Thirteen years ago, I was in a small Brazilian town called Montes Claros, in the north of Minas Gerais state, investigating reports of an auction of virgin girls.
It was then that I came across the name of Joel Cruz, the then mayor of a nearby town, Taiobeiras.
He was among a number of wealthy landowners and politicians who had bidded for a 12-year-old virgin girl in an auction organised by a local woman pimp.
A 16-year-old girl, who the woman had used to help her organise the auction, and who had given me the names, even showed me his number on her mobile phone. He was a regular buyer of young girls, she said.
The next day I travelled to Taiobeiras and talked with the public prosecutor, who told me that Cruz was already being investigated over other alleged involvement in a paedophile ring in the town. I also went personally to the state capital Belo Horizonte’s special prosecution service for crimes committed by mayors to report the case, deliver my evidence and urge them to take action.
Of course, no action was ever taken. As we at Meninadança have often painfully had to learn, Brazil’s corrupt justice system so often leans on the side of those with power or influence, and hardly ever with the poor and powerless, however horrendous the crime.
We learned this week that Cruz was actually declared innocent by a judge, after the girls who had testified about the abuse they had suffered were forced to detract their statements.
Thirteen years later, however, we are left outraged at how this powerful man was allowed to offend again and again, in impunity, undoubtedly destroying countless other young lives.
Last week, two young sisters living in Taiobeiras, aged ten and 12, courageously came forward to tell how their mother would sell them to men for money, drugging them so they would be able to cope with sleeping with eight men a night. One of those men was Joel Cruz, the ex-mayor still living freely in the town.
After that, another girl told how she was also being taken by her own mother to Cruz’s house. She was also ten, and she would go with her five-year-old sister and other children. And we understand that there are many other victims.
The two mothers of the girls are in jail. Cruz has run away and is in hiding. Like last time, he believes that he will be able to hide for long enough for the time to run out on the police investigation, and then be able to continue his life as normal.
Taiobeiras is situated in the same Jequitinhonha Valley region of Brazil as Medina. This is the climate of abuse and acceptance of abuse in which Meninadança works every day. It is why we exist and what we are fighting against.
And now we need your help to make sure Joel Cruz is tracked down and finally brought to justice. The town’s public prosecutor told us this week that she is confident the case against him will lead to him being found guilty – as long as police do their job and find and arrest him.
So please take a few minutes to write a letter or postcard to the authorities responsible for investigating this case, urging them to step up their efforts to find this man and bring him to face justice – the least his young victims deserve.
We want hundreds of letters from around the world to arrive at the mailbox of the town’s civil police station, reminding them that many people are following this case and prepared to make their voices heard. Meninadança in Brazil will also be mobilising the Brazilian press and launching a campaign to find him, along with a cash reward for information leading to his capture.
It’s so easy to make a difference. Below are the three steps you need to add your voice to what we hope will be a loud clamour for justice.
Thank you for standing with us in this fight,
1. Copy this text onto a letter or postcard:
Exmo Dr. Alessandro da Silva Lopes,
Eu, (Your Name), tenho acompanhado as notícias sobre o suposto envolvimento do Sr. Joel Cruz, ex-prefeito de Taiobeiras, em crimes de pedofilia, bem como, sua condição de foragido.
Ansioso em ver a justiça sendo feita, juntamente com outros pelo mundo, pedimos empenho em encontrá-lo para que as autoridades possam proceder com o julgamento.
[Your Address (optional)]
(Translation: I, (Your Name), have followed the news about the alleged involvement of Joel Cruz, the ex-mayor of Taiobeiras, in crimes of paedophilia, as well as his status of fugitive. Anxious to see justice done, together with others around the world, we ask for an effort to find him so that the authorities can proceed with his trial.)
2. Post your letter or card to:
Delegacia de Policia Civil de Taiobeiras
Rua Bom Jardim, 47
3. Email us at
email@example.com – to let us know you have done it (we are going to mobilise the national press if enough letters are sent).