Official letter sent to the Director for the Promotion of Human Rights, State Secretariat for the Monitoring of the Social Welfare and Human Rights of Prostitutes
The facts reported below relate to human rights violations and arbitrary acts committed against women and citizens, many of which were witnessed and denounced by the victims themselves and other accompanying parties who were present during the case. On Friday, May 23, 2014 at approximately 2 pm, officers of 76th District police precinct and the Police Unit for the Assistance of Women – Delegacia Especializada de Atendimento à Mulher or DEAM of Niteroi – with support of officers from 13 other precincts in the State of Rio de Janeiro, stormed the building at 327 Avenida Amaral Peixoto, in Niterói, breaking doors and wreaking havoc in apartments where sex workers provide services independently and where some also reside.
During the operation, several victims had guns held against their heads, there were assaults and even rapes, theft of personal belongings and money, intimidation, and approximately 100 women and three men were forcibly transported by buses to the 76th District police precinct. There, the women were held for hours, witnessing the continuous arrival of many others – who entered the precinct in single file, wrapped in blankets – until they begin to be released from 5 pm onwards. Two of the women, Bruna and Preta, were locked up in cells, while others chanted “racist, racist” at the police.
The operation was conducted by Police Chief Glaucio Paz, of the 76th police precinct, by order of Judge Rose Marie, of the 1st Criminal Court. However there is no information about what crimes were being investigated.
It seems likely that the operation was nothing more than harassment of the women who independently organize rent rooms to work individually or who share the rental expense of the rooms with up to two or three other colleagues. One of the prostitutes said she was taken to a bathroom and intensely pressured to say she was a “madam”.
The claim that the court ordered closure of the building was because “the premises were found to be in a poor state of repair” clashes with information contained in the document posted on the doors that had been kicked in–the “Notice of Partial Interdiction” or “Edital de Interdição Parcial” (attached)–that further expert inspection needed to be made.
Additionally, the police action targeted only the four floors of the building where about 400 prostitutes work, without any other apartment in the remaining six floors being restricted.
The operation prevented, at least temporarily, the women from working at the location and disrupted the housing of those who live there. The supposed justification for the notice prohibiting the use of the building was that there had been “confirmation that the site was used repeatedly for committing a crime”–even though the apartment numbers had been registered at the time–the same reasoning that had been used in a summons order (mandados de intimação) two weeks before. And more seriously both the summons order and the notice are generic and do not indicate what crime may have transpired. A police officer said that, “the judge did not order that anyone be taken to the police station, but we (the police) took them” – recognizing that they did not even have legal authorization for that kind of action. In April, in another operation, more than 20 workers from the same building were taken by the police from the same precinct to Bangu prison without any legal process and justification.
Inside the police station, in the middle of the afternoon of that fateful day May 23, another scene would not go unnoticed by us, nor by the wider audience who, perplexed, watched the tense interactions between the unyielding police and the prostitutes who were outraged by the brutal, humiliating treatment, and the lack of any clear explanation as to what led them to be there. The scene in question involved the police inspector for the case and one of the lawyers present who requested, in front of everyone at the reception desk of the police station, that he be able to enter and monitor any testimony provided by the women. Faced with this request based on the right of every citizen, the inspector countered surprisingly saying that the attorney, “not look for a fight that was not his.” This statement by a police officer particularly when made to a lawyer, expresses either ignorance of or total disregard for the democratic rule of law, where a lawyer, by definition, has the responsibility to ensure the rights (or, according to the police inspector’s term “fights”) of each and every citizen.
It is intolerable that the authoritarian practices characteristic of those used during the military dictatorship remain with us and that the treatment of prostitution should based on archaic views about the victimization of and supposed exploitation of autonomous and independent women. Prostitution, it is worth recalling, has since 2002 been recognized as a profession by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, and is listed as number 5,198 in the Brazilian Classification of Occupations.
In addition what has been related above, there are also reports that these actions are driven by economic and property interests, specifically the “sanitization” of the central area of Niteroi with the economic, political and judicial protection of the various stakeholders engaged in this latest urban “redevelopment” project of the metropolitan area.
The (sex work) professionals remain mobilized and demonstrated this Monday, May 26, in front of the police station and the building where the apartments were condemned. The protests are justified by both the way they were (mis) treated as well as because of the loss of the structure that allows them to earn their livelihood. For this reason, they have been carrying banners reading: “Over 500 meninas lost their jobs”, “Take your hands off me, let me work, tomorrow is another day, I have to pay my bills,” and especially, “Prostitution is not a crime”.
To conclude, we urge this Superintendency to give due attention to this very serious situation of abuses and violations that stain the State’s honor, aware of the enormous strides that have been made to end the impunity and humiliations that characterized the “indecent state” that persisted for decades.
Rio de Janeiro, May 26, 2014.
Professor. Dr. Soraya Silveira Simões
Coordinator of the Centre for Prostitution / UFRJ a partnership between Metropolitana-LeMetro/IFCS-UFRJ Ethnography Lab, the Institute for Research and Urban and Regional Planning-IPPUR-UFRJ, Davida, ABIA and APERJ
Text written by Prostitute, Transfeminista and Parliamentary Advisor, Indianara Siqueira, and Advocate Heloisa Melino
Niterói, May 23, 2014
This afternoon in an absolutely illegal operation, officers of the the 76th Police Precinct and DEAM Niterói raided the 4 floors where rooms for independently operated prostitution are located–also the residence of several women workers–in the building above the Caixa Econômica, downtown Niterói.
The operation is part of the redevelopment project (cleansing) of the center of Niterói. Without a warrant, police raided several apartments, took more than 100 women to the police station and seized goods. Women were assaulted and raped – police forced them to do oral sex and put their hands on the women’s genitals. At the end of the day, several women reported theft of drinks (beer, whiskey, vodka and redbull) and theft of money.
A woman who worked all week to be able to pay for her daughter’s birthday party on Saturday (tomorrow) had all her money stolen, including all her money for transportation.
One of the officers who assaulted one of the women shouted to anyone who would listen: “Beat it! She was using curse words! “- as if that were reason for assaulting a woman and as if those more than 100 women had to be quiet as 50 of them were crammed together in a minibus with only 20 seats.
This same officer said, “The judge ordered that we not bring anyone to the precinct, but we are taking you!” Recognizing that the police did not even have the judicial authorization for their actions. It is clear that these women were transported to the station so the police could steal their belongings and money.
They have done, and they can do, what they will with prostitutes because they have impunity and are sure that society will not hear the women’s cries.
This police operation has been ongoing since October 2013 allowing for these rogue searches of prostitutes. In April more than 20 of them (sex workers) were taken to prison. The losses of these women, their cries and heartbreak, is also the fault of all of you on the Left who are against the regulation (and full decriminalization) of prostitution.
We need you on the street in support of prostitutes and not in debates opposing a bill written by yourselves. We need to show the Government that social movements are united and eye and that NO WOMAN WILL BE LEFT BEHIND. Together and together we have strength to prevent future abuses.
WE MUST REGULATE NOW!
ABIA disseminates a statement repudiating police action against sex workers in Niterói (RJ)
The Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association vehemently repudiates the grave human rights violations committed on May 23rd by civil police against more than 200 sex workers and residents in a building in Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro. Sex workers reported that during the invasion, conducted by police without a warrant, violations including robbery, assault, and rape occurred, configuring an overwhelming abuse of power by the police force.
After being humiliated, the women were arrested and taken to the 76th police precinct for questioning. It is intolerable that during the 50th anniversary year of the beginning of the military dictatorship in Brazil this tactic of questioning, common during that dark period, is still being used.
We also repudiate the destruction and the illegal condemnation of the apartments where the women worked. This act violates the rights of autonomous sex workers to freely work in prostitution. These women are currently without a place to live and work.
ABIA understands that this illegal operation is an extension of the “urban clean-up” processes that were initially justified by the World Cup preparations. Brazil is among the countries that most committed human rights violations as part of preparations for the event.
The World Cup and Olympics should not be used as arguments to justify a moral panic in the country surrounding prostitution. Implementing laws against the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents and trafficking of persons cannot be a pretext for the repression of consensual adult sex work.
Prostitution is legal in Brazil and, since 2002, recognized in the Ministry of Labor and Employment’s Brazilian Classification of Occupations. Prostitution is not a crime in Brazil. Any person older than 18 and able can freely work in prostitution, just as any person in the same conditions can use their services.
The criminalization of these professionals, in addition to being an act of persecution and multiple rights violations, also increases the women’s conditions of vulnerability, in particular to HIV and AIDS. According to studies conducted by the World Health Organization and World Bank, there are significant relationships between criminalization of prostitution and rights violations, unprotected sex, and HIV infection.
In the places where sex work is criminalized, the HIV response has been frustrated and limited by structural forces which include stigma, discrimination, and physical violence. ABIA, in partnership with the NGO Davida and the Prostitution Observatory at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) is conducting a mapping of the rights violations of these professionals with the goal, among others, of strengthening the response to HIV and AIDS.
On International Sex Workers Rights Day, commemorated today, on June 2nd, ABIA joins with the other voices that call for justice for the sex workers that suffered rights violations in Niterói and in other cities. We demand that the Brazilian state implements public policies that guarantee the promotion of rights and protection of sex workers as workers – not as victims – as well as the end of abuse, repression, discrimination, and other forms of violence committed against these professionals.
More photos of damage done by police: