictions under Article 231-A, and at least two convictions of international sex trafficking.

These statistics came out of a study conducted by the Brazilian Ministry of Justice and the UNODC. The first study to research human trafficking in Brazil, it compiled data from several federal organizations and ministries involved with prosecuting sex trafficking and assisting victims. The Relatório Nacional Sobre Tráfico De Pessoas, Consolidação Dos Dados de 2005 a 2011 is significant because it shows the government’s growing attention to the issue. The UNODC’s Brazilian office stated that the study discovered the inadequate monitoring system for trafficking victim assistance and the prosecution of traffickers in Brazil. With an inadequate monitoring system, the true number of sex trafficking cases, victims, and prosecuted traffickers is likely higher than the data show in the study. On a better note, the study reported the success of different hotlines, such as the “Call 180” Hotline and the “Call 180 International.” The Ministry of Health reported receiving 80 calls between 2005 and 2011 regarding sex trafficking victims. Thirty-five of those calls were received in 2011 alone. The Secretary of Human Rights also received 35 calls in 2011.

Brazil: Signatory to the Palermo Protocol, but a Tier 2 Country on the TIP Report

Although Brazil ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol) in 2004, the U.S. State Department’s 2013 TIP Report still classifies Brazil as a Tier 2 country. Brazil was found to deserve a Tier 2 classification because it does not fully comply with the minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking, although it is taking significant steps to do so. Brazil’s noncompliance is a result, in part, of its narrow penal code, which identifies movement or transporting the victim as a necessary element of the crime. Because Articles 231 and 231-A require movement, there was no public data on the number of individuals prosecuted or convicted in cases of sex trafficking not involving movement. The result, therefore, is an inaccurate representation of sex trafficking in Brazil, as many trafficking crimes are prosecuted under other penal statutes, such as those covering pimping or sexual exploitation of children.

Brazil’s Efforts at Combating Sex Trafficking

The Brazilian government funds 16 anti-trafficking offices around Brazil, which are the result of partnerships between the federal government and 14 state governments. These anti-trafficking offices are responsible for preventing and combating trafficking, as well as coordinating victim assistance. However, the TIP Report states that the quality of services varies, as some of these offices focus only on public awareness, as opposed to victim care. The Brazilian government’s inadequate funding of victim assistance projects and shelters also contributes to Brazil’s Tier 2 classification. According to the 2013 TIP Report, the Brazilian government must increase funding for and training of these offices in order to ensure that trafficking victims have access to specialized services. Furthermore, data needs to be collected regarding victim assistance, as there are no comprehensive statistics regarding the number of victims identified and assisted during the year at these offices.

The Importance of Public Awareness of Trafficking

Interestingly enough, the Brazilian public was made aware of the reality of sex trafficking in Brazil, not through a government program, but through one of Brazil’s national pastimes—the Brazilian soap opera. In the fall of 2012, a Brazilian soap opera based partially on the true story of a Brazilian trafficking victim aired on prime time television. Brazilian TV screenwriter Gloria Perez told the Brazilian media that her intent in focusing the soap opera Salve Jorge on human trafficking was to help rescue real victims by bringing awareness to the second most common major crime in Brazil. The soap opera did in fact help rescue Brazilian women trafficked abroad. For example, a viewer’s report of trafficking led to a joint effort between the federal Brazilian police and Spanish police, causing an international ring of sex trafficking to be disbanded. According to Brazilian media, the viewer called the Brazilian federal police when, while watching the soap opera, she realized that her daughter’s situation constituted human trafficking.

Brazil’s Second National Plan to Combat the Trafficking of Persons, 2013–2016

Though the media is an effective forum, a soap opera cannot be the only means of prevention or of combatting sex trafficking in Brazil. Thus, Brazil announced its Second National Plan to Combat the Trafficking of Persons on February 26, 2013. The plan, to be implemented by 2014, promises the investment of the equivalent of U.S.$3 million to combat sex trafficking. The plan will develop new control posts in border towns to provide victims’ services, train over 400 government staff, and change the penal code to criminalize other types of trafficking such as illegal adoption of children, organ extraction, and forced labor. Along with the announcement of the Second National Plan, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced the creation of a tripartite commission to improve the performance of agencies involved in preventing, combating, and prosecuting trafficking, as well as the agencies assisting trafficking victims. The tripartite commission also established the National Committee for Combating Sex Trafficking, which will be charged with implementing the Second National Plan, synchronizing initiatives by public and private entities to combat trafficking, and coordinating anti-trafficking efforts between Brazilian states.

FIFA and the IOC’s Role in Combatting Sex Trafficking Resulting from the World Cup and the Olympics

Brazil, as host country of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, has undertaken domestic and international efforts in conjunction with the UN and other international organizations to combat trafficking. However, the responsibility should not be on the host country alone. The international sporting organizations that organize the sporting events that increase human trafficking should also be participants in the efforts to combat human trafficking. To date, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have not considered human trafficking when choosing the host city and country of their sporting events. However, the IOC and FIFA can develop a plan to combat global sports-related trafficking by understanding how trafficking impacts each host candidate and incorporating preventative solutions into the contracts with each host city or country, as initially recommended by Jennifer Gustafson in her article on the International Olympic Committee’s efforts to fight human trafficking (see supra p. 15). IOC and FIFA can even consider a potential host candidate’s ratification of the Palermo Protocol, classification on the TIP Report, and other evaluations of success in combatting human trafficking as factors to evaluate when choosing the host country or city.

As Brazil has done, future host countries should use the opportunity to host global sporting events as an additional motivator for improving their anti-trafficking legislation and strategies for combating sex trafficking. Though Brazil’s pledge of $3 million as part of the Second National Plan is a great start, the investment amount is shameful when compared to the $11 billion the country has already allocated to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. In addition to the host countries, international organizations and other countries can also use these global sporting events as an opportunity to support the anti-trafficking work in the host country. As Yury Fedotov, director general/executive director for the UNODC, stated, “We need more sharing of best practices, greater mutual legal assistance, more joint operations across borders, national strategies on sex trafficking linked to regional and international approaches, as well as the cooperation of key stakeholders such as civil society, the private sector and the media.” Global sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympics should not only bring countries together for love of sport and country—it should also bring them together to prevent and attack human trafficking.


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