When the young woman now known as Nirbhaya was gang-raped on a Delhi bus in 2012, it took the Indian media five days before they reported on the case, and the international press took even longer.
Now, like India in 2012, another nation is convulsed by the aftershocks of another brutal gang rape case. According to reports from Brazil, the police in Rio de Janeiro are currently searching for more than 30 men suspected of drugging and raping a 16-year-old girl, and posting footage of the attack on social media. The Globe and Mail reports that the girl told police that she went to her boyfriend's house in a favela. The next thing she remembered was waking up naked in another house, surrounded by the men.
A 40-second video of the rape circulated on Twitter following the attacks. Local newspaper Folha De S.Paulo reports that that photographs were also posted online showing the girl's injured genitalia, with a caption reading: "They knocked her out, understand? Hahaha." Collective outrage has washed across Brazilian social media in response to the rape, under the hashtag #EstuproNuncaMais (Portuguese for "rape never again").
While Brazil actually has relatively strong laws when it comes to domestic and sexual violence, but experts point towards long-standing cultural views that normalize violence against women. According to official UN figures, women in Brazil are assaulted every 15 seconds. Legislative progress has been made in recent years with a new femicide law that aims to tackle the fact that, on average, 15 women a day are murdered in Brazil.
In 2015, four teen girls were gang raped, beaten, and stoned before being thrown off a cliff (one subsequently died of her injuries.) Meanwhile, a Brazilian lawmaker made international headlines for describing his colleague as "too ugly to rape." To find out more about the realities of the sexual violence faced by many Brazilian women, we spoke to Dr Polly Wilding, an expert in Latin American gender violence at the University of Leeds.
"Unfortunately, what's happened is not that surprising. Violence is really embedded in the lives of women throughout Brazil, in ways that interlink. On a personal level, you have sexual and domestic violence. But that intersects with broader forms of violence on a structural level—violence from the state, gangs and militias." Disturbingly, this case represents a broader trend of filming sexual assaults before disseminating them on Brazilian social media. "There's an increasing use of social media in the favelas, which becomes a way to reproduce sexual violence, because by filming them you're essentially violating them more than once."
Wilding highlights how violence is intersectional, sitting across wider structures of inequality in Brazilian life. "Violence against women in favelas is very prevalent, and these areas are often controlled by drug gangs or militias. For women living in these areas, it can be very difficult to report violence or get any kind of assistance, because often the militias controlling communities have links to the police." She tells me of a woman she met on a recent research trip to Brazil who'd been raped almost daily by a member of a local militia, but was unable to get justice because the perpetrator was affiliated with the police.
Meanwhile, aspects of Brazilian culture reinforce gendered myths about women who suffer violence. "There are these narratives about women enjoying violence, because in some way it shows that the perpetrator 'cares.' Meanwhile, huge double standards exist around sexuality, with men being able to have multiple sexual partners but if women being pilloried or beaten by their partners for doing the same." In some instances, women help to perpetuate a culture that blames victims. "I've spoken to Brazilian women who'll debate whether women who stay in abusive relationships 'bring it on themselves.'"
Read more: What Drives Young Men to Gang Rape Girls?
When women do come forward to report instances of sexual and domestic violence, cases often get dropped or actively ignored. "You hear of people going to police to report cases which never go any further. The reluctance to take things forward often comes from the police, because they know that given the complex power dynamics in the favelas, achieving a prosecution will be difficult." Meanwhile, if you don't have any charities or NGOs nearby who can help you, your options are limited—especially if you're living in one of the many communities in Brazil which are still controlled by gun gangs.
Ultimately, eradicating violence against women will require a total sea change in Brazilian life. "You can talk about changing cultural attitudes; having more training for police and health service professionals; more education in classrooms. You can invest in domestic violence shelters and support women leaving abusive situations.
"But unless you address the overall security situation in Brazil, and bring in a raft of measures—particularly in favelas—none of it will mean very much."