At 15 years of age, Ana Gabriela was threatened, plied with drugs and forced to sleep with eight men a night in a scandal largely ignored by the authorities
While most Brazilians are getting excited about the approaching World Cup, Ana Gabriela is not one of them.
At just 15, she was threatened, plied with drugs and forced to sleep with eight men a night in a child-prostitution scandal which is gripping the country... but being largely ignored by the authorities.
She would still be trapped in that nightmare today – less than two weeks before thousands of fans arrive for the football contest – if she hadn’t bravely risked her life to make it home.
Ana Gabriela is one of the lucky ones. A Sunday Mirror investigation can reveal how ruthless sex gangs across Brazil are coercing vulnerable children into prostitution in preparation for the World Cup which begins on June 12.
In one remote town in the poor north-eastern state of Bahia authorities told us how they had lost count of the number of young girls who had gone missing from their homes in recent months.
Many are believed to have been trafficked to Salvador, the nearest World Cup host city on the coast.
And in Cuiaba, another match city, police are investigating a crime gang reported to be offering girls as young as 11 up to £4,000 to be “available” for football fans.
In a town near Manaus – where England kick off their campaign against Italy on June 14 – social services are investigating the disappearance of at least eight adolescent girls in just one month.
Recalling her own ordeal, Ana Gabriela said: “It was horrible, disgusting, I just wanted to cry all the time. I got so frightened every time I had to do it, but I was also scared to death about what would happen if I didn’t.”
The teenager left her home town of Uberlandia, in the south-eastern Minas Gerais state, with a couple called Selmo and Jennifer who had befriended her.
She said: “I was having some problems at home, lots of arguments with Mum and Dad.
“I thought I could run away and get away from all their nagging.
“The couple invited me to Rio, where they said I could work at their snack bar on the beach. I believed them.
"I liked them, they treated me like a daughter.”
There she met two other girls, both 17, and it wasn’t long before naive Ana Gabriela’s wide-eyed excitement turned to terror.
She said: “They took us to a building in the middle of a favela (slum), then told us why we were really there – to make money for them by doing prostitution. I said no way, but they said I didn’t have a choice.”
On the second night in Rio the couple took the girls to Copacabana beach, where they were told to sell their bodies for 100 reals (£26) a time and to make at least 700 (£186) each – “or else”.
It was the start of a terrifying nightly ordeal, which sometimes ended well into the next morning if Ana hadn’t made the amount the couple demanded.
When they weren’t “working”, the girls were locked up, sleeping on the floor with no food. Any who complained or tried to leave were beaten up by Selmo, a violent drug dealer wanted by police for several murders.
Ana Gabriela’s “patch” was the promenade in front of Copacabana Palace, Rio’s most luxurious hotel.
She said: “All Selmo would talk about was the World Cup. He thinks it will make him really rich. There were many times I was sure I was about to die.”
After 24 days Ana Gabriela managed to escape and call home. Her mother Alvani, who had been desperately trying to find her, broke down in tears when she heard her daughter’s voice.
But what shocked her most was that the police both in Rio and her own town showed no interest in investigating the case.
Alvani said: “We told them everything that had happened, but they didn’t seem to care.”
And Ana Gabriela’s story is being repeated across the vast country. In another town, 600 miles north of Rio, we heard how gangs are targeting poverty-stricken areas to recruit girls.
Layane, 13, and Vanesa, 14, from Candido Sales in Bahia state, told us how men promised more money than they’d ever seen.
Layane said: “They said they were looking for girls to work during the World Cup. One of my friends has already gone.”
Fabio Dias da Rocha, a children’s councillor, said: “More and more girls are going missing from the town. We hear many reports of men coming here and taking away young girls.”
And in Iranduba, a poor town 10 miles from Manaus, police believe a trafficking gang is preying on girls after numerous families reported their daughters missing – eight disappearances in just 40 days.
In a police report seen by the Sunday Mirror, a 14-year-old girl who made it back said she was promised a job working in a rich family’s house, but ended up being forced to sleep with men in a city centre massage parlour.
She said: “I was told not to try anything, because they were armed and they would kill me.
"There were lots of bedrooms, and I saw other children with adults. They were crying a lot.