Suspected gang rape in Brazil: A wake-up call?

Street protests erupted in Brazil after video showing an alleged gang rape of a Brazilian teen surfaced this week. Could this be a catalyst to address the problem with violence against women?

Leo Correa/AP Photo/
A woman holds up a sign that reads in Portuguese "Not to rape" during a protest against the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday. The assault last Saturday came to light after several men joked about the attack online, posting graphic photos and videos of the unconscious, naked teen on Twitter.

Brazilian police announced Friday that they had identified several of the estimated 30 men suspected of involvement in the brutal gang rape of a 16-year-old girl.

Could this tragic event prompt change in Brazil? Already, the political and social outrage is building. Whether it will prompt the kind of reforms seen in India in recent years, remans to be seen.

The Brazilian teen was visiting her boyfriend in the Sao Joao area of Rio de Janeiro when the rape occurred last weekend. Videos and photos posted on social media sites this week made the rape public.

"I want them to await the justice of God. I feel like trash," she later told Brazil’s O Globo paper. "It's the stigma that hurts me the most. It is as if people are saying 'it's her fault. She was using scanty clothes.' I want people to know that it is not the woman's fault. You can't blame a robbery victim, for being robbed."

Some of the photos and videos show the victim unconscious. She told police that she woke the day after the rape in an unfamiliar location.

Although the posting of these graphic images online has been emotionally difficult for the young woman involved, authorities say that they provide important clues as to the identity of the perpetrators.

Within an hour of the images being posted online, Rio’s Public Prosecutor’s office was flooded with hundreds of tips regarding the identity of the suspects. The office now believes it has identified four of the approximately thirty men involved in the attack.

"If these images hadn't been posted, maybe we wouldn't be here right now," said Rio de Janeiro police chief Fernando Veloso.

With greater visibility also comes greater concern about the problem of violence against women in Brazil.

This week’s events prompted Brazil’s current president, Michel Temer, to call an emergency meeting with security ministers from across the country to discuss gendered violence.

"It's absurd that in the 21st century we have to live with barbarous crimes like this," President Temer said this week, according to the Associated Press.

Brazil has long struggled with the problem of violence against women. The Associated Press reports that 92,000 women were killed in the country in gender related crimes between 1980 and 2010, according to a study conducted by the Brazilian Center for Latin American Studies.

Similar crimes have brought change to other places around the world in the past. The gang rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi in 2012 prompted thousands of Indian citizens to protest against sexual assaults in their own country.

“I knew then that the problem of sexual violence in India was not a legal issue; rather it was a cultural problem,” said one Indian American filmmaker, Ram Devineni, in 2015. “A cultural shift had to happen, especially views towards the role of women in modern society. Deep-rooted patriarchal views needed to be challenged.”

Mr. Devineni was just one of many who spotted a cultural problem and sought to make a change.

In late 2015, the Christian Science Monitor reported that hundreds had taken to the streets in India to protest the release of the last of the men convicted in the 2012 rape and murder case.

Since 2012, the Indian public has mobilized to tackle lenient sentences for rapists and encourage the government to criminalize stalking and trafficking women.

Although Brazil’s Congress voted last year to heighten punishments for those who commit crimes against women, some say that this incident proves that there is more to be done.

CNN reported that on Facebook, users are posting slogans such as "we need to talk about the culture of rape" and "It wasn't 30 against 1, it was 30 against all of us!"

"We are fathers, sons and brothers," said Police Chief Veloso of his staff, reports the Associated Press. "This shocked us."

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