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Saturday, December 7, 2013
- Sexual violence against women is alarmingly under-reported and invisible in Brazil where, for example, there are no accurate, comparable data on rape in the country’s 27 states.
“We are on red alert, we are going to complain and demand changes from the authorities. We are also dissatisfied with the differential treatment given to victims from lower income classes,” Eleuteria da Silva, the coordinator of Casa da Mulher Trabalhadora (CAMTRA), a women’s organisation in the state of Rio de Janeiro, told IPS.
In her view, national and state public policies for preventing and combating sexual crimes are ineffective, and measures to protect victims are equally inefficient.
“The problem is both circumstantial and chronic. Policies do exist, but they are ineffective. They are insufficient to deal with the needs, even given the extent of under-reporting,” said Silva, who is a member of the State Forum against Violence against Women, which groups 30 organisations.
On Jun. 4, the state of Rio de Janeiro passed Law 6,457 creating an integrated information and monitoring system on violence against women called “Observa Mulher”, state congresswoman Inês Pandeló of the governing leftwing Workers’ Party (PT), who drafted the bill, told IPS.
The bill establishes concerted actions in the state’s 92 municipalities, creating a system that organises and analyses data on violence against women, in which bodies that help women victims of abuse, including sexual assault, also participate.
“Dossiê Mulher” (Women’s Dossier), a report compiled by the Institute of Public Security (ISP) in Rio de Janeiro, says sexual assault accounts for the largest proportion of all forms of violence against women in this southeastern Brazilian state.
Last year, 6,029 rapes were committed in the state, and 4,993 of the victims were women. This represented a 24 percent increase in the number of women raped compared to 2011.
On average, 416 women a month were raped in 2012. The ISP said the rate of rape in the state is 37 per 100,000 population for victims of both sexes.
However, this figure cannot be compared with national statistics because precise and standardised information in the other states is lacking. But Silva, Pandeló and other women’s rights activists believe it is indicative of the overall situation when it comes to sexual violence in this country of 198 million people.
“It is a huge figure, nearly 5,000 cases of women raped in Rio, when one alone would be an outrage. Society cannot tolerate this state of affairs, which is the result of repressive, sexist, patriarchal, machista and racist education,” Silva complained.
High-profile incidents of rape on public transport in Rio de Janeiro, in a hospital, and of under-age girls have alarmed public opinion.
This month a nursing assistant was accused of raping two patients in the intensive care unit of a private hospital. He could be sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In May, the surveillance camera on a bus captured images of a 16-year-old teenager with a gun who raped a passenger while the bus was in motion. He was under the influence of cocaine, and according to Brazilian law, as he is under age, his maximum sentence will be three years in a reformatory and community service.
The civil police reported that in the first four months of 2013 there were 1,822 rapes committed in the state, while only 70 persons were arrested for these crimes.
The victims are generally women between the ages of 20 and 30, mainly black, and coming from any social class.
“An assault of this kind can destroy a woman’s life. She becomes terrified and fearful of leaving the house. Often she feels guilty and ashamed, so many women do not report being raped, especially as they know the extent of existing impunity,” Silva said.
Victims of sexual violence are often revictimised when they lodge their complaint at the police station and when they undergo a physical exam at the forensic medicine institute (IML) to provide the necessary physical evidence. “It is humiliating,” Silva said.
State congresswoman Pandeló recognised that protection for rape victims is precarious in the initial stages.
“The woman is revictimised and her body probed. There is already a national decree to collect physical evidence at private and public hospitals. There is political will, but it must be made effective,” she said.
“It is infuriating to see these statistics in the 21st century. It’s terrifying. People imagine that human thinking processes are evolving towards accepting that we are all equal, but the fact is a machista culture persists. Violence exists, and it is important to report it in order to help the formulation of public policies,” she said.
In Brazil, only the state of Rio de Janeiro has instituted an annual survey of cases of violence against women.
That is why, Pandeló said, it is not possible to compare figures for Rio de Janeiro with those for the other 26 states, “nor our national figures with other countries.”
Pandeló was recently elected Women’s Secretary of the National Union of State Legislatures and Legislators (UNALE), and from this position she plans to work to extend the annual survey to every state.
But CAMTRA’s Silva said that institutions for the care of women in the state of Rio operate inadequately.
She pointed out that there are very few specialised women’s centres providing legal and psychological support for victims of violence in the municipalities of the state.
There are only 30 shelters for women victims of violence, while there are 92 municipalities in the state.
There is one national centre for women victims of gender violence, a 24-hour helpline (dial 180) and special women’s police stations in states and municipalities.
In spite of the number of official organisations devoted to women’s rights, activists like Silva do not expect short-term improvements in the concrete support offered to victims of violence and particularly of sexual assault.
“In general, these bodies do not dialogue with each other; none of them is aware of what the others are doing,” she said.