Brazil faces its own ‘Nirbhaya’ crisis: 16-year-old raped by 33 men in Rio

SAO PAULO (TIP): With less than two months to go before the world’s top athletes and hundreds of thousands of sport lovers head to Rio de Janeiro for Olympics 2016, the city’s reputation has taken a severe beating with a gang-rape of a 16-year-old girl by more than 30 men in an impoverished favela (slum) of the city. The girl’s ordeal began on May 20 night when she went to stay at her boyfriend’s house on the western fringe of the city. She woke up on May 22 morning and found herself surrounded by 33 men, many of them carrying heavy arms.

Badly shaken by the assault that went on for more than 36 hours, the victim tried to escape from the hospital several times on Thursday. “I just want to go home,” the teenager has reportedly told pleaded with hospital staff and her family members.


The case, which has sent shock waves across the biggest South American country, came to the light on this Wednesday after more than 800 people contacted a hotline in the state public prosecutor’s office to report about certain tweets in which a couple of men were bragging about assaulting a girl. Filled with obscene description of her body, the tweets had photos and videos of the girl, who is apparently drugged, naked and struggling to regain consciousness.

What is causing outrage in this country, where women are 52% of the population, is the fact that the tweets, which have now been deleted, had more than 500 likes and many vulgar comments which blamed the girl for her condition.

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As the victim now undergoes treatment and counselling at the hospital, her poor family is completely devastated. “She is crying and still shaken. They messed up my daughter. They almost killed her. I am in pain. She is traumatized,” the 16-year-old’s father told local media, asking them not to reveal his identity. The girl’s grandmother too spoke to a local radio station, saying the girl suffered a blackout during the assault.

“The video is shocking. I watched it. She’s completely off,” the grandmother told the radio.

Though sexual crimes are not uncommon in the favelas where armed gangs operate and often target their unsuspecting victims, the brutality of this assault has completely shaken the country. With the #Estupro (rape) trending on the social media, thousands of people have asked for quick action against the men responsible for the crime. The police have so far detained only two persons.

With a sudden wave of crimes sweeping the city that will be hosting the biggest sporting spectacle between August 5 and 21, Brazil’s cultural capital is on the edge as anger grows against the city and state governments. “It is an act of barbarity and cowardice. The attack on this young woman is also an aggression against all women. We are seeing an increasing dehumanization and disrespect for others. The main victims have been women. Our solidarity with the young victim, her family and all women,” said a statement from the Human Rights Commission of Rio de Janeiro

Though the crime has revived the memories of the March 2015 case when an American tourist was abducted by three men in a van and raped in front of her French boyfriend, the mainstream Brazilian media has almost blacked out the assault on the 16-year-old girl. This has sparked anger on the social media, with thousands slamming the big media groups ignoring the story. “This crime deserved to be reported for several minutes on national news. They did so when the Swiss tourist was raped in India. Or when the gringa (American) was raped in Copacabana, but not now” Cecilia Olliveira, a Rio resident, wrote on facebook.

When India was rocked by the Nirbhaya case in December 2012, the Brazilian mainstream media – print and television -had covered the incident in great detail, branding India as a “dangerous place for women”. But as the media here keeps silent on the Rio case and one more gang-rape reported in the state of Piaui last week, it’s coming under severe criticism from all quarters. “People talk of India and every case of rape there is reported. But India is here. In India, the case generated strong reaction, but our reality is similar,” Silvia Chakian, a prosecutor of Sao Paulo told the BBC, adding that crimes against women tend to be more common in countries where gender inequality is more pronounced.

In Brazil, a woman is raped every 11 minutes, according to data released by the Brazilian Forum on Public Security at the end of last year. In 2015, the country recorded 47,646 cases of rape.

For Brazil’s interim government, headed by Michel Temer, the crime could not have happened at a worse time. Already facing angry protests every day across the country, the growing anger against the rape in Rio may bring more people on the streets against the government which does not have even a single female minister.

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