Brazilian Woman Maimed by Husband Gets Little Justice 25 Years Later

Brazilian violence victim Maria da Penha The city of Fortaleza, in the state of Ceará, northeastearn Brazil; the year is 1983.  Maria da Penha Maia Fernandes, bio-pharmacist with a post-graduate degree, suffers two assassination attempts by her husband, the university professor Marco Antonio Herredia Viveiros. 

In the first attempt, he shot her on the back, and Maria da Penha became a paraplegic.  In the second attempt, he tried to electrocute her.  At the time, she was 38 years old and had three daughters between the ages of two and six.

The investigation began in June of the same year, but the case was only presented to the State Public Prosecution Service in September of 1984.  Eight years later, her now ex-husband was condemned to nineteen years in prison, but he used legal resources to postpone the completion of his sentence. 

The case went to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) in 2001, which accepted, for the first time, a case in which domestic violence is treated as a crime.  The Commission determined that the State of Ceará would pay an indemnification of US$ 20,000 for not having punished judicially the husband of Maria da Penha. 

After delaying the payment of these reparations, the State finally decided to pay them in corrected for inflation values.  After seven years of judicial battles, Maria da Penha Fernandes will receive an indemnification of 60,000 Brazilian reais (US$ 37.383) from the government of Ceará.

This Brazilian woman gave her name to the new Maria da Penha Law of Domestic and Family Violence against Women, promulgated in August of 2006, which allows for up to three years in prison in cases of physical or psychological aggression against women. 

Marco Antonio Viveiros should have completed 19 years in prison; however, he was imprisoned in October of 2002 and fulfilled only two years of his sentence.  Today he is free. 

With the law in effect since 2006, the Special Secretariat for Policies on Women now receives approximately three thousand reports of domestic violence per day.  Data from this Secretariat indicates that a woman is beaten every four minutes in Brazil.

Maria da Penha says that "finally the government is taking care of the recommendation of the OAS and redeeming itself along with the international institutions." 

Thanks to the pressure exerted by her along with the international institutions, the country was obligated to sanction a law that protects women against domestic violence, but she continues to ponder, "The legislation is positive in every aspect, but only in the cities and states where it has been implemented, because there are places where the law is not in effect."

How did you react to the news of the indemnification?

I received it as a positive action on the part of the government -  since it was already one of the recommendations from the OAS – that the government was finally acting on it.  This is also a positive act for Brazil to redeem itself among international institutions since Brazil violated international treaties.

This indemnification is the result of a long process of battles.  Could you speak a little bit about the case?

The process has gone on for more than 15 years, and the defendant has already been convicted two times.  When the opportunity arose, we made the case with the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights (CLADEM), and we sent the case to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights of the Organization of American States. 

Upon its arrival there, it was accepted, and it was then verified that Brazil has been negligent on issues relating to domestic violence, that it stimulates impunity because aggressors are only prosecuted  in less than 2% of domestic violence cases.  And, thanks to all this, to the data from the women's movements, and to my petition, Brazil was internationally condemned and obligated to change its laws to provide protection to women.

What is your evaluation of the Maria da Penha Law, which went into effect in August of 2006?

I think the legislation is positive in every aspect, but only in the cities and states where it has been implemented.  There are places where the law is not in effect and the women continue without the necessary structures for the law to function.  In many places, they lack police stations and resources for attending women, and this is a major omission.

Besides the effective application of the Law, what else needs to be done so that Brazilian women do not become victims of domestic violence here in Brazil?

If the law were applied, it would already be a great step forward.  In addition to this, school curriculums need to include education about human rights, which was also put forth in the recommendations of the OAS.  With due application of the law and education in human rights, we will overcome a great number of the instances of domestic violence.

What does it mean to you to have leant your name to the law?

I am very happy because I was confident that everyone would come to see the importance of my struggle and the meaning that struggle has brought to the women of Brazil.

After the law went into effect, did the number of cases of violence against women diminish?

There was a greater awareness among women, there was an increase in the number of denunciations reported to police stations, and there was a reduction in the number of female victims of violence being admitted to the public hospitals.  There has also been a rethinking on the part of the aggressor.  Women need to trust in the institutions that exist in their states and in the law.  Women stop making denouncements when they are unable to find any institutional support.

Brasil de Fato

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