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Selective Morality in Legal Discourse: Child Prostitution and the Reinforcement of Cultural Bias in Bahia, Brazil

Jenkins, Brittany Michelle

In response to a 2012 controversial ruling by Brazil’s highest criminal court, the Superior Tribunal de Justiça, the UN Human Rights Office for South America released the following statement: “According to international jurisprudence, cases of sexual abuse should not consider the sexual life of the victim in order to determine the existence of an offense.” Considering the victim’s sexual life suggests that child prostitutes have control over their decisions, an assertion that ignores the repressive violence used by pimps and customers. However, even in cases where a court rules in favor of the victim, if their legal rhetoric denigrates the child on the basis of gender and/or class, the court overtly reinforces prejudices that imply some degree of guilt. In contributing to literature analyzing the power of legal discourse, the main purpose of this work is to show how Brazilian cultural norms of sex, gender, and class directly influence the way in which the Tribunal de Justiça da Bahia engages with child prostitution cases in its quest to uphold morality. Chapter one introduces the topic and contextualizes child prostitution in Bahia. Chapter two reviews child prostitution cases from 2005-present, analyzing the court’s self-projected role as the protector of social order. Chapter three shows that in their quest to uphold morality, the court unequally characterizes child prostitutes by invoking cultural stereotypes that perpetuate gender inequality in the legal system. The conclusion discusses how the power of jurisgenesis impacts selective morality, changing the way we as scholars should study the relationship between social inequality and the law.

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Institute of Latin American Studies
Published Here
June 13, 2013