People participate in a protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 12, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

What kind of man would beat up a woman, especially one he ostensibly loves?

A great many Brazilian men, unfortunately.

North America and Europe are aflame with the #metoo movement, in which women are calling out men for unwanted advances, inappropriate touching, or trying to use their workplace power to extort sex. Powerful men, including several US legislators, have been toppled over allegations of harassment. Through a letter, a group of French women started wondering if #metoo is going too far and working against the cause by inadvertently portraying women as eternally powerless victims. Already this year, the back and forth between adherents of these two different views has produced an avalanche of news, comments, and social media analysis in Brazil.

But Brazilian women are not just spectators. They had already built their own movement. The #myfirstharassment campaign, which began two years ago, addressed many cases of women and girls who silently endured unwanted sexual advances. Last year, women joined voices and forces to denounce a case of sexual harassment involving a famous soap opera actor. The problem of sexual harassment has thankfully come out of the shadows. It can no longer be ignored—or tolerated.

If only we could say the same about domestic violence. While the issue has also received some attention in recent years, it has not nearly reached the same levels of social consciousness. 

Brazilian women remain unsafe even—or especially—at home. Despite institutional and legal progress during recent decades, a continuing pattern of unpunished abuse leaves many Brazilian women at life-threating risk. 

Almost a third of Brazilian girls and women said in a nationwide 2017 survey that they had, during the previous year, suffered violence ranging from threats and beatings to attempted murder.[1] Well over half of the attackers were current or former spouses or partners-- or acquaintances.[2] The survey found that only a quarter of Brazilian women who suffered violence reported it.[3]

One might ask: Why should I raise my voice to stop this abuse if many women who suffer violence don’t even report it? Because the government’s response often fails victims who do come forward. And that frightens other victims into remaining silent.

The police don’t even take basic investigative steps in many cases when women report violence. They don’t take a full statement or have the woman undergo a medical exam. Police stations, even female-staffed stations, lack private rooms for taking victims’ statements. So even when police are willing to take a statement, women are forced to tell traumatic and humiliating stories in public—and potentially tipping the abuser off that they sought help.

Then, often, police fail to investigate fully, leaving insufficient evidence to support a prosecution. Police often don’t take adequate steps to protect victims who do come forward from suffering further abuse. Altogether, women lose faith in the system.

In 2016, 4,606 women were killed in Brazil. Many of them were killed in their homes by people close to them, in most cases current or former husbands or partners. Typically, before the killing, violence had scaled up and gone unpunished.

This needs to change. Domestic violence is not a “women’s issue.” It’s a Brazil issue. Physical and psychological violence against women is cowardly and brutish and is a violation of human rights. It also undermines progress in Brazil, keeping half the population from enjoying the security and freedom that enables full participation in social and economic life.

Better enforcement of current laws is essential. And it will take all of us, as neighbors, friends, and family members of the abusers and abused, to make domestic violence unacceptable in Brazilian society—and to force institutions to end the environment of impunity around it. Brazilian men and women alike need to raise their voices—not only against sexual harassment, but also against the violence that takes the lives of so many Brazilian women every year.

 

[1] Datafolha/Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública, “Visível e invisível: a vitimização de mulheres no Brasil,” March 2017, http://www.forumseguranca.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/relatorio-pe... (accessed June 5, 2017),  p.12.

[2] Ibid., p. 15.

[3] Ibid., p. 17.