On May 21st 2016, Brazil was once more thrown into the media spotlight after a grainy video of a 16 year old girl getting gang raped by 33 men went viral. The post remained active online for several hours and was greeted with over 500 likes and a barrage of sickening, misogynistic comments before its inevitable removal from Twitter. The streets of Rio de Janeiro were soon undulating with protestors as the war against sexual violence wages on.
Copyright © 2013, Abner Merchan
President Michel Temer, whose wife 43 years his junior was famously described as “beautiful, demure and of the home”, promised to create a federal police unit to address crimes against women.
He declared it “absurd that in the 21st century we have to live with barbarous crimes like this.”
The irony of his statement was not lost on millions of Brazilian women. Beneath that unctuous public veneer, President Temer’s conspicuously all white, male elected cabinet are debating a bill in Congress that seeks to augment the already stringent punishment for those seeking “unlawful” abortions. At present, any attempt to abort a child that was not conceived as a result of rape, or endangering its mother’s life is punishable by up to 4 years in prison.
The proposal currently being discussed in Brazilian Congress tells us that women do not have control over their own bodies. We are owned and stand at the mercy of men in their chambers of power, who will decide for us our sexual autonomy.
Brazil offers us a perfect example of how female sexuality is at once revered and reviled. A country that is renowned for it’s celebration of sexual culture – think Carnival, Copacabana and coconut booty’s – is now deliberating new anti-abortion legislation that effectively serves to punish females for the crime of acting on desire.
We in the ‘Free World’ fetishise choice. We pat ourselves on the back for how progressive we are, face East and gloat that we don’t ‘hide our women under veils’ or beat them when they step out of line, yet it is perfectly legitimate, moral even, to deny women the right to the most life changing decision of all– the testing universe of motherhood. The proposal currently being discussed in Brazilian Congress tells us that women do not have control over their own bodies. We are owned and stand at the mercy of men in their chambers of power, who will decide for us our sexual autonomy.
And this is not just a Brazilian or Latin American problem. Donald Trump has repeatedly fed into the turbulent rape discourse with his usual, belligerent garbage.
This tweet from the man poised as the future President of the United States speaks to a particularly sinister view of sexual assault. The Rape Joke is that women, bad women, the carnal types that you see on billboards, half naked eating hamburgers, selling perfume, wall paint, tracksuits, they deserve to be raped. The wanton male sex drive and its waggling member are equally animalistic and hilarious. If he spots with his third eye a pair of legs not sheathed in a protective layer of denim he simply must go after it, beat it into submission and then pulverise her internal walls until they bleed for his own pleasure. He cannot and will not be controlled. Is this the image of men we want to advocate? I for one adore the men in my life and would hate to paint them with such disdain. We are not only doing women a grave and often fatal disservice with this dissemination; we are belittling the men in our lives, reducing them to blundering Neanderthals with no degree of self control.
We are not only doing women a grave and often fatal disservice with this dissemination; we are belittling the men in our lives, reducing them to blundering Neanderthals with no degree of self control.
Trump, who seems to hopscotch his opinion on abortion in accordance with his yo-yoing blood pressure, said women should receive “some form of punishment” if the procedure were to be banned in the future in the US. He was unable to say whether he believed the punishment should be a small fine or a long prison sentence. He later retracted the statement, defaulting to his berated school boy act, batting away claims of misogyny with the rock solid proof that he simples adores the Miss USA pageant.
According to the 2014 Brazilian annual security report, a woman is raped every 11 minutes. We whisper to our daughters not to walk home alone, wear trousers, don’t flirt too much – but what about when this advice fails? If this case tells us anything it is that behaving monogamously is not any protection against sexual violence.
Women don’t get raped because they were drinking or taking drugs. Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough. Women get raped because someone raped them.” – Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth
Instead of teaching women how to exist in a culture of fear we should be educating young men better on how to respect, love and care for the gender that brings about their very existence. That’s not to say that there aren’t men out there who already have this awareness instilled in them by default, but the fact that 48,000 rapes are reported each year in Brazil, and an astonishing 293,000  in the United States suggests that there is still some serious work to be done, and we can’t rely on testosterone fuelled government cabinets to do it.
1. Statistics taken from RAINN Website available here: https://rainn.org/get-information/statistics/frequency-of-sexual-assault
Recommended Further Reading
Sputnik (Brazilian News Blog) Available online at:
Laurie Penny – Unspeakable Things (2014)
Laura Bates – Everyday Sexism (2012)
Jessica Valenti – The Purity Myth (2009)