Sapeacu, Brazil (CNN) – Shopkeepers and school children in this remote Brazilian farming town giggle and point when Rebecca Bernardo pedals by on her rusty red bicycle.
The unwanted attention started a few months ago when the Brazilian high school student posted a video on YouTube.
Wearing a sleeveless pink top and standing next to a mirror showing her profile as she speaks, Bernardo announces to the camera, “Hi, my name is Rebecca. I’m here to auction off my virginity.”
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Bernardo told CNN she made the offer because she was desperate to help her ailing mother. She heard about Catarina Migliorini, a Brazilian woman who reportedly sold her virginity for $780,000 on an Australian website seeking virgins. Migliorini has reportedly yet to finalize the deal and receive the money, and Brazil is reportedly investigating whether the website should be charged with human trafficking. Nevertheless, Migliorini has received widespread publicity and modeling contracts — including a spread in Brazil’s version of Playboy magazine.
“I made up my mind right after my 18th birthday,” Bernardo said in an interview with CNN last month in her small, one-bedroom house. “That’s when my mother suffered a stroke.”
The stroke left her mother bed-ridden, unable to feed herself or go to the bathroom alone.
Bernardo said she looked for jobs and tried selling cosmetics and working as a waitress, but without a high school degree, the pay was minimal.
“I would get 150 reais ($75) for working all day, which would just pay the salary of someone to stay with my mother,” she said, after patiently feeding her mother a plate of reheated spaghetti.
“There comes a time when you have to make decisions to get what you want. You have to be strong.”
About a month ago, she said she used a friend’s YouTube account to post the video of her offer, which she said got 3,000 hits on the first day.
YouTube has taken the post down and the account associated with it “due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement,” although it has been widely reposted on the video sharing site.
There are questions surrounding the authenticity of Bernardo’s altruism. A Brazilian TV network offered to pay for her mother’s medical expenses if Bernardo called off the auction. While she initially accepted the offer during a television interview, she later rejected it because the network would not pay for a house in a different town where she could “start a new life.”
There are also questions about whether her offer to auction off her virginity is just a ploy to attract media attention that could lead to lucrative deals.
In October, Bernardo posted a YouTube video auditioning for the next installment of the Brazilian version of “Big Brother,” which offers a $500,000 prize to the last housemate left on the show.
In the video, she talks about her hobbies and says that if she wins, she will use the money to help her ailing mother.
She later told TV Globo, which produces the Brazilian version of the show, that she hasn’t registered to be a contestant.
Bernardo said she has received several bids for her virginity — the highest one for 70,000 reais, or $35,000. Prostitution is legal in Brazil.
Bernardo’s video initially set off a firestorm in her hometown, echoing across the country.
“When she started the auction, people in the street threw coins at her when she went by,” said a local mechanic. “But I never looked at her differently.”
Today, attitudes in Sapeacu are shifting, thanks in part to the national attention her story is getting. Her neighbors seemed largely sympathetic, noting that Bernardo’s only sister died young and that she never knew her father.
“She had no one to go to, no one to help, so this is the only solution she found,” said one neighbor.
“Everyone has the right to decide what to do with their own body, even if that’s not the choice I would make,” said another.
But her mother, speaking with difficulty from her bed with her daughter sitting beside her, said she is devastated.
“It’s wrong, it’s wrong!” she said. “She should look for work, she shouldn’t prostitute herself.”
Yet, as her mother’s sole caregiver, Bernardo insists she has few options.
“It’s a lot of responsibility to face alone,” she said, wiping away tears. “I’m not really prepared.”