PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – It’s a worldwide trend: Iconic sites and breathtaking views are not always what lure tourists, as many are travelling abroad to commit sex crimes.
The problem becomes even bigger in cities during major events, when the number of tourists – and those seeking to commit sex crimes – rises.
“In Pernambuco, we don’t use the expression ‘sexual tourism’, as it admits or accepts an absurd fact,” says Alberto Feitosa, the state’s secretary of tourism. “Here, we refer to it as sexual exploitation.”
The northeastern state Pernambuco is among the areas with the highest rates of sex crimes in Brazil.
Of the 25,175 recorded cases of sexual exploitation of children and youth nationwide from 2005 to 2010, 34% happened in the Northeastern region, according data released in May by the Federal Government. The cases encompass exploitation of minors for pornography, prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes.
The southeastern states came in second, with 30% of cases, followed by the South (18%), the Centre-West (10%) and the North (8%).
While preparing for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, Brazil has taken steps to stop sex crimes, especially those in which the victims are children and teenagers, by following in the footsteps of preventative measures taken by South African officials during the 2010 World Cup.
Prior to the start of the World Cup last year, officials in South Africa held a symposium in the capital city of Pretoria to discuss prevention and measures being taken by law enforcement officials to prevent sex crimes.
In South Africa, children and teenagers are the primary targets for sexual predators, as they represent 60% of cases nationwide, according to the Research Council for Human Sciences in South Africa.
Brazil also is taking a proactive approach to prevent its minors from becoming victims, as the public is encouraged to report sexual offenses to local police, child protection agencies and via a hotline (Disque 100).
Ministry of Tourism training multiplier agents
The Ministry of Tourism (MTur) already has trained 840 workers to act as “multiplier” agents specializing in the prevention of sexual crimes during international sporting events.
“We’re approaching those working at hotels, pubs and restaurants and the taxi drivers in touristy areas, as those people will be in direct contact with tourists,” says Bel Mesquita, the secretary of the national policies for tourism.
But Mesquista says the MTur’s efforts don’t stop there.
“We’ll keep on promoting seminars and institutional campaigns and raising the Brazilians’ awareness, an activity that has been reinforced to show the population that sexual exploitation doesn’t have to do with tourism. Instead, it’s one of the most serious crimes,” Mesquista says. “People who travel to another country in search of sex can’t be considered tourists.”
In partnership with the University of Brasília (UnB), MTur developed the “Prevention to the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Teenagers’ Program Booklet.” The guide provides those in the tourism industry – from entrepreneurs to employees – with information on how to help protect children and youth from becoming victims of sex crimes.
“The aim is to make an effort so that preventing sexual exploitation becomes a public policy and also inspires actions throughout the tourism industry,” says Elisângela Machado, the coordinator of tourism programs at the UnB’s Center for Excellence in Tourism.
Dispelling myths surrounding tourism-related sexual exploitation – a major problem in the country’s coastal cities – also is part of the initiative, Machado says.
“Much has been said about [sexual exploitation in] the [Brazilian] coastal regions, but we’ve forgotten the towns where fishing is important, as those located in the states of Mato Grosso, Amazon and Goiás, which end up being included in the [crime] route,” she says. “The event-related tourism, such as business meetings, which are frequent in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasília] also attract these kinds of offenders.”
Children and teenagers are the most frequent victims of sexual offenders, but it’s not uncommon for men and women over the age of 18 to also be targeted by international human trafficking rings, Machado adds.
“Because of the World Cup, we’re giving even more attention to all these incidents,” she says. “We want society to be committed and involved so that we don’t have sexual exploitation anymore.”
Pernambuco’s best practices
Since 2003, officials at the airport of Recife, Pernambuco’s capital city, have monitored flights suspected of being used for sexual exploitation.
“We also keep an eye on the people who receive those passengers at the lobby,” says Alberto Feitosa, Pernambuco’s secretary of Tourism. “Based on this information, we can warn law enforcement authorities and ask for the suspension of those flights.”
The government of Pernambuco’s campaign also includes the handing out of pamphlets, which are distributed to lodges, hotels, restaurants and taxi drivers.
“Thus, we were able to shut down a house that was being used for sexual exploitation purposes,” Feitosa says.
In March, the launch of the Tourism Ethics Code to Protect Children and Teenager encourage all segments of society to participate in fighting sex crimes nationwide.
In addition to promoting awareness campaigns, the government has developed training courses for military and civil police forces focused on combating the sexual exploitation of children and teenagers by tourists.
More than 3,500 officers have already been trained in the state of Pernambuco.
“Tourism is an economic activity. It creates jobs and social inclusion,” Feitosa says. “The sexual exploitation practice misrepresents all this and ends up making some tourist destinations not feasible.”