Brazil’s interim President Michel Temer has called an emergency cabinet meeting to address what many are calling an out-of-control nationwide rape epidemic, made especially acute by video and photos surfacing on social media of 33 men gang-raping a 16-year-old girl in Rio de Janeiro.
Temer issued a statement that he was “totally shocked and outraged by this barbarity,” referring to the 16-year-old girl’s rape in particular, announcing that he had called the nation’s Minister of Justice to his office to discuss how best to address the growing number of rape reports nationwide.
The BBC notes that in 2014, police received 47,636 rape reports nationwide. Rio de Janeiro, host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics, far outpaces most of the country in the number of rape cases reported, however. Brazilian newspaper O Globo notes that police estimate 12 people are raped every day in Rio de Janeiro, about one rape every two hours.
On Tuesday, a 16-year-old girl from the Rio neighborhood of Praça Seca was found after being missing since last Saturday. She appeared to have been drugged, was disoriented, and showed physical signs of sexual torture. She found out only after logging onto various social media platforms that what had happened to her had triggered national outrage. She says she had gone to visit her boyfriend and fell unconscious. “When I woke up I had 33 guys on top of me. … I just wanted to go home,” she told O Globo.
O Globo has not revealed her identity, as she is a minor, but described the 16-year-old as a “problem child” who is already the mother of a three-year-old son. (The boy’s father is dead.) She is tattooed and known to frequent parties. When one of the rapists posted a 40-second video of the rape, as well as graphic images of her visibly injured genitalia, many commenters appeared unfazed by her fate. The rapist himself described the damage to her genitals in one image as “a mine that has been kneaded.”
Police, Folha de S. Paulo reports, have identified at least three of the rapists and expect to find more evidence identifying others in the near future. They are prepared to find that some of the 33 involved may also be minors. At least one of those for whom police issued a warrant resides in the notorious Rio slum City of God, made internationally famous by the eponymous 2002 film.
While many commenters expressed little surprise at her fate upon seeing the original images posted by rapists, Brazilians have united, calling for a national campaign against rape. The hashtag
#EstuproNaoÉCulpaDaVitima (“Rape is not the victim’s fault”) is, at press time, the #3 trending topic on Twitter.
The girl issued a statement on her social media accounts (according to O Globo, as her identity remains secret) expressing surprise that anyone had sympathy to give her.
“I am grateful for everyone’s support. I really thought I would be judged badly!” she wrote. “But not so. We could all one day have to suffer this. My uterus doesn’t hurt, my soul does because such cruel people exist. I appreciate the support.”
Folha de S. Paulo notes that a second gang rape occurred that Saturday night – of a 17-year-old and 15-year-old by five men – but that story has been largely overshadowed by the media attention given to the Praça Seca rape.
Rape is neither a new problem in Brazil nor one limited to Brazilian nationals. In 2013, two men were sentenced to nearly 50 years in prison for the gang rape of an American woman in Rio de Janeiro. The woman, riding a bus with her boyfriend, was tied up and raped by the driver and conductor of the bus, as well as two others, one a 14-year-old boy.
Such incidents raise concerns of a threat to foreigners who will be traveling to Rio de Janeiro by the thousands for August’s Summer Olympic games. Brazil has already deployed 200,000 troops to Rio de Janeiro, but not to fight crime – to fight the Zika virus, an epidemic that has infected hundreds of thousands in Latin America. Public health professionals worldwide have demanded Brazil postpone or relocate the Olympic Games, though the International Olympic Committee has refused.
Many argue tourists’ security is also compromised by shoddy constructions built by corporations tied to the sprawling “Operation Car Wash” corruption scandal – a new bridge has already collapsed in Rio – and the political turmoil engulfing the nation’s highest rungs of power, ousting President Dilma Rousseff through impeachment earlier this month.