Just a few weeks prior to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, tens of thousands of Brazilians are again taking to the streets in protest. This time it’s not about corruption or presidential impeachment, rather to demand justice for a 16-year-old girl who was allegedly gang raped by more than 30 men in a Rio de Janeiro favela.
A short video published on social media shows the minor laying naked and apparently unconscious on the floor while male voices heard off-camera brag about how she had been raped by multiple men. The perpetrators allegedly shared the video on WhatsApp and Twitter shortly after the assault. Authorities say they have identified several suspects, including the girl's boyfriend, and have made two arrests.
The crime has been a baptism by fire for Brazil's newly appointed interim government, which is already dealing with a massive political and economic crisis. It's also another example of how social media is a double-edge sword in a hyper-connected country; it can be used by the wicked to glorify crime and violence, but it also forces a country to look at itself in the mirror and ask: Is this really what we've become?!
After the video surfaced, interim President Michel Temer called for an emergency meeting with his cabinet and urged the country’s lawmakers to increase jail time for rapists. Temer also announced the creation of new Federal Police unit to combat violence against women.
“It's absurd that in the 21st century we still have to live with barbaric crimes like these,” he tweeted.
Brazilians denounced the crime on social media and organized protests across the country that drew tens of thousands of people into the streets under the hashtag #estupronuncamais or “no more rape.”
“I completely repudiate machismo, rape culture, the lack of respect, and violence towards women.”
The crime is forcing Brazilians to confront their cultura do estupro, or rape culture.
“Society is extremely outraged because the perpetrators basically glorified the crime by mocking it and sharing it on social media,” said Nadine Gasman, director for the Brasilia-based ONU Mulheres, a United Nations organization that seeks to improve women’s rights in the South American country. “It showed a complete lack of humanity.”
Gasman said the crime is part of a larger problem in Brazil and around the world.
She said some 47,000 cases of sexual violence were reported in Brazil last year, and that's just a fraction of what's really happening. Because sexual violence is often an underreported crime, the real figure is estimated to be three times bigger.
“This is a very worrisome situation,” she added.
Gasman said that in 2014 some 4,700 Brazilian women were murdered and half of them were killed by either their husbands, boyfriends or someone they knew. Sexism and racism are also major contributing factors to femicide rates, she said.
“In the last few years there’s been a 54% increase of murdered Afro-Brazilian women, while there’s been a 10% drop in homicides of white women,” Gasman said.
Analysts say the shocking nature of the recent gang rape could finally push Brazilian society to say enough is enough.
“The case has caused enormous outrage and debate in society and media,” Paulo Sotero, a Brazil expert for the Woodrow Wilson Center, told Fusion.
Sotero believes the case could have a “potentially positive impact” by forcing the country to mobilize against sex crimes, the same way it has taken action against political corruption. But he warns that changing culture is more difficult than changing political leadership.
“Guaranteed impunity for criminals in high places is a thing of the past in Brazil," he said. "Abuse of human rights, such as the one illustrated by the rape case, is more diffuse and difficult to deal with in a machista society like ours.”