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Four firefighters died trying to extinguish it. The efforts were futile. Up until this point, sex workers in Brazil had been gaining independence and greater agency through the increasing digitisation of the profession. Many control their own personal websites, and some transactions are done entirely virtually, with payment and location organised Uber-style beforehand.
Being online means that I can easily connect with clients who have very specific desires. It also means that I can be independent and work when I want and how I want. With the return of these old school brothels, profit margins shift heavily towards their powerful owners. Meanwhile, workers have few escape routes. In effect, it forces them back to brothels and the streets, where they are at more risk of violence.
After moving from the neighbouring Minas Gerais state to Rio in , Bruna first began as a sex worker in a large brothel in Copacabana. She hated the experience, often serving drunken, disrespectful tourists — up to a dozen a day — and reporting to a boss who would at times force himself on the girls.
And they will want a cut of it. The legal situation surrounding sex work in Brazil is complicated. In , the government classified sex work as an official occupation , so sex workers could now claim benefits such as pensions. Exchanging sex for money is not in itself illegal — but it is against the law to run brothels.
Yet according to Professor Blanchette, there are brothels across the city. Rio city council did not respond to a request for comment. In Brazil, the movement for sex workers rights has a long history. But even now with the technical legality of sex work, it remains a serious taboo in a largely conservative country that contains an estimated million Catholics.