Brazil: 'I am with you' - the trans women helping trafficking victims

When Valeria Rodrigues accompanies Brazilian police on dawn raids to rescue transgender women trafficked into prostitution, she goes armed with snacks - chocolate, bread, pieces of fruit.

As a former sex worker herself, the 39-year-old transgender woman knows that the victims they find will be tired and hungry after a night on the streets. She also speaks their language, Pajuba, a mix of Portuguese, Yoruba and other African languages used by transgender Brazilians to communicate without others understanding.

"I decided to speak it to make them more comfortable," Rodrigues told the Thomson Reuters Foundation as she recalled her first police raid last August. "(I said) 'I am with you, I am like you' ... That's when they felt represented."

Rodrigues' participation is part of a new strategy initiated by federal and labor prosecutors of taking transgender workers on raids to help victims and give them the confidence they need to leave their pimps.

LGBT+ rights campaigners say trans women are often distrustful of police and marginalized by society, making them easy prey for abusers. Many are forced from their homes and end up in brothels and boarding houses, working in slave-like conditions. Rescue attempts can be difficult because some fear they will be left homeless or arrested, even though prostitution is not a crime in Brazil.

"If (Rodrigues) wasn't there, the criminal investigation would proceed all the same, but we would not be able to rescue the victims," said federal prosecutor Sabrina Menegario. "To me it's indispensable to have a transgender person as part of the team." Read more via Openly