Brazil report charts surge in racial abuse and violence against women

A total of 66,041 incidents of sexual violence were reported in 2018 against the polarising backdrop of Jair Bolsonaro’s election victory

Brazil saw an alarming rise in racial abuse, sexual assault, femicide and violence against women and LGBT people in 2018, according to new figures released on Tuesday.

The data illustrates a country which became more bigoted and more polarised against the backdrop of last year’s incendiary election campaign and the increase in inflammatory rhetoric by the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his supporters, specialists said.

“We are observing a rise in violence against women in all forms: aggression, femicide and rape,” said Samira Bueno, executive director of the Brazilian Public Security Forum, which published the figures using state and federal government data.

Intentional violent deaths – which include homicides, robberies leading to death, deaths of police officers – fell by 10% in 2018 to 57,341. Murders of police officers also fell – from 373 to 343.

But femicides rose by more than 4% to 1,206.

A total of 66,041 incidents of sexual violence were reported in 2018, of which 82% were against women and girls, a 4.1% rise on the previous year and the highest number ever registered. More than half of the female victims were girls under 13.

With 263,067 domestic violence injuries reported, the figures indicated a woman was attacked in Brazil every two minutes.

Bueno cited Bolsonaro’s inflammatory language – such as telling a congresswoman she did not deserve to be raped and his praise for cold war-era Latin American torturers – as contributing factors.

“He is always sharing with people what he thinks of women, what he thinks of torture. It’s hard not to believe that if you have a maximum authority saying this that this does not have an impact on people,” she said. “People are more prejudiced because we have political leaders who articulate this.”

Beatriz Accioly Lins, an anthropologist and researcher at the University of São Paulo and specialist in violence against women, said the numbers showed more women were coming forward. Reported incidents of sexual violence have risen in recent years – up 3.5% in 2016 and 10.1% in 2017.

“Women are more and more thinking again about what they have gone through … and realising that these are not just difficult or bad things but crimes,” she said. “So we can expect to see these figures increase in the coming years.”

She said that Bolsonaro’s move to set up a ministry of women, family and human rights – run by an evangelical pastor, Damares Alves, who celebrated her inauguration by saying that “boys wear blue and girls wear pink” – showed how Brazil had regressed to a “very traditional” concept of the family as it swung to the right.

Accioly said the number of rapes of girls showed how Brazilian society “sexualised girls very young”.

“Those who work in this area recognise that violence against girls is very high at this age,” she said. “This is the reality we live in.”

Killings by police officers during and outside service soared 20%, to 6,220, a trend that is likely to continue as Bolsonaro pushes legislation to shield from prosecution members of the security forces and citizens who shoot alleged offenders. Throughout last year’s election campaign Bolsonaro spoke enthusiastically about the use of lethal force and promised to loosen gun ownership laws. Gun ownership has surged, and nearly 200,000 new weapons were registered by Brazilians in 2018 – a 42% rise from the previous year.

“Brazilian society has become more aggressive,” said Leila Linhares Barsted, a lawyer and executive coordinator of Cepia, a non-profit human rights group. “Since last year we have had an increase in hate speech, in the perception that women should be submissive to men.”

Reported racial abuse incidents rose 20% to 7,600 and murders of LGBT people rose 10% to 109. “Brazil always had a racial issue,” Linhares Barsted said. “What we see today is this racism coming out of the closet.”


Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

The GuardianTramp

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