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It's the Fourth of July in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil has just beat Colombia to advance to the World Cup quarterfinals and my neighborhood bar erupts in celebration and cachaca shots. Above the noise I hear my flip phone vibrate and answer an unrecognized number. I can't take this anymore. I am going to try to see the police tonight and sort this out. I need to go home and get back to my life. I take a sharp breath in. The police are the same people who got Isabel into this whole mess.
She's been on the run ever since , with the clothes she had on the day of the raid; no ID, no money, and nowhere to go. Through a chance encounter with a sex worker rights activist I met during the World Cup, I found myself face-to-face with Isabel last week, while the razor cuts her kidnappers had made on her arms and neck were still healing. I gave her my number and told her to let me know if she needed anything. But now it's been two weeks on the run, moving between safe houses, relying on others for cash and ill-fitting hand-me-downs, the pressure mounting to pay her late bills and her son's private school tuition, and no end in sight.
She can't get any sleep, can't keep her food down, and tonight she sounds like she's at her breaking point. Some apartment where the dog is shitting all over everything. I tell her I think it's a horrible idea, but she's an independent woman and can do whatever she wants.
I ask her if I could go with her, wherever she wants to go, and she says she'll wait for me to get there. She doesn't know the address but tells me a nearby reference point. A half hour later I meet her on the street and ask where she wants to go, hoping it's anywhere but the police station. My head is exploding.
Two police bring a young teenager in — a skinny black boy with no shoes and handcuffs, sandwiched between two adults armed with rifles. They wait. We wait. Are Rio's world cup sex worker raids real or just for show? Isabel is a woman from Rio in her mid-twenties and a mother. Isabel is one of some four hundred sex workers who rent out 85 small apartments and service clients during the building's business hours.