Photo: Saniel M Ernst/Shutterstock

The Geography of Gender-Based Violence in Brazil

Brazil Activism
by Alyssa Martino Jul 17, 2010
If each country explored the topography of its cruelty, what would the maps look like?

A new study about Brazil released last Sunday focuses on the country’s deep-rooted violence against women.

According to CNN, Brazil’s study, coined “Map of Violence 2010,” shows that between 1997 and 2007, 41,532 women were murdered. A closer look at the numbers reveals more bad news: 10 women are killed daily by this cause. Forty percent of those victimized were between the ages of 18 and 30, and most cases were instigated by relatives, spouses, ex-boyfriends, or men they rejected.

Awareness of Brazil’s domestic violence has been on the rise for decades. Yet lately, mentions are usually due to high-profile cases that generate buzz among national media. Earlier this month, Bruno Fernandes, a professional Brazilian footballer/goalkeeper, was accused of murdering his former lover, Eliza Samudio. After the case came to light, Marina Silva, a candidate for Brazil’s President in October 2010, was outspoken about his concern for this escalating trend. “We have repeatedly seen this kind of episode against the lives of women,” he explained to The Guardian.

10 women are killed daily by this cause. Forty percent of those victimized were between the ages of 18 and 30, and most cases were instigated by relatives, spouses, ex-boyfriends, or men they rejected.
The Roots of Dismay

Violence against women in Brazil can be traced back to the country’s early history. In 1822, a law was imposed that permitted a man to kill his adulterous wife, yet criminalized the same act when perpetrated by a woman. And despite the fact that the law was revoked soon thereafter (in 1830, after independence was gained from Portugal), a strong belief in its social acceptability seemed to stick.

For years, “violent emotion” was a legal excuse for crimes against women. Yet as the feminist movement became prominent after Brazil’s redemocratization in 1985, women began to report their experiences with domestic violence. Ultimately, the “Law of Domestic and Family Violence” (also called the Maria da Penha law, after a notable feminist figure who was left parapalegic by her abusive husband) was signed in 2006. The law tripled the punishment for gender-violence related crimes and created special courts with jurisdiction over these settlements.

Yet what happened in the years leading up to 2006? And why is this type of violence still so grossly common in Brazil?

DDMs/Women’s Police Stations

One piece of hope stands out among initiatives to end Brazil’s crimes against women.

On August 6, 1985, the first delegacia de defesa da mulher–police station in defense of women–was created in Sao Paolo. By 2004, Brazil had opened 339 “DDMs” throughout the country with the hope of adequately addressing and combating gender-based violence.

Comprised solely of female officers, the DDMs seek to provide a safe-place where women can voice their issues and pursue legal settlements. Although many victims feel guilty about ratting out their partners or relatives, officials were optimistic that this new structure could reduce anxiety over reporting abuses to male officers.

The DDMs have been successful in increasing awareness of domestic violence in Brazil, as well as the need to confront this growing problem. The stations were even featured in a radio segment about their work, and a television show, “Delegacia Da Mulher,” which ran for two seasons in the early 1990s. Aside from increasing general knowledge, the DDMs have provided many women with emotional support and helped them find the strength to register their cases.

Lingering Paradoxes

Despite the DDMs’ great progress, several paradoxes have hindered their ability to truly lift Brazil out of its culture of genderized violence. A country known for its police brutality, Brazil’s DDMs are still scrutinized and sometimes even feared. Others have criticized women police officers themselves, saying they too maintain historic stereotypes about masculinity and are unable to identify with victims. In this sense, being a woman doesn’t naturally sensitize someone to this problem, and this reality must be taken into consideration.

Legal obstacles remain as well. Many woman wait until Monday to report abuses while their husband or lovers are at work. However, at this point, the physical proof of abuse is frequently no longer obvious.

Additionally, the DDMs lack resources and appropriate methods of training. And generally, many have complained that in Brazil, red tape impedes filing a domestic violence complaint. These shortcomings make alleviating domestic violence quite difficult in and of itself, and very few cases actually end up in court.

Nonetheless, the very introduction of these stations is a step forward. Though they’ve been in existence for over 20 years, there is still more work to be done.

If there’s one take-away point from Brazil’s study, it’s that we should continue to critically observe and research the course of violence. That way, we can better adapt to combat its origin and hopefully someday, stop it dead in its tracks.

Community Connection

How do you think we can better aid victims of gender-based violence, both in Brazil and elsewhere?

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