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Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice Rules Having Sex With 12-Year-Old Girls May Not Be a Crime

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Slade Sohmer

By Slade Sohmer on April 9, 2012

Somehow, in the span of two years, violent crime-riddled Brazil was awarded the honor of hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. Clean-up time has come to the republic.

But a funny thing happened on the way to tourist legitimacy: Brazil’s highest criminal court issued one of the most damaging precedents on common sense and decency ever handed down in modern times.

In 2002, a man had sex with three 12-year-old girls. Brazilian law, as of 2009, prohibits sex with anyone under 14 (14!), but back in 2002 there was no such law on the books. The Superior Court of Justice said that sex with young girls is “immoral and reprehensible,” but its ruling went the other way. Reversing a lower court’s decision, the man was said to have committed no crime. The court’s judges ruled there is no absolute when it comes to these matters, and that each case must be determined by its facts.

In this case, the three young girls had worked as prostitutes in the town square, and as such were deemed “far from innocent, naive, ignorant or ill-informed about sexual matters.” Consent in this case became a matter of experience, not age. They didn’t seem to get into how the girls became sex workers. Ultimately, underage prostitution seems to be the deeper issue here.

The head of the court said the judges will take another look at the case, though they warned this was a ruling based on the law as it stood. It may end up in the hands of the supreme court there. And in the meantime, government is working with human rights groups to reverse the decision.

Those human rights groups are justifiably outraged. “This shocking ruling effectively gives a green light to rapists and if it prevails could dissuade other survivors of sexual abuse from reporting these crimes,” said Atila Roque, the head of Amnesty International’s Brazil branch.

Brazil’s human rights minister, Maria do Rosario Nunes, said it “would in practice spell impunity.”

“Under-age prostitution is very common in Brazil,” The Economist noted. “Research in 2006 by the University of Brasília, the federal government and Unicef found children and adolescents selling sex in nearly 1,000 municipalities, a sixth of the total. Seaside cities such as Fortaleza, Recife and Rio de Janeiro are hotspots, as are ports and border towns. In 2007 the federal traffic-police said they knew of nearly 2,000 roadside locations where sex with children was for sale.”

Hopefully Brazil gets this straightened out before all those tourists come in 2014 and 2016.

What do you think of this precedent? Should the sex history of young girls matter?


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