The Rio de Janeiro city government announced recently that it is shutting down one of the city’s most infamous nightclubs, “Help” in Copacabana, known for rampant prostitution and to a lesser degree, drug trafficking.
Though the club used to be a hot spot for middle and upper class Cariocas in the 1980s, it gradually transformed into a club for tourists and prostitutes in the 1990s. Women pay the entrance fee of R$23 and can earn up to 20 times more in one night. One prostitute claimed she made R$2,000 during Carnival alone.
Prices, however, vary by nationality. Prostitutes typically charge R$200 to Argentines, while Swiss tourists pay up to R$500. Sometimes, though not frequently, prostitutes go abroad to live with their clients, usually in Europe, and have come to be known as “Ronaldinhas.”
But this spot frequented by the city’s prostitutes will soon be closing. The government’s plan is to convert the space into the Museu da Imagem e do Som (the Museum of Image and Sound). Supporters of the plan applauded the government for finally making the move to get rid of the club.
However, in an article featured in Globo’s weekend magazine, Revista, several groups are featured that actually are against shutting down the nightclub.
First, the NGO A DaVida, a group that defends prostitutes’ rights, claims that the nightclub is actually a safer venue for prostitutes to make money, without any middlemen or bosses who could exploit them. In Brazil, prostitution is in fact legal, but prostitutes’ exploração (exploitation) is not.
Next, an American anthropologist who lives in Rio with his Brazilian wife has performed studies and interviews at the club, and also argues that the club is a place for “safe” prostitution. He also claims it is one of the few places where women have the ability to pick and chose their own clients.
But despite their arguments, it seems the government has the last word, and the future of Copa’s working women is unclear.