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Rape and the Basic Unfairness of Brazil's Society PDF Print E-mail
2013 - July 2013
Written by Jennifer Bisgaier   
Wednesday, 24 July 2013 15:43

Protesting against rape in BrazilIn late March, the brutal gang rape of an American tourist in a transit van in Rio de Janeiro garnered worldwide attention. Brazilian authorities responded by quickly arresting three suspects as well as banning vans being driven through the South Zone of the city. However, just two weeks earlier a Brazilian woman from the North Zone of Rio, which consists largely of a favela district, was raped by the same men in the same van, and the Brazilian government took no action.

While these crimes draw attention to the alarming skein of dangers that almost all women face in Brazil, they also highlight the severe lack of help that disadvantaged women receive if attacked. Brazilian society is deeply divided based on race and class, and this discrimination is often reflected in the vigor of the country's police response to crime.

In an anonymous interview with The New York Times, the young Brazilian woman who was first attacked explained how the police displayed little initiative when she went to them for help: "[They told me] if they caught them  — if — that it usually just becomes a statistic." [1]

While the Brazilian woman received little empathy from authorities, and never heard back after filing an initial report, the assault on the American woman prompted an instant response from Rio's Special Police Unit for Tourism Support (Delegacia de Atendimento ao Turista; DEAT).

This case serves as a powerful example of the basic unfairness based on class, as well as race, that is far too common in Brazil.

The outlook puts all women visiting or living in Brazil in greater danger. The Brazilian woman stated, "Unfortunately, it had to happen to her before anyone would help me… Could this have been avoided if they had paid attention to my case?" [2] With rape becoming an increasingly pervasive issue in Brazil, it is vital that the police treat every single report with gravity.

Brazilian political leaders are quick to point out the lengths that Brazil has gone to in order to ensure the safety of women. Two decades ago the country established DEAMs (Delegacias Especiais de Atendimento à Mulher, or Special Police Stations for the Assistance of Women) to ensure provision of legal help for survivors of sexual assault. There are currently 450 DEAMs across the country. [3]

In 2006, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva passed the Maria da Penha Law of Domestic and Family Violence, which created special courts for prosecuting acts of domestic violence and called for more severe and comprehensive punishment of offenders. Three years later, the broadening of the definition of rape (to include anal penetration) led to a sharp increase in the number of incidents reported.

Despite these advances, rape remains a serious problem in Brazil. According to the Institute of Public Safety, the number of reported rapes in Rio rose by 23 percent in 2012, up to 6029 (an average of 16 per day). [4]

New York City, by way of comparison, in 2010 reported 1,036 reported rapes, according to data provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. [5] Considering that New York has a larger population than Rio, Rio's statistics are especially alarming.

Though Rio's rising numbers may well reflect an increased willingness on the part of some survivors to come forward, they still indicate a need for more aggressive law enforcement against sexual predators.

With the World Cup and Olympic Games approaching, Brazil is looking to hurriedly ramp up its security provisions. Total investment in public security is speculated to add up to US$ 550 million to the event's total cost, despite protestors' concerns regarding excessive spending on these events. [6]

While obviously any improvements in the area of women's safety should be valued, it is alarming that the country's authorities must have a global spotlight focused on the issue in order to take action.

Brazilian authorities should feel sufficient motivation to provide protection for their own citizens, not just for the foreigners who attract international attention.


[1] Romero, Simon. "Public Rapes Outrage Brazil, Testing Ideas of Image and Class." The New York Times, May 24, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] UN Women, "Women's police stations and special courts in Brazil." Last modified 2011. Accessed June 10, 2013.

[4] Aruth Sturm, Heloisa. "Denúncias de estupro aumentam 23% no RJ, diz polícia." Estadão, April 2, 2013.

[5] The Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Crime in the United States: Offenses Known to Law Enforcement." Accessed June 13, 2013.

[6] Barchfield, Jenny. "Crime Doubts Persist in Brazil Ahead of Events." The Big Story: Associate Press, June 13, 2013.


Jennifer Bisgaier, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

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Comments (10)Add Comment
written by Thaddeus Blanchette, July 31, 2013
Are New York's laws the same as Brazil's when it comes to defining rape?

I know that we now define as "rape" a series of acts that used to be called by other names. I'm wondering whether or not NYC's laws are the same as ours.

Maybe they are, but this should be the first thing a person should ask when making comparisions to the rape rates in NYC and Rio.

I suspect that our rates are indeed higher in Rio, as our violent crime rates in general are. I question whether or not they are six times higher, however,
written by Thaddeus Blanchette, July 31, 2013
Interestingly, the number of rapes Ms. Bisgaler reports for NY are for the city only, while the number of rapes she reports for Rio are for the entire STATE. This is a rather clever and very dishonest way of spiking Rio's stats.

Furthermore, like in Rio, rapes in New York have been increasing in recent years: 1500 rapes were reported in NYC in 2012 and there's been a big spike in rapes during the first half of 2013 (see for more info). Some neighborhoods have reported a 144% increase in 2013.

This makes Bisgaler's claims doubly dishonest: apparently, both RdJ and NYC have seen rapes spike in 2012 and 2013: Bisgaler, however, compares NYC's 2010 stats with RdJ's 2012 stats.

New York State reported 2771 rapes out of a total of some 19,000,000 people in 2010: a rate of about 14.3 rapes per 100,000 people per year.
Rio de Janeiro state has some 16,000,000 inhabitants, which would put our rape rate in 2012 at about 37.7 rapes per year per 100,000 inhabitants.

That would be a rape rate of about 2.6 times New York State's and not almost 6 times as large, as Bisgaler infers.


Rio de Janeiro and New York ALSO have entirely different legal understandings of rape.

Here's rape under Brazilian law:

"Constranger alguém, mediante violência ou grave ameaça, a ter conjunção carnal ou a praticar ou permitir que com ele se pratique outro ato libidinoso.”

What that means is that basically all sexual acts conducted under threat of violence or violence are classified as "rape", including anal and oral rape, innappropriate sexual touching and sexual abuse of any sort (as long as it's done under the threat of violence).

Now here's New York's rape law: "A person is guilty of rape... when he or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person [through force]." There are three degrees of rape, but all include "sexual intercourse".

Much of what Brazil understands to be "rape", New York punishes as "sexual misconduct", "criminal sexual acts", "forcible touching", and "sexual abuse".

So how does RdJ state stack up against NY state when we add in NY crimes that would be classified as "rape" under RdJ law?

It's hard to say, given that statistics for these other forms of violent sex crime are not readily available. But I would guess that for every rape occurring in New York State, at least one other crime occurs that would be qualifiable as rape under Brazilian law.

That's a "rule of the thumb", I know, but it's probably a good one, seeing as how rapes rose by 56% between 2008 and 2012. This is important because our new, expanded rape law came into play in 2009 and was only really operational in 2010. Before that, Brazil's rape laws were simliar to those of the state of New York.

What this means is that if we were to count as "rape" in New York State what's currently counted as "rape" in Rio de Janeiro State, New York's rape rate would be some 28.6 rapes per 100,000 inhabitants, per year as opposed to 37.7 per 100,000 in Rio.

Now THAT is a difference which is believable.

What bothers me about so many people writing about Brazil is their apparent inability to ask even the most basic questions when they draw their comparisons and make their claims: "Are these stats for RdJ state or city?"; "Are the laws the same in RdJ as in NYC?".

It took me about a half hour to come up with this data, while eating lunch and listening to David Bowie on YouTube. This sort of fact-finding, however, is apparently beyond Ms. Bisgaler's capabilites.

It wouldn't be so bad if it was just writers for the social media who were making these sorts of mistakes. The problem is, gringo journalists for publications such as the New York Times also routinely make these sorts of mistakes.

Bottom line: whether the news is good or bad out of Brazil, you can be assured that the gringos writing about it will increase its intensity by a factor of 2 to 3, using just the sort of artifices that Ms. Bisgaler uses in the article above.

written by Thaddeus Blanchette, July 31, 2013
Oh, one final thing:

If we assume rapes have risen by about 25% in New York State from 2010 to 2013, which is not at all a radical presumption (after all, there were 1500 rapes reported in NYC in 2012, as opposed to the 1036 Bisgaler reports in 2010), then the differences between the two cities practically disappear: 35.8 rapes per 100,000 in NYC versus 37.7 in RdJ.

I'd be interested in knowing why Ms. Bisgaler thinks it's interesting to report a difference between the two cities that's probably something like 100 times what it really is.
written by C.Eichmann, July 31, 2013

Holy Scheiße.Another COHA researcher feeding false data on estupros in Brasilien.smilies/shocked.gif

COHA should be very careful in their screening process while selecting their forscher. Unless they want to lose their credibility among the Einwohner der Halbkugel.smilies/shocked.gifsmilies/sad.gif
always a pleasure
written by Simpleton, August 01, 2013
Sr. Blanchette, it has always been a pleasure to read your commentary on this site. (Which it appears to me, being I haven't been keeping up, that you have done rather rarely lately.)

Maybe you can enlighten us further by doing some kind of comparative expose of "sport" sexing at Shenanigans vs the Wiener / Spitzer effects?

(BTW, I haven't forgotten the wager we made years ago, I've just forgotten what the heck the wager was supposed to be about.)
"Rape"; being what it 'is'(Clinton definition)
written by Lloyd Cata, August 07, 2013
This is an 'uncomfortable' subject for me, as I have never been the victim or the perpetrator of such an act(!) However, I have recognized the 'injustice' that victims of such crimes have 'historically' been dealt.

Of this, I would like to point to a special class of victims who are particularly dealt every day with the injustice of such crimes, and those are victims in the US Military. I am not going to go into the 'statistics' of one group or another, but the prevailing consensus is that among this population, men are raped at a greater rate than women(???) Perhaps my Master Aristotle would enlighten me as I study further; being as Greek sexual proclivities are well known. Yet, this is the 21st Century, and I find the level of "Military Injustice" to be shameful, backwards, and mostly non-existent(!!!)

No matter who's numbers are used, the count of 'un-reported' crimes of this nature surely would give any demographer pause. The 'fact' that both the POTUS and the Congress have 'repeatedly' institutionally "failed" to give these victims Justice certainly puts them in a position that I must speak against(!). Surely, those who know my positions, will find these words particularly fitting; "Even the poor and illiterate know Injustice when they see it."
written by Lloyd Cata, August 07, 2013
? this was not 'always' the case; as I leave the 'research' to you, but US President Dwight D. Eisenhower regularly condemned the 'uniformed' perpetrators of such acts to the "Death Penalty"(!) That we might have such 'leaders' today....
Sr. Blanchette, it has always been a pleasure to read your commentary on this site.
written by Simpleton, August 10, 2013
I love you Thaddeus. Bjs
written by Thaddeus Blanchette, August 20, 2013
Dear Lloyd,

Just a 'suggestion': 'contemplate' 'studying' the 'proper' use of "quotation marks".
Thaddeus Blanchette
written by Lloyd Cata, August 31, 2013
I will take it up with my Master Aristotle, but do not expect results until the Lyceum shall decide what is "Truth"...(?)

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