© Getty images
Every 11 minutes a girl is raped in Brazil, as reported by the Brazilian public security annual report from 2014. A 16-year-old girl was raped by about 30 men last week in a favela of Rio de Janeiro. Two of the assailants released a video on Twitter before it was deleted a few days later and after it had gained over 500 likes.
Social media erupted in outrage after the post, swamping Twitter with hashtags such as #EstuproNuncaMais (rape never again) and #EstuproNaoECulpaDaVitima (rape is not the victim’s fault). This is not the first time social media takes such social and gender issues by storm, after a 12-year-old female candidate from the Brazilian show MasterChef Junior became the target of sexually connoted tweets in 2015.
Following this event, the NGO Think Olga created the hashtag #myfirstharrassment, which led to an increasing wave of support for victims of sexual assault. Once again social network proves to be a double-edged sword. In this case, many people felt like the story of this young girl raped by around 30 men didn’t get the local media coverage it deserved, so the web put on the media suit.
In a press conference held Friday, the Police of Rio de Janeiro said they were investigating the case. Even though four of the names have been identified by the local police, two of them believed to be involved in the rape and two others in the publication of the video, the secretary of Justice José Mariano Beltrame and the Minister of Justice Alexandre Moraes said the police has to be thorough and cannot arrest anyone yet. “We are going to find those people who perpetrated this atrocity,” Beltrame said during the conference. According to the Globe and Mail, the police have issued warrants of arrests of those four men, including the boyfriend of the victim.
The story reflects on the sensitive subject of security for the host of the 2016 Olympic Games, where three cases of rapes went viral in less than three months between March and May 2013. Two of those cases were gang rapes. For Luise Bello, content and community manager of Think Olga, a Brazilian NGO whose mission involves the empowerment of women through information, the situation is not specific to Brazil. Yet as a woman living in Rio, Bello admits changing her routine to avoid chances of being raped.
“What we need is a change of mentality, to empower women by bringing them information so they can identify the oppression,” Bello said. “We have this campaign called “Enough with catcalling”, because people sometimes don’t realize that it is a violence. It’s a matter of education, everyone should play a role in changing mentalities.”
Brazilian actress Giselle Itié was one of the first celebrities to break the code of silence on the matter. According to Bello, a law has recently been written, but has not passed yet, which will make it harder for victims of rape to have legal access to abortion. Abortion is still considered a crime in Brazil, except in case of rape or anencephaly (absence of brain stem) of the fetus. 2009 marks the date when the penal code expanded the notion of rape in Brazil, until then limited to vaginal penetration.
© Leigha Cann
Brazil’s tradition of patriarchy and male chauvinism is part of the problem, however the case is shining light on the culture of rape and slut-shaming that is way too common in many other countries. The Ghomeshi and Cosby trials are unfortunately living proof that the rape culture is all around. The concept of victimization has become part of the mores in too many newspapers, emphasized by the suspicions raised about the past of this underage Brazilian girl.
What does accusing her family of being involved in drug dealing say about society? That she deserved it for all that and that she might has been looking for it? “The media has a lot to learn on how to talk about women, they tend to blame the victim. It’s still really bad in Brazil and it’s all about sexism,” Bello said. “People are trying to find flaws in her behavior to justify it in this case, why she might have some kind of responsibility over it and that’s not okay.”
In Brazil, most people get their news from Globo.com, which is a well-known TV channel that owns a public channel and several newspapers. After being accused of being biased in its news coverage, the biggest media corporation in Latin America Globo has covered the rape case as a suspicion so far.
Hundreds of protesters took the streets of Rio this Friday to condemn this gang rape and violence against women in Brazil. This violation of dignity shows up as a wake-up call not only on violence against women but on media coverage on women worldwide, and how choosing words already means taking a stance.