It’s not just for fun, it’s exploitation!

By Tatiana Moura
Executive Director, Instituto Promundo, Brazil

“I’m more of a man when I teach how to have sex.” This sentence could be from a B-series movie, but the context of this phrase is often far from camera sight and is in fact a common reality in many public and private spaces throughout the world.

This sentence is often cited in research conducted by Promundo with men ages 18 to 59 in four Brazilian cities (Rio de Janeiro, Itaperuna, São Paulo and Natal), which was published in 2012. At the root of this construct is the still dominant concept about what it means “to be a man,” which is closely linked to male sexual performance. In other words, in order to be a real man it is necessary to have several sexual partners and to have flawless sexual performances, among other things. These gender norms contribute to the acceptance of male control over women; young male and female bodies, glorified by the media, thereby become objects of desire for many men who think that having sex with girls is a way to affirm themselves as men.

Phrases such as “I’m more of a man when I teach how to have sex,” “I just wanted to help” (referring to the money a man paid to have sex with a girl) or “She flirted with me” will be the motto of a Brazilian campaign to prevent commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents (CSECA) during the World Cup. The campaign “It’s not just for fun, it’s exploitation of children and adolescents,” promoted by Promundo, discusses these patterns of masculinity.

According to the research, there is still a tendency to normalize specific situations of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents by both men and women, or even to blame the victims: In Rio de Janeiro, 41% of the men surveyed and 46% of the women surveyed considered the act to be “adolescent prostitution” rather than sexual exploitation. That is, they considered it legitimate: “I paid for a service,” rather than “I abused them.” Among the men who already had sex with adolescents, 69% said that their friends had also had sexual relations with adolescents. This number falls to less than half (30%) among those who didn’t have sex with adolescents. The data suggest that there is peer pressure or legitimation that might influence other men to have sexual relations with adolescents. Moreover, 48% of those who claimed having had sex with 12- to 17-year-old girls said that this was a way to feel younger. Thus, the idea that “consuming” a young body makes men younger remains prevalent.

The campaign messages seek to challenge the way many men naturalize their sexual behaviors toward adolescents – often perceived as “just fun” – and calls upon men to influence other men, by raising awareness about sexual exploitation of children and adolescents and by reinforcing the idea that sexual exploitation is a crime and should not be tolerated. With the help of graphic, audiovisual and digital features, the campaign will be present in 11 Brazilian cities, five of which lead the national ranking of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, according with the National Human Rights Office.

The choice of the World Cup for the campaign launch is deliberate. During this period, around three million national and international tourists will be traveling the country, which significantly increases the vulnerability of children and adolescents. However, Promundo’s campaign addresses issues of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents that go beyond typical situations of sexual exploitation, in which there is a financial exchange, and that are also present in major events such as the World Cup and Carnival, for example. The campaign intends to identify and raise awareness about situations of exploitation that are less visible and thus more complicated to address and combat.

Despite the progress that has been made in this field – namely, the approval of Bill PL 7220/2014 that classifies sexual exploitation of children and adolescents as a heinous crime and impedes foreigners convicted of pedophilia from entering Brazil – it is important to emphasize that this is an issue that will outlive the World Cup and that involves a myriad of expressions, interpretations, and actors.

Working with men, and specifically on the ways men are socialized in order to promote nonviolent and positive behaviors and practices, is one of the avenues chosen by Promundo to contribute to rendering unacceptable gender norms that normalize and enable the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. This is the legacy Promundo intends to leave for future generations.

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