Catching Up

It has been a long time since I last blogged, and a lot has happened during this period! At the beginning of September I spent two weeks in bed with a case of Dengue Fever, which I will safely say was one of the most debilitating experiences of my life. I was weak to the point where getting out of bed to use the bathroom was a strain, and I could barely get myself to the doctor´s office to seek care. As I was entering the recovery phase, I got a throat infection that took another week to pass, so in total I spent about three weeks in a state of illness. The experience gave me profound appreciation for my healthcare coverage and respect for the medical system, through which I was able to get the necessary remedies extremely quickly.

At the end of September through the beginning of October, I spent two and a half weeks in Buenos Aires, Argentina due to the stipulations of my visa that I exit and reenter the country in order to access the remaining 90 days out of the total 180 days per year available on a tourist visa. During the time out of the country, I worked remotely on several tangential Promundo projects (including finishing up a research funding grant and adding to the annotated bibliography I am assembling for the LINEA research project). I also finished a Fulbright application, which, if I win the grant, would bring me back to Brazil in 2018 to research the sociology of sanitation in a favela of the city of Salvador, capital of the northeastern state of Bahia. I have secured an academic affiliation with Professor Maria Gabriela Hita of the Sociology Department of the Federal University of Bahia, who is involved in researching various related subjects and has agreed to advise me if my project is accepted by the Fulbright Grant committee. Needless to say I am extremely excited for this opportunity and hope to hear back about my candidacy in January 2017. This brings me to this past month of October, during which I prepared remotely for the end of fellowship conference in Berkeley.

Upon returning to Brazil in early October, I spent a bit of time removed from the activities of Promundo in order to focus on preparing for the UC Human Rights Fellowship Conference, which took place on November 4th. Thanks to the flexibility of Andrea, the Fellowship Coordinator at the UC Human Rights Center, I was able to put together a video presentation that was played during the conference for all attendees to witness. In this presentation I explained the LINEA research project and the concepts behind this work, including situations of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in the form of romantic intimate relationships, concepts related to social norms theory, and the way that these two big issues (sexual exploitation and social norms) interplay in Instituto Promundo´s research project. I will try to include the audiofile or the PowerPoint presentation on the blog.

As of this week I am back in the Promundo office, continuing to work on the literature review for the LINEA research and contribute background information to the upcoming Sexual Violence Research Initiative conference that Promundo will host next year. More updates to come in the weeks ahead!


Olympics: Volunteering and Partaking

Sunset over the Olympic Park in Barra da Tijuca, a district of the West Zone of Rio.

I am currently sitting in an upscale mall called Botafogo Praia Shopping, in a Starbucks that has become my working office on the days that the Promundo headquarters is closed. During the Olympics the city changes—streets close when triathlons and bike races need the space, bus lines are rerouted to give priority to the flows of tourists around Zona Sul, and probably most important for my own work, the month of August has been declared a month of ferias, or holidays, to give workers time to enjoy the Olympic Games or else go on vacation. Although I’m enjoying the mad influx of tourists that crowd the boardwalk along Copacabana beach and pass constantly through this coffee shop as I work, I’m cognizant of the annoyances they bring to residents of Rio. Last night, while I ate dinner with José and Josie, my old host family in Rocinha, a friend of theirs described her experience of a foreigner stopping her on the street to ask her a question in English, to which she could not respond because she only speaks Portuguese. Many other cariocas have told me similar stories, being stopped by a confused tourist and spoken to in English while going about their private business in a public space. It must be frustrating for both parties, and it makes me happy that I can speak Portuguese and be of use to people on both sides of the exchange.

Going to Rocinha is always a walk down memory lane for me; walking certain becos brings fresh memories to mind of the wonderful people with whom I shared seven weeks of travel and learning two years prior. It is especially nice to visit José and Josie, with whom I can speak more and more comfortably as my Portuguese improves, as well as Marlene and Alzira, the women I stayed with when I first arrived in Rocinha. It gives me so much pleasure to see them and talk to them about their lives, and I hope to return more often in the future, perhaps to take part in an initiative organized by Project Favela, an NGO that works in Rocinha. An English volunteer from the NGO told me about a weekly girls’ empowerment workshop that invites girls from the favela to meet foreigners, discuss their visions of their future, and learn more about the world around them. I am anxious to learn more and hopefully attend this meeting the next time it convenes.

Additionally, during this month I’ve volunteered for an initiative organized by a government committee called “Comitê de Proteção Integral a Crianças e Adolescentes nos Megaeventos do Rio de Janeiro”, or the Committee for Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents in the Mega-events of Rio de Janeiro. This committee organized an initiative to identify children in various event sites hosting crowded events in order to prevent lost children and decrease children’s vulnerability to kidnapping and exploitation. I volunteered in Praça Mauá, a plaza in the city center with a large screen and various music events taking place at night. I approached families with young children and asked if they would like to identify their child with a bracelet that would have the child’s name and the parent’s name and cell number. The work was easy and generated warm responses from the majority of parents we approached. We managed to identify at least seventy children over the course of several hours. The initiative is a concrete way of increasing the safety of children during Olympic events, and I was happy to participate as a volunteer.


Another volunteer from Promundo puts an identification bracelet on a child with his mother watching.


I was also given the chance to attend the Olympic Games yesterday and watch several diving heats, as well as several rounds of women’s wrestling. Both competitions were compelling to watch, and although I do not plan to revisit the Games I am glad that I was able to see them as they took place in Rio. Not only were the sports an interesting spectacle, the people in attendance also provoked a lot of thoughts about the divisiveness of the Games. The composition of the crowd was very different from the average street scene of Rio de Janeiro: most people were light-skinned, including the Brazilian fans, and were dressed well, sporting jewelry, watches, and nice clothes. The rallying cry of numerous resistance movements to the Olympics, “Jogos da Exclusão”, or Games of Exclusion, ran through my head more than once as I walked the park taking in the scene around me. The situation elicited a mixture of guilt, hypocrisy, and denial, and I caught myself searching for any subtle differences in clothes, appearance, or behavior between myself and the other tourists that would evidence a larger ideological difference between us. I am a researcher, I am here to study the exact inequalities that I am observing here. I’m not like these people, were the thoughts that ran through my mind as I watched groups of girls taking selfies with the Olympic rings in the background, and parents buy R$20 hot dogs for their children. Of course, no matter what I want to tell myself, I unquestionably belong to this elite group. I have the time, resources, and luxury to take a day away from work to partake in the mega-event, and moreover I have the social connections to secure a free ticket to watch these Games. Not everyone is so privileged, and it serves to bear in mind as I grapple with issues of inequality and poverty: problems that I have never had to feel in the acute sharpness in which they affect many of the subjects I study.

The diving arena of the Barra Olympic Park. Allegedly, the pool below the diving platform is the same pool that famously turned green a week ago.

Looking ahead: August, the Olympic month

Sporting complex at the top of Comunidade Guararapes, a favela located just below the Christ the Redeemer statue. The mural on the wall depicts the faces of three girls who died on this site, during a landslide that destroyed their houses.

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted, but if anything this indicates the sheer volume of activities that I have been up to! I have danced as an extra in a Brazilian music video filming, I have taken a Muay Thai class, and I have visited a Festa Juninha at the top of the favela of Santa Marta. This week I moved out of the Cosme Velho “Repûblica”, or shared house, in which I was staying and into the favela of Babilônia, located at the northwestern tip of Copacabana beach in a neighborhood called Leme. Needless to say it’s been a crazy time, and to compliment this, the Olympic Games are starting! The city is full of tourists and feels like a different place than what I became used to over the last month. Thankfully, I have been spared the brunt of this madness thanks to the location of my two separate houses. The one in which I am currently staying is right at the edge of the touristy Copacabana beach, and every time I descend to the “asfalto”, or non-favela neighborhood, I get a dose of Olympic energy. People have started to assume with increasing regularity that I am a tourist only here for a week, and consistently react with surprise when I begin speaking Portuguese. I have been meeting a lot of interesting and new people from all over the world—some from Brazil, some from other countries. Surprisingly, I have met very few Americans! I have no doubt that I will, particularly as the city heads into full Olympic swing in the next few weeks. Today is the official start—incredible to think how long I’ve been here and how much has happened since my arrival!

Last night, I attended a discussion panel of sixteen Brazilians who have been personally affected by the Olympics as part of an event series called Os Jogos da Exclusão, or the Games of Exclusion. It was all conducted in Portuguese, and was an excellent opportunity to hear more about the experiences of citizens whose vulnerabilities were exposed by these Games. Panelists included a woman from Vila Autôdroma, the favela that was razed to the ground to make room for an Olympic facility, a trash worker from the Rio municipality, several indigenous people, and many more people from all walks of life who shared the common interest of exposing the injustices of the Olympic Games. Collectively, these people raised many issues for discussion that ranged from the flaws of capitalism to the need for more respect for women to the lack of housing security in Rio de Janeiro. It was an impassioned forum, of which I understood about 50%. I still greatly appreciated the opportunity to be around other activists who are speaking out against the Games, and only wished that more people had been in attendance of such an important initiative.

A new t-shirt to celebrate the Olympic Games: translated, the message reads “Rio 2016: The Games of Exclusion”.
The somber night somewhat predictably ended with a bonfire and band performance, which was accompanied by beer, singing, and smiles among those in attendance.

The work I have been doing over the past week has largely concerned other projects outside of the LINEA research. I have done translation work, photographed events, and done more work in fundraising. I hope to return to my literature review as the office hours reduce and the busy work subsides.

Last week, I helped document an event in the favela of Guararapes, located above the historic neighborhood of Cosme Velho and just below the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Promundo runs a program in this community that teaches children from the community about team work and cooperation through sporting activities. Thus, children go to the community sports complex after school to take part in team-building activities, football games, and small group discussions about the importance of inclusivity and working together. I went to document the visit of the German Olympic medalist in fencing, Britta Heidemann, who came to visit and participate in the community program to generate publicity for her bid to become the Olympic Embassador of Sport for Development. While it was not made exactly clear what this position was, it seems to be some kind of title given to an Olympic athlete after the Games, and generates a lot of press and public attention. Ms Heidemann’s visit was coordinated by both Promundo and Cooperação Almã, a sustainable development organization from Germany that works in Brazil. Together with several other photographers hired by Cooperação Alemã, I documented several hours of activities that Ms Heidemann took part in alongside the children from Guararapes. It was an enjoyable experience: I got to interact with the German entourage that came with her, take photos of the children in the community playing football and drawing, and made plans to return to take part in the weekly girls’ soccer game next week.

Although the environment in the sporting complex at the top of Guararapes was one of safety and security that allowed me to freely use an expensive without fear, small reminders surfaced from to time to remind me of our location and the danger faced by residents in these communities. For instance, at the very end of the visit, I was strongly cautioned by Marcão, a coordinator from Promundo, not to walk down to the base of the favela by myself, and had to wait an hour until the other photographer (an older Brazilian man) was ready to descend before I could begin the 5-minute walk to the main road. As we descended through the favela, the scenery was striking: sporadic brick houses dotted dirt hillsides that had been strewn with trash: colorful plastic bags, food containers, and all sorts of other litter was scattered across the landscape. Dog poop underfoot caused our group to take a slightly more winding route on an otherwise straight pathway. Amidst all of this, UPP soldiers with machine guns regularly greeted us at street corners with tight lipped expressions and squared jaws. Their presence did not make me feel safer: rather, it made me acutely aware of the ongoing conflict between two sides that, in the perspective of community members, in many ways resembles a war of occupation. This is daily reality for the residents of this place.

Other than working as a photographer in events related to Guararapes, this month I will be volunteering for the Olympic Games as part of a human rights initiative in which I will be involved in ensuring that children’s rights are protected. According to the email with instructions on our volunteer duties, we will be in charge of guaranteeing the protection of children during the Games. Several other colleagues from the office have also signed up to take part, and although we have received schedules and a basic description of our duties, we all agree that it is still extremely unclear what we are meant to be doing. Perhaps we will be patrolling for instances of child labor, such as in the case of a child who is working as a street vendor at an Olympic Venue. However, as Vicky was quick to point out, this idea holds the potential to be problematic: how are we, as foreign-born, wealthy Olympic volunteers, supposed to tell a child selling candy on the street to leave the task that his caregivers undoubtedly set him to do? Furthermore, in many times the instances of child labor are much less clear cut. For instance, what about a family who is selling candy on the street with their kids by their side? What if the child happens to be helping out a bit, for instance by organizing the products for sale? All of these points of obscurity are important questions to ask when identifying child exploitation or child labor. Today was meant to be the first day of volunteering for this child protection initiative, but late yesterday afternoon I received an email that we were no longer expected to come. It is not the best omen when the first day of Olympic human rights volunteers is cancelled, but I hope that the initiative gets off the ground in spite of whatever setbacks it may be having. Hopefully the other days I have signed up to volunteer will take place as planned.

Finally, during this month I plan to ramp up my involvement in Rio On Watch, the online human rights blog that is based in Rio and run by the NGO Catalytic Communities. Right now I am working on an article about the findings from my undergraduate thesis on the representations of favelas in the context of the Olympic Games, which will be published on the blog once it is all done. After I complete this article, I hope to work as a research collaborator on research initiatives related to media representations of the Olympic Games, as well as other important projects. I have long thought about working in journalism, and this will be my first chance to dive straight in! I am excited and a bit nervous—reporting stylistics differ greatly from academic ones and I have almost no experience in this manner of writing. I can only give it my best effort and accept the critique of my peers.

New Pathways: Communications and Fundraising

Just a quick post today to log some of my thoughts and organize a couple of new opportunities that emerged today at Promundo. I attended a meeting with several of the Promundo team about upcoming grant opportunities from a variety of funding sources, mainly private agencies or organizations. Many different projects were discussed at the meeting: a research initiative on how fatherhood and caregiving impacts early childhood development indicators, a research initiative on young boys and girls whose lives have been impacted by gun violence, and a documentary that would follow the lives of several individuals whose parents had been killed by police. Various agencies give funding to different types of projects, and the meeting was organized to discuss the various deadlines, monetary amounts, and project guidelines stipulated in each funding opportunity. Additionally, we discussed options for other types of fundraising, such as charitable giving: one of the team members proposed adding a donation button to Promundo’s website, explaining that charitable giving had vastly increased in prominence in Brazil over the last 3 years, and perhaps this could be a viable source of funding in the future.

As I am interested in the fundraising process, I thought it would be a good time to get involved and learn more about how fundraising works in an NGO like Promundo. I will be meeting with Vicky tomorrow further discuss the possibility of aiding in the grant writing or assisting in other forms of fundraising. Although this has never been an area of work that appealed to me, I think it will be a beneficial skill to cultivate, possibly for future work when I am back in the US. Obviously the LINEA research will be the bulk of my work with Promundo, but in the case I have extra hours or Promundo needs the help, I could get involved in this area.

Furthermore, I talked to Mohara, who is in charge of Promundo’s communications, about the possibility of contributing to the NGO’s social media profile and other types of publicity-related jobs. Since I have a camera and a moderate background in social media use, I think I could be a useful asset to the NGO in these areas. We are having a meeting on Monday to discuss which aspects of communications I could become involved, whether it is taking photographs at various events or doing translation work for the team. I need to brainstorm ideas for how to improve the current social media presence of Promundo and other pathways to promote the NGO.

In the meantime, I continue to work on my annotated bibliography and do some translation work with the LINEA project proposal and interviews. That’s all for now!

Translations and Expectations

View from the summit of Dois Irmãos, a beautiful hike that begins in the favela of Vidigal and looks over the entire Zona Sul (South Zone) of Rio.

In the interest of documenting a holistic picture of my time spent in Rio de Janeiro, I am going to begin the tradition of commencing my blog posts with a bit of creative non-fiction, both for a creative outlet of expression and to present a more detailed account of my experiences beyond the office. I’ve had no shortage of applicable experiences since I’ve arrived, and they deserve a mention in this space!

I am loving my time in Rio de Janeiro. Over and over again I find myself thinking that somehow this city is in the process of making me a better person: more comfortable in my own skin, more connected with others around me. So many obstacles still stand ahead of me: the impending research project, my knowledge of Portuguese; my goals for myself and my future. But in this moment I rejoice that I have found myself in the exact place that I wanted to be, and have a momentary grasp on the ever-fleeting question of what I want to do next. The answer, for now, is to stay here and continue learning through experience, both in the office and the city.

This weekend I went for the first time to the favela of Maré, a favela in the city’s north zone (Zona Norte). My housemate Martino invited me to come to an event hosted by various NGOs involved in favelas across the city of Rio de Janeiro, all congregating in Maré to sponsor an event centered around community mobilization against police brutality. Maré is a favela complex that is notorious for violence between police and drug traffickers. Today, although formally pacified by UPP forces*, many favelas within the complex still see incredible amounts of violence and civilian deaths. The initiative was called “Somos da Maré: Temos Direitos!” (We are from Maré: We Have Rights!) and is an awareness campaign with the objective of achieving public security in the favela, with particular focus on police violence in the favela. Volunteers and staff affiliated with a number of NGOs went door-to-door around one of the favelas in the complex, Ramos, handing out flyers and talking to people about public security. Although we arrived late and could not help canvas, we still met many of the people involved in the campaign. It was striking to see community members and NGO staff alike rallying around such an important cause, particularly during a time when Rio is preparing to mobilize huge numbers of security forces in preparation for the Olympics.

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The volunteers and community organizers from the Somos Da Maré campaign.
A view from the passarela, or overpass, of the motorway that runs through the favela of Ramos, one of the communities within the complex of Maré. To the left is Piscinão de Ramos, the neighborhood where the organizers met.

The day after, I hiked the Zona Sul mountain Dois Irmãos with three Italian friends from my house. The day was beautiful, and the crowds were minimal (with only two weeks to go until the Games arrive, walking the still un-crowded feels like the calm before the Olympic storm). After taking in the view, we began the winding descent through the favela of Vidigal, regularly encountering and remarking on the extent to which gentrification has altered the architecture and the energy of this pristinely-located and picturesque favela. Although still home to majority Brazilian inhabitants, the buildings gave away much more about the changing demographics than the people on the street: half-finished construction sites revealed new designs of darkened wood and polished glass in sleek, modern shapes that scoffed at the classic conformation of traditional favela architecture along the winding and grooved hillsides on which they were historically built. I wondered about the future of gentrification of Vidigal, the carry-over impact on Rocinha, and UPP’s role in sponsoring these changes.

View from the Dois Irmãos trail over Rocinha, the largest single favela in Latin America, with between 100,000 and 300,000 residents.

*Unidades da Policia Pacificação, or Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) were introduced to favelas across Rio de Janeiro starting in 2008. The UPP was created by the State Public Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame, and backed by then Rio de Janeiro state governor Sérgio Cabral. As of April 2016, 38 UPPs were in place in favelas across the city of Rio de Janeiro. The government UPP website describes the UPP as a force dedicated to “permanently [retaking] communities dominated by drug trafficking, as well as guaranteeing the proximity of the state to the population.” The site says that “pacification has a key role in social and economic development of the communities, as it precipitates the entry of public services, infrastructure, social, sporting and cultural projects, private investment and opportunities.”


The last few days I have been translating documents associated with the official LINEA project proposal, which will be sent for review by an ethics committee that approves research initiatives involving subjects. This work manages to be both mindless and simultaneously mentally draining, particularly in the case of academic writing, the style and structure of which differs greatly from Portuguese to English. Portuguese sentences combine a great number of details in a stark and direct manner, and are often constructed in a passive tense that translates awkwardly into English. The translation of a project proposal can sometimes feel like an original composition, making me feel simultaneously accomplished and nervous that an ethics committee is reading and reviewing my abridgement of an originally Portuguese project proposal.

Moving forward, I continue to learn more and more about the research project and change my plans to better match up with its initiative. The LINEA research project is actually a two-and-a-half-year initiative that will provide ground-breaking research in a field that has seen very little research or exploration—namely, social norms around sexual exploitation in Latin America. Thus, pending logistical adjustments, I now plan to spend 6 months in Rio instead of 3, which will allow me to stay for a larger proportion of the Promundo research and observe/assist in more of the fieldwork than if I only stayed for my original 3-month timeline. Come August, the city of Rio de Janeiro will essentially shut down: bus lines will change to accommodate the tourist influx, offices will close (including both that of Promundo and the ethic committee reviewing our project proposal) and many of the Promundo staff will be going on vacation. I plan on using to continue reading and conducting background research on the topics of LINEA, social norms theory, and commercial sexual exploitation in Latin America and Brazil. My immediate project goals over the next few weeks are the following:

  1. Assemble an annotated bibliography on sources related to LINEA, social norms, and sexual exploitation (possibly adding to this as my research continues),
  2. Begin a literature review of these collected sources,
  3. Assemble a list of contacts of professionals and academics in the above subject areas and begin writing interview questions,
  4. Continue learning Portuguese, both through self-taught methods and language classes I am currently enrolled in,
  5. Continue posting regular updates to this blog about my research project as it unfolds.

Although regrettable that the city will be shutting down, the pause may be an apt time for me to assemble some of this practical background research and ensure that I am up to speed when work picks back up in September. As of now, the research timeline has set fieldwork to commence in August, pending the approval of the ethics committees that review our project. Fieldwork will involve a variety of focus groups in all three communities, separated out to include groups of young men and women, adult men and women, and young and adult LGBT groups. These groups will be asked a series of questions about their perceptions of gender roles and romantic relationships within their favelas, and the separation based on gender, age, and sexual orientation is meant to ensure that the individuals can respond more openly to the questionnaires.

I still have several remaining doubts and questions about the structure of these focus groups, particularly concerning the LGBT groupings. While the decision to include LGBT voices is sound, the grouping of all individuals falling under the very wide umbrella of LGBT (that is, individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual) strikes me as a somewhat dubious grouping. The commonality among these diverse groups is simply that none of them are heterosexual, but beyond that, there are glaring points of contrast that beg more attention before this research can be carried out. Why should it be assumed that a 26-year-old lesbian woman shares even the slightest bit of common experience with a 60-year-old transsexual male? Although I have no background on the expressions of sexuality in Brazilian culture other than my own observations and experiences, I would imagine that these two individuals have very little shared experience and thus it does not make a lot of sense to group them together. I aim to bring up this concern at the next meeting or whenever I find it appropriate.

I have a further concern over the LINEA initiative at this moment, related to the initiative’s approach to defining the term “sexual exploitation”. The research proposal states that “it is important to note that for the purpose of this study, researchers will not “predefine” the notion of sexual exploitation or what constitutes SECA practices and/or violence. Rather, researchers will allows respondents to define for themselves what they consider this to be (these conceptions and the surrounding norms will constitute part of the analysis).”[1] The idea behind the decision not to predefine SECA is that we will gain more knowledge about what practices or traditions are or are not viewed to be exploitative by favela residents. However, in lacking a predefined concept of SECA, we forgo a frame of reference for comparing residents’ perceptions with the actual definitions of SECA as defined by international consensus. Without a firm framework in place to draw the line between what is and is not sexual exploitation, I question whether we will actually be able to effect strong and lasting change in regards to the social norms that perpetuate these practices.


[1] LINEA project proposal.

First Team Workshop on LINEA Research


Last Thursday and Friday, Promundo staff held a workshop to elaborate on the upcoming research initiative and the methodological instruments to accompany it. This workshop was attended by the Promundo staff involved in the upcoming project, as well as outside researchers and professionals specializing in topics related to the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents (SECA). The two-day meeting series acquainted me with Promundo staff and gave me a clear idea of the NGO’s upcoming research initiative.

The upcoming project will be sustained over a timeline of approximately two and a half years, and is a joint project hosted by Promundo and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Together, the two institutions have secured funds from the Oak Foundation, an international philanthropy organization that funds various causes related to human rights and social justice.[1] The project will be based in the Learning Initiative on Norms, Exploitation and Abuse (LINEA) developed by the Gender Violence and Health Center at LSHTM. This center developed LINEA in 2014 in order to better explore “how social norm theory can be used to reduce child sexual exploitation and abuse” of children and adolescents.[2] In order to contribute knowledge to this field, LINEA has been applied to numerous research initiatives, which have included partnerships with outside NGOs. In this case, LINEA frameworks of approach will be applied to Promundo’s work in favelas in order to take a social norms approach to the problem of SECA in these communities. Below, I will further explain social norms theory, as well as its applications to the current research project on SECA.


Social Norms Theory

It was in the workshop that I gleaned the full details about the upcoming project on SECA that will be undertaken over the coming months. Rather than a focus on human trafficking as I had originally anticipated, the project will instead center around social norms and how these norms influence rates of SECA in favelas. Before beginning to elaborate on the questions, it is necessary to understand what is meant by a social norm and how they are applied to questions of SECA through the LINEA framework.

Social norms are largely unspoken rules that govern individual behavior and dictate how individuals comport themselves in their own social context.[3] Social norms can be understood as the underlying structure of LINEA, which is ultimately an initiative to assess SECA through a social norm lens. I will now briefly entertain a discussion on social norms theory, beginning with a distinction between descriptive and injunctive norms.

Social norms can be distinguished into two categories: those are descriptive norms and injunctive norms. Each type of norm can be defined as a set of expectations that dictates how humans behave in a certain situation. The first of these, descriptive norms, delineate an individual’s expectations for the behavior of others around them. A descriptive norm describes the expectations set by the individual on the behavior of other people. Individuals use descriptive norms to coordinate their behavior with that of others around them, not out of fear of negative social sanctions resulting from deviations but rather because of a natural preference to coordinate with the choices of others. For example, when on the subway in a foreign city, a foreigner follows the other people disembarking from the train in order to find the exit. She does not do this out of anticipation of negative social consequences were she to go the other way, but rather out of an expectation that the other people around her know best how to find the exit. In this example, walking in a particular direction is a descriptive norm—it is what everyone is doing.

The second type of social norms, injunctive norms, describe an individual’s expectations about what they are expected to do in a particular social situation. These norms motivate the actions of individuals through the promise of social rewards like acceptance, praise and collaboration. By contrast, when individuals do not obey these social norms they encounter sanctions of a negative nature: social ostracization, disapproval and even violence against them. Both positive and negative sanctions reinforce social norms and provide a collectively imposed regulatory framework which maintains order in a group. Often times injunctive social norms cause an individual to act outside of their own self-interest for the sake of group coordination and resulting joint gain. An example of this would be norm of reciprocity that compels people in a community to share their food with others. Acting from pure self-interest alone, an individual would have no motivation to share food with anyone else. However, the existence of this injunctive norm provides strong motivation to share food, because a failure to comply will result in negative social sanctions such as community disapproval.[4] To summarize, if descriptive norms can be thought of as describing “what is”, then injunctive norms could be thought to describe “what ought”.[5]


Social Norms Theory applied to FGM and SECA

Ben Cislaghi, a lecturer at LSHTM and former Director of Research at the NGO Tostan, led a discussion at the outset of the workshop on social norms and how they shape harmful community practices. Ben presented his previous work in LINEA methods as applied to female genital mutilation (FGM) in communities in Senegal, and explained the application of social norm theory to this issue. In communities that practice FGM, the practice is a necessary prerequisite for the marriageability of a girl. Thus, a family’s failure to cut their daughter would not only bring social shame upon the girl by making her ineligible for marriage, but also would cause negative externalities for the entire family: they would all encounter outside disapproval for failing to give their daughter the opportunity to find a husband. Out of fear of negative social sanctions from others around them, each individual family conforms to the perceived expectation to cut their daughters and ensure marriageability. Thus, FGM is a socially embedded norm and its practice is sustained by continuous social expectations that each individual family must comply, or risk ostracization by the community.[6] FGM as a whole cannot be halted by one family’s decision to not cut their daughter, for this would bring social shame upon the individual and the larger practice would be unaffected. Instead, FGM can only be eradicated on a community-wide basis and tackled from the ground up, rather than having change imposed down from a higher authority. Through community-based action and dialogue, the Senegal-based NGO Tostan has made tremendous progress in eradicating FGM among entire communities and networks.

Much in the same way as social norms are a root cause of FGM, they are also increasingly studied as a contributing factor to trends of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in favelas around Rio de Janeiro. The Oak Foundation has identified several key areas of focus that may be influenced by social norms:

  1. What norms sustain sexual abuse/violence in a specific context
  2. The presence of competing norms, for example those that priorities family harmony over an individual’s rights to protection
  3. Gender norms and patterns of socialization that effect risks of both victimization and perpetration
  4. The effect of the sexualization of children
  5. The compound impact of age, gender and other power determinants
  6. Identifying divergent views and whose views are dominant on which issue and why[7]

By applying social norm theory to the issue of SECA, the researchers at Promundo, as well as other professionals involved in LINEA, hope to understand what different social norms present in favelas may both cause and prevent the phenomenon of SECA. They also hope to address the rooted social causes of SECA rather than the fallout after exploitation has transpired.

The eventual goal of the LINEA research is to provide not only a more comprehensive understanding of the drivers of SECA, but also influence policy and campaigns to end the practice. A social norms approach to SECA is an example of a primary prevention. This term describes a preemptive approach to SECA, in which actors focus on preventing future violence against children and adolescents on the community level. This contrasts with secondary prevention and tertiary prevention approaches, which are more concerned with the retroactive aid and treatment of children and adolescents who have already become victims of SECA. Through a preemptive approach, LINEA frameworks aim to refocus services and efforts towards what can be done to alter the social norms that perpetuate the problem of SECA.[6] Rather than changing social norms outright from a top-down approach, Mr. Cislaghi stressed the importance of facilitating a ground-up process whereby individuals are given agency to sculpt new norms in order to better meet their own needs. From this approach, tackling social norms that cause or relate to SECA involves working with community members outright to reverse social norms related to the exploitation of children and adolescents. In another blog post, I will further detail the social norms that are under scrutiny by Promundo’s LINEA research, as well as assess the implications of these social norms for issues related to SECA.


Works Cited

[1] “Oak Foundation,” accessed July 12, 2016,

[2] “Learning Initiative on Norms, Exploitation and Abuse (LINEA),” accessed July 4, 2016,

[3] Cristina Bicchieri and Ryan Muldoon, “Social Norms,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, Spring 2014, 2014,

[4] Cristina Bicchieri, The Grammar of Society : The Nature and Dynamics of Social Norms (New York : Cambridge University Press, 2006., 2006),


[6] Cristina Bicchieri, “Female Genital Mutilation: Fundamentals, Social Expectations and Change,” n.d.,

[7] Warburton, J. Reducing the Risk of the Sexual Exploitation of Children. Oak Foundation. May 2014.



Original Research Proposal

Bom dia!

Firstly, I have a major update regarding my project timeline: although my original projected schedule for the Human Rights Fellowship had me beginning at Promundo at the end of July, unforeseen circumstances led to me changing my schedule and beginning the fellowship last week instead. The change was largely a result of my initial meeting with Linda, a Promundo Program Officer and leader of the new LINEA research initiative (I will elaborate much further on this project in a following post). Even though Promundo’s field work will not be commencing until September, there will be plenty of preparation work in the months between then and now, including formulating the qualitative and quantitative instruments necessary to conduct effective research. Thus I will be starting my project on sexual exploitation of children and adolescents this month rather than next.

Although following posts will summarize the initial workshop from last week as well as Promundo’s research designs for the coming months, I thought it might be beneficial to post my original research outline as written before beginning the fellowship, in order to have a record of my starting point. It should be noted that many of the proposed research directions in this document are already under revision as I learn more about Promundo’s LINEA initiative, and will only change more drastically as I move forward. That being said, here is my original project proposal for the Human Rights Fellowship, including an outline of my research questions, methodologies, and project goals.

Project Proposal

I. Project Objectives

As a recipient of the University of California Human Rights Fellowship, I will plan and conduct a research project evaluating the institutional response to human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children in the urban context of Rio de Janeiro. Working in partnership with Promundo, a Brazilian non-profit organization (NGO) dedicated to promoting gender justice across the world, I will learn more about the activities of actors in the field of gender issues and assemble a final project based on my findings. Promundo is involved in a number of initiatives related to gender inequality, violence against women, and female empowerment: these include research, hands-on community programs, advocacy work, and informational campaigns to engage women and men in partnerships that reverse norms of gender inequality in the nation of Brazil. While Promundo conducts programs over a wide scope of issues, I will focus mainly on one aspect of its work; namely, the sexual exploitation of women, adolescents, and children. I will analyze the NGO’s efforts to assess and prevent the exploitation of these vulnerable groups, particularly in the context of the upcoming Olympics, which may catalyze an increase in rates of trafficking of these groups. Because of the NGO’s engagement with a wide variety of gender-related topics, I will also gain broad insight into the root causes of gender inequalities in Brazil that create biases against women and girls, and use this knowledge to contextualize the problem of sexual exploitation of women and children within a larger framework of gender inequality.

By partaking in this fellowship, I hope to learn more about the complex issues surrounding gender and sexual exploitation of women, children, and adolescents in Brazil. In addition to evaluating the response of NGOs to this problem, I also hope to pursue several lines of research related to the topic itself: the first is factors of vulnerability that influence women and adolescents to initially become involved in the sex industry (including both prostitution and sex trafficking). These factors include long-standing cultural paradigms of machismo that restrict and repress women’s social and economic opportunities, as well as racial perceptions, geographic location, economic hardship, and of course the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which many researchers predict will prompt an increase in human trafficking in touristic cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. This fellowship presents the opportunity for an assessment of paradigms of oppression and vulnerability in Brazil, and in turn how these factors contribute to human trafficking. I hope to gain and disseminate knowledge on the causational factors that influence the sex industry and put individuals in traumatic situations of sexual exploitation, as well as the response of NGOs and other actors to the problem.


II. Related Promundo Programs

I intend for my work with Promundo to focus on several of the NGO’s programs, especially its numerous research initiatives. Perhaps the most relevant research project that will relate to my objectives is the upcoming Promundo initiative set to commence in August 2016, which will gather data on the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in Rio de Janeiro. This project will allow for the collection of new knowledge about prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation of adolescents and children in the urban context of Brazil, which is well suited to the focus of the Human Trafficking Fellowship. More details about this initiative will be revealed as the project develops and communication continues with Promundo.

Another research initiative of focus is the 2014 campaign “It’s not just fun, it’s exploitation” that was targeted at awareness of the sexual exploitation of adolescents in the lead-up to the World Cup. This campaign, aimed at tourists and Brazilians alike, raised awareness about the commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents across Brazil’s host cities as international tourism surged during the Cup. By researching this program’s implementation, target goals, and successes, I will glean knowledge about Promundo’s efforts to raise awareness and prevent sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. The program was also tied to numerous Child and Adolescent Protection centers in cities around the nation, connections that I will explore further in my research of the links between different actors involved in preventing sex trafficking.

Another related research project that relates to my developing project is the 2011 IMAGES survey conducted across multiple countries that measured men’s attitudes towards a range of topics associated with gender relations. One section of this report examines prevalent attitudes towards transactional sex and the women engaged in sex work. The survey reveals conflicting attitudes towards the practice of sex work in Brazil; on one hand, men report that sex work is an immoral practice that violates the rights of women, but on the other hand they believe that women choose to engage in the practice, even those who are under 18. By working with an NGO conducting research on these issues, I will have access to valuable knowledge to assemble my project on human trafficking in Brazil.

In addition to research, I am also interested in studying Promundo’s community action initiatives, in particular Violence-Free Childhood, Program H, and Program M. In these campaigns, Promundo actively promotes awareness of issues related to violence, discrimination, and harmful gender norms through direct engagement with citizens. Observing these workshops and advocacy campaigns will give me a window into Promundo’s on-the-ground advocacy work, another aspect of the NGO’s response to problems associated with gender rights and preventing exploitation of women and children.


III. Methodology

I will volunteer and conduct research with Promundo over a six to ten-week period spanning August-September 2016. This time period corresponds to the 2016 Olympics and a new research initiative being launched by the NGO on the sexual exploitation of adolescents in the city. During my partnership with Promundo, I will attempt to develop a nuanced understanding of the organization and the structures underlying the NGO’s approach to the topic of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, as well as broader questions of gender justice. This entails regular attendance at the headquarters of the organization, as well as accompanying project coordinators and researchers on site visits, field work, and data collection whenever appropriate. I also hope to be present and assist in community workshops whenever it is appropriate in order to enhance my understanding of the NGO’s activities with community groups. Finally, I will conduct interviews of program officials, researchers, and participants in Promundo’s programs, if and when it is appropriate and not harmful to the subjects. These interviews will allow me to collect information about the effects of Promundo upon its target audience, as well as the observations of coordinators and administrators regarding the NGO’s programs. Throughout my time studying Promundo’s response to problems of sexual exploitation, I will also serve as a volunteer in any respect that I can help the NGO conduct its initiatives. This can include writing reports, assisting in communications, documenting initiatives with photography, and aiding in data collection, interviews, or other field work. I have taken over two years of Portuguese language classes at UC Berkeley and have visited Brazil one previous occasion; thus my spoken and written Portuguese currently stands at working proficiency. My abilities will further improve once I am in Brazil and gain comfort conversing with native speakers.


IV. Project Results and Goals

Through my research on Promundo’s activities in the field of sexual exploitation and gender-based violence, I will assemble a report on the efforts being made to combat gender-based violence and halt the sexual exploitation of women and girls. Upon my return to the United States, I will write an op-ed or create an advocacy video that will share my knowledge gathered from the field, as well as publicize Promundo and advocate its work in the areas of sexual exploitation and gender justice to an international audience. I will present my findings at a conference attended by other fellows and officials from the UC Human Rights Center, in which I will discuss my topic of focus and the results of my partnership with Promundo. Furthermore, throughout my time in Rio de Janeiro I will maintain a blog documenting my work with Promundo and my experiences in the field, which will allow for regular updates and news to be disseminated to a wide audience. The UC Human Rights Fellowship will be a chance to publicize the valuable work of Promundo on issues of gender equality, as well as an opportunity for research about NGO responses to sexual exploitation of women and children.


Oi gente!

My name is Suzanne and I am a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, with a Bachelor’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies. I am interested in international affairs, human rights, urban studies, and sustainable development, with a particular emphasis on topics in Latin America.

This year I was awarded the 2016 Human Rights Center Fellowship of the University of California to execute a project centered on human trafficking in Brazil, and specifically the commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents (CSECA) in Rio de Janeiro. I will be working on my project through the months of August and September in partnership with the non-governmental organization (NGO) Promundo. Promundo is a Brazilian NGO dedicated to promoting gender equality and the rights of women and children in countries around the world. To this end, the organization has launched several research initiatives and programs related to CSECA in Rio, and I will be examining these initiatives as part of a project aimed at analyzing the non-profit sector’s response to the problem of sex trafficking. This project will include close work with the NGO Promundo as well as other actors involved in efforts against CSECA, including shelters for victims, academics, and politicians. Through this research, I hope to shed light on what is being done to combat the issue of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, as well as what remains left to do. I also hope to contribute knowledge about the nature of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Rio de Janeiro, including the factors of vulnerability that create victims, as well as the impact of the upcoming Olympic Games upon the problem.

I will be keeping a blog over the next three months to chronicle my time spent in the city of Rio de Janeiro and my travels around Brazil. The purpose of this blog is twofold: the first is to give updates on my work with Promundo and on the project I have outlined. To this end, I will be posting regular updates about the progress I am making, the questions I still face, and the methodologies that I practice. I will also record the activities of the NGO Promundo during this time, including its numerous programs around Rio de Janeiro, with which I will hopefully assist.

The second purpose of this blog is separate from the fellowship, and is a project aimed at capturing Brazilian citizens’ perspectives on the upcoming Olympic Games. The project was conceived as part of a larger curiosity towards the attitudes of Brazilian citizens towards their nation’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. While in Rio during the first of these two major international sporting events, I witnessed the aggravation and anger of many Brazilians in reaction to their country’s decision to host an expensive and politically unsound event like the World Cup. Now, upon my return to Rio, I wish to capture these sentiments for an international audience, this time as they pertain to the Olympic Games. Through a series of short interviews with Brazilian individuals, I hope to give voice to the citizen to express their unabridged opinions about the controversial event.