Demonstrators protest the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Rio
RIO DE JANEIRO — A woman is raped in Brazil every 11 minutes but that shocking number may be inaccurate, as victims are often too afraid to report sexual crimes to a “macho” police force, as was the case with a teenage girl believed to have been raped by about 30 men in Rio de Janeiro this month.
According to a study by the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA), 527,000 women in Brazil, just over one in every 200, have been victims of some form of sexual violence.
On May 21, a 16-year-old girl was raped by about 30 men in a shantytown in Rio de Janeiro. Images of the victim were later posted on social networks Twitter and WhatsApp accompanied by a string of misogynistic comments and a multitude of “likes,” provoking both domestic and international condemnation.
The attack has shocked Brazilians and shone a spotlight on the endemic problem of violence against women in the region’s most populous nation with just over two months to go until Latin America’s first Olympic Games kicks off in the popular tourist city.
Rio has long-carried the stigma of police violence and the “macho” way its officers treat women, as was demonstrated in the investigation into the gang rape that took place near the well-known shantytown of City of God.
Possibly ‘every 60 seconds’
The latest data on gender violence in the country was published yesterday, drawn from statistics recorded in 2013 by the respected IPEA, which is dependent on federal government funding.
However, the actual numbers “are undoubtedly much higher than just those who come to police stations,” prosecutor María Gabriela Prado Mansur, a gender violence specialist from the São Paulo Attorney General’s Office, said yesterday.
“If every sexual assault was recorded it would lead to figures showing that in Brazil such a crime happens every 60 seconds,” Prado Mansur asserted.
“Women feel put off reporting the crime because of society’s prejudice and even that of the authorities, and they end up not making the complaint,” the specialist added.
Rio lawyer Eloísa Samy agreed with Prado Mansur’s opinion, adding that the police’s attitude is “macho” and hostile toward the victims.
Samy was the lawyer originally representing the raped girl who eventually reported the crime to police after the video hit social media two days after the incident.
She has had to leave her home in a poor neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro, and move into protective custody after receiving death threats.
“I can not leave my house for anything, on my Facebook there are 900,000 messages from people saying that if I enter a favela they will kill me,” she said in an interview yesterday.
When asked what she wishes for the men who attacked her: “Sincerely, a daughter.” said the girl, before describing some moments she remembered from the crime.
“I had a man under me, one above and another holding me down” while she was humiliated with insults like “spider, tramp” she recounted.
Police investigating the rape said yesterday that they have no doubt the assault happened but that tests on the 16-year-old victim were done too late to provide conclusive evidence.
Two men, including a man investigators have said may have been her boyfriend, have been arrested in connection with the crime and four others sought by police are still on the loose. The men arrested were identified as Raí de Souza, 22, and Lucas Perdomo Duarte Santos, 20, a local professional football player. Four suspects are still at large.
Rio police chief Fernando Veloso said the rape kit tests were done five days after the incident, well beyond the recommended 72-hour window.
“We did not collect evidence of violence, but this does not mean that there was no violence,” said Veloso.
Veloso said police believe the gang rape happened because at least three men were involved in the video. However, they were not able to determine how many people participated in total, he said. The girl has testified there were 33 men.
“The footage shows more than one voice, there is an account of the rape performed earlier. One of the men touches the teenager, who looks unconscious. That act alone is rape and it is in the footage. If the footage is true, and it looks to be true, there is no doubt it was rape,” Veloso said at a press conference.
In an interview broadcast on Globo television on Sunday night, the girl condemned the behaviour of police commissioner Alessandro Thiers, over his questioning of her.
“The commissioner himself blamed me, I did not feel comfortable at any time during the interrogation, I think that’s why women do not make allegations” of rape, she said.
“It was horrible what happened in the station, he asked me why I was in that place, blamed me for things I did not do, asked if I had group sex,” the girl said.
Veloso also said Theirs had been replaced for allegedly not taking the victim’s account seriously. The male investigator was replaced by a female investigator, he said.
Cristiane Bento, police inspector in charge of the case, also said the video published on social media is enough for police to charge as an accessory a drug trafficker who controls the shantytown. Many of Brazil’s shantytowns, known as favelas, are controlled by armed drug traffickers.
Many victims of rape “don’t say anything because they are afraid of the traffickers,” Bento said.
The attack has struck a nerve in Brazil, a conservative, majority Roman Catholic nation of 200 million people.
A study by the Brazilian Center for Latin American Studies found that between 1980 and 2010, more than 92,000 women were killed in crimes related to gender, involving incidents from rape to domestic abuse.
Last year, Congress passed legislation to increase the punishment for violent crimes against women.
Advocates say changes in the law need to go hand-in-hand with changes in mentality.
“Brazilian culture is very sexist and rape is part of that culture even if as a society we deny it,” said Luise Bello from the women’s advocacy group Think Olga. “Rape is not rare in Brazil, but what is really shocking is the fact that more than 30 men raped a minor, filmed it and then shared the images on the internet.”
Federal prosecutors opened another investigation yesterday into those sharing the video of the 16-year-old gang rape victim.
Prosecutors Daniel Prazeres and Paulo Gomes Ferreira Filho said the crime is “transnational” since the video was broadcast on social networks.
Even those not involved in the rape, but who shared the images, can be found guilty of commiting an offence, they said.
“This is a federal jurisdiction crime. Brazil signed the Convention on the Rights of Children, which provides for combatting child pornography. The law punishes, with a sentence of three to six years of imprisonment, the offering, exchange, making available, transmission, distributution, publishing or disclosure of photography, video or other records that contain explicit sex scenes or pornography involving children or adolescents,” Prazeres said.
— Herald with AP, Reuters, online sources