Brazil, enforce your sexual violence laws!
This past May, 16-year-old 'Claudia' woke naked to the frightening sight of over 30 men with weapons taunting her and calling her names. Terrified, and only being able to recall last being at her boyfriend’s house, she quickly grabbed some clothes from the floor and ran out. She later came to find out that she had been drugged and gang-raped in a location dubbed “the slaughterhouse” when a humiliating video posted by her attackers went viral.
The assault ignited worldwide outrage and four women – strangers to Claudia – came to her aid, helping her to report the crime and get medical attention. Sadly, victim-blaming was the response. The authorities completely disregarded Claudia’s report and instead treated her as if she were the criminal. One male police officer even asked if “she liked group sex.” Thankfully, the group of women helped her once again. She got a new investigator, a woman, who held a thorough investigation and supported her claim of rape. The Public Prosecution Office of the State of Rio de Janeiro also offered Claudia protection from reprisals, including threats “to microwave her” if she reported the rapes, and arrested two of the men.
However, months later, only seven of the estimated 30 suspects have been charged, and, of those, only two -- Sergio Luiz da Silva Junior (known as “da Russia”) and Moises Camilo de Lucena (known as “Canario”) -- have been arrested. All the remaining men are still at large. The most viable evidence is collected within the immediate hours after an assault. Given the poor reporting systems and lack of coordinated efforts between sexual assault examiners and law enforcement, the opportunity to collect the best evidence may have passed. This undermines the ability to bring forward a strong prosecution.
Right now, the eyes of the world are on Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics, The government has the opportunity to take a strong public stand against the culture of sexual violence that has plagued Brazil for decades.
Sexual violence in Brazil and the inadequate response to it are alarming, with assaults most often aimed at the most vulnerable. 51% of recorded rapes are reportedly committed against girls up to age 13 and nearly 20% are against adolescent girls aged between 14 – 17. Equality Now’s partners inform us that Brazilian victims endure multiple interviews by law enforcement that are insensitive at best and, at worst, as in this case, outright hostile. There have been attempts in the Brazilian parliament to eliminate access to any reproductive care for women, even those who have been raped. While Brazilian women already face severe restrictions in accessing reproductive care, there have always been legal exemptions based on rape. These new attempts to curtail women’s rights are therefore alarming. As it is, access to legal abortion is not always available for victims of sexual violence. Brazil only has 37 health centers that provide the service for more than 5,000 cities. As these centers are concentrated in the bigger urban areas, thousands of women and girls have no resources at all.
The solutions to protect victims and ensure justice universally are clear:
1. Perpetrators must be arrested and charged to the full extent of the law.
2. Law enforcement must have regular training and employ a victim-sensitive approach in sexual assault cases.
3. First responders must provide forensic examinations without undue delay or procedural barriers.
4. Governments must increase services to assist victims through the criminal justice process, so that they are not left to fend for themselves.
Brazil is bound by international law to address sexual violence, particularly under Article 7 of the Convention Belém do Pará which obligates states to prevent and punish violence against women. As already established by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Campo Algodonero v Mexico), impunity for acts of violence against women reinforces a message that it is acceptable and tolerable. This is also echoed in the Committee to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women’s (CEDAW) General Recommendation 33 on access to justice, which calls for accountability in justice systems and remedies for victims. Victims must have access to justice from the inception of a case, with trained and sensitive investigators to completion, with restitution and services that will help survivors on the path to recovery. As Brazil works to improve responses to victims, law enforcement must bring all perpetrators to justice.
As Latin America’s most populous country, if Brazil were to ensure justice for Claudia it would help send the message not only in Brazil but to all other countries on the continent that sexual violence must be treated as a serious human rights violation. Please join Equality Now and our partners, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (CLADEM) in Brazil and CLADEM Regional, and the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, in calling on the Government of Brazil to:
- Arrest, charge and punish everyone responsible for raping Claudia and for publicizing this violent crime to the full extent of the law, and conduct the trial in a way that does not further victimize her
- Develop and incorporate adequate response systems, based on a human-rights and a gender sensitive approach, so that victims see that reporting will result in justice – including training for health care providers, the judiciary system and the police
- Explore all avenues of financial restitution for Claudia to help her rebuild her life