The pedagogies of rape
By Washington Castilhos
Despite all of the moral outrage that descended upon social media soon after the video of a gang rape of a sixteen year old in a community in Rio de Janeiro was published publicly on Twitter, this event also showed the role of the Internet as a mediator of opinions and sensitivities relating to feminist values. The shocking news created conditions so that debates, once restricted to web pages with limited reach, could win greater visibility. Facebook campaigns entered the scene politicizing the event, in contrast to the conservative reaction that the case also aroused. Many brazilian blogs published reports from readers describing real stories of abuse in the family, at the work place, and other locations.
Initiatives to break the silence are not new -- reports of sexual assault had already taken over Twitter through the #meuprimeiroassedio campaign, among others -- but these have become more frequent after the case that mobilized the country in recent weeks. These are stories that deconstruct treatment and definitions commonly attributed to rape, usually associated with the streets. In the episode in Rio de Janeiro, a great number of comments that circulated around the media initially tried to invalidate and blame the victim, impulses by the treatment from the deputy previously in charge of the case (who, based on the body examination done four days after the incident, stated that there were no signs of sexual violence), and by the context, circumstances of the crime, and characteristics of the victim (from a slum in Rio de Janeiro, a poor adolescent who frequented clubs, and a mom of a three year old).
However, reports like the ones cited -- that, coincidentally, look like the personal stories told by women who participate in actions against rape culture, created on the internet and realized in different Brazilian cities on the first of June -- depict victims of different profiles from the girl assaulted in the community in the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro. These are women who do not suffer aggressions at street clubs. “While men leave at night afraid to bring their cellphone, us women leave with fear of having our bodies violated,” wrote one online commenter soon after the video went viral. Far from the current, restrictive, and problematic grouping “rape-social class-slum-blackness”, the reality is that women can be assaulted within personal relationships or at a club, independent of your conduct. In other words, the experience of the young woman of Jacarepaguá (a neighborhood in the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro) was not an exception.
By the same token, the aggressor is also far from the idea of a “monster”, the preferred term of a great amount of individuals online that scandalized the case in order to refer to criminals in their social media comments. In general, women who have suffered sexual violence are not assaulted by strangers. The aggressor can be someone in the family, a significant other, or a friend, with whom the victim had a relationship. Turning the assailant into a “monster” strengthens the idea that this case should be treated as an exception.
“The approach of defining rape as an monstrous act and through the conduct of the victim strengthens the idea of exceptionality, both in relation of the victim as well as of the aggressor. The concept of rape culture is an important political tool, because it speaks to non-exceptionality and to the social mechanisms that sustain this vulnerable situation,” evaluates anthropologist Regina Facchini, research of Núcleo de Estudos de Gênero - PAGU/Unicamp.
“Violence/sexual aggression/rape are political terms that are part of a regular social/cultural production which, then, becomes the idea of rape culture. A very worrisome comment that I read was, “I am in solidarity with all of the women that have suffered and suffer abuse, but I will not spend 1% of my energy defending bandits (...) a girl that posts that she likes sex with criminals and likes orgies does not represent me”. Rape, according to this position, is not rejected as violence that disrupts the notion of human right, instead it is suitable as a moral lesson, reinforcing the idea that there exists “rapeable” women --”those that like criminals”, “those that like orgies”, or those that are intoxicated, creating a moral subject and a hierarchy of femininities connected with conducts, bodies, classes, skin color, sexual orientation,” affirms the social scientist, Carolina Branco de Castro Ferreira, also a researcher of PAGU/Unicamp.
Both of the researchers bring attention to the way the internet has become an important field or performance and pedagogical instances of sensibility construction in relation to feminist ideal, through online activism (called “cyberfeminism” or virtual feminist militancy) and the engagement of younger women.
“The feminist political structure focuses on anxieties and diffused fears, transforming them into indignation and weaving a moral, cognitive, and emotional trauma inspired by political action, incredibly useful as a form of social education among multiple demographics. But this, in the case that we are discussing, produces a series of ambivalences like selective indignation and the (re)production of moral subjects in the scope of sexual politics,” observes Carolina Branco.
The context of strong conservative expression in Brazil -- evidenced in many of the reactions to the case of gang rape -- is, without a doubt, bound to the political scene of the country, of threats of great setbacks to human rights, especially after the removal of president Dilma Rousseff and the installation of the provisional government of Michel Temer, who, after nominating only white men to compose his cabinet and demoting the Secretaries of Women’s Politics, Human Rights, and Racial equality (that the administrations of Lula and Dilma Rousseff elevated to status of ministries) as appendages of the Ministry of Justice, gave evidence that the “new government” (more strictly, the interim government) does not prioritize issues relating to race or gender.
As Secretary of Politics for Women, the sitting president nominated a woman against feminist values, who initially declared herself opposed to the right to abortion in the case of rape, which is already a law. And while part of the society debates in social media the idea of sexual abuse and rape culture, the outright conservative Brazilian National Congress transmits many propositions that try to regress on the subject. Already approved in the Commision of Constitution and Justice of the Câmara dos Deputados, through support from the religious evangelical right, the Projeto de Lei 5069/2013 proposes that a victim of sexual abuse or rape must fill an account of events (B.O.) and have a body examination in order to be attended by a health agency. Knowing, however, of the reality of a series of barriers that impede a victim to feel safe in reporting, like the inadequate function of the law (the sexist mindset of the deputy who was afterwards removed the case of the raped girl is an excellent example of this) and the difficulty of punishing the aggressor.
The text of the PL also redefines the type of service that a victim would receive at a hospital, for example, preventing her from receiving proper instruction and orientation about legal abortion -- in this country, only in cases of rape, of risk of death to the mother, or for anencephalic fetuses (in some cases, also for other fetal malformations that bring inviability to the post-uterine life, but this depends on favorable judicial decisions). Besides this, in accordance with the law, she would only be able to receive medications that are not abortive, although the text does not define what is abortive. Therefore, if approved (the bill still needs to be voted by the plenary of the Câmara), the law would serve as a posterior prohibition of the morning after pill (today sold legally in any pharmacy) if a doctor finds the pill abortive.
Besides the PL 5069, the PL 7443/2006 is to be voted on, which determines the inclusion of abortion as a crime considered heinous; the PL 1545/2011, which imposes upon doctors who perform abortions, outside of the provisions in the law, a prison sentence of six to twenty years; and the Proposal of Constitutional Ammendment - PEC 164/2012, white determines that the sanctity of life is guaranteed for all “from the moment of conception”, including, therefore, the fetus.
Aligned with these proposals, there exists the attempt to remove the themes of gender and diversity in educational programs, suffocating the possibility of more equal teaching practices and socialization for boys and girls in schools and preventative initiatives through education.
These explicitly ultra-conservative and discriminatory positions of some politicians and senators win support in society, and, so, clearly racist, sexist, and homophobic opinions are increasing in the media due to a greater desire to express them. It is important to note that these forces already existed in society although more repressed. As stated by philosopher Mauro Iasi, of UFRJ, conservatism already existed, strong and persistent, and, for that reason, terms such as “conservative wave” or “the new right” can be misleading.
In the past year, Brazil reported at least 47,646 rapes, according to official data from the state department of security collected by the Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública. The number is equivalent to one case every 11 minutes, on average. These numbers also include rapes of minors, crimes against victims under 14 years of age. Since levels of non-reporting is extremely high in this country, the Fórum believes that between 136 and 476 thousand cases of rape occurred in the past year alone.
In the same week that the young woman was assaulted in Rio, another gang rape case occurred in Piauí and, by the date of the publishing of this text, another was reported in the same state. All of which had underaged victims. After the crime in Jacarepaguá which had great media repercussions, the interim president Michel Temer was pressed to pass a bill in the Senate, in an urgent fashion, that increased the crime sentence for rape up to 30 years. And the governor (also with a temporary status) of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Francisco Dornelles, even spoke of giving the crime the death sentence.
“There has always been a tradition of recourse to penal punishment in Brasil, as if it would solve all of the problems, without taking into consideration the social problems that are in play. There is no use to increasing the sentence or thinking of simple punitive solutions when the issue at its core is in Education,” evaluates Regina Facchini.
The recourse to the penal code has also been enacted by the Indian government after the case of gangrape of a paramedic in a bus in New Delhi in 2013. At the time in Brazil, there existed the idea that crimes of this nature were characteristic of other cultures and did not happen here since they were far from our reality. And so, there are many common themes. The phrase, “rape culture”, coined by feminist movements mobilized in the campaign against the normalizing of different forms of sexual violence against women refers to these analogies.
Sexual violence in universities. Situation report.
The cases of rape that occur on the street are what occupy most people’s imaginary, but there also exists cases that happen at home and those that happen in instructional facilities. Recent cases of rape in Universidade de São Paulo (USP), the highest ranked school in the country, lacking effective punitive action, exposed the problems and incompetence of universities in dealing with the issues within its walls.
On the 23rd of May, many student feminist groups, along with the União Brasileira de Mulheres, organizations responsible for public security and cases representative of Rio de Janeiro’s public universities met at the Assembleia Legislativa do Estado (ALERJ), at the invite of the Comissão de Defesa dos Direitos da Mulher, in front of an audience with the theme “Fluminense society against the crimes of sexual violence and rape of women in public and private universities in the state of Rio de Janeiro”.
One web page, created in 2013 by a student of Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro, reported 615 cases of sexual violence at the school, from 1970 to 2016. Many have not been published, because many women live with fear of backlash. At the meeting, the author of the web page revealed herself being case number 616 and that she decided to create this medium of exposing assault in order to give voice to women in the midst of the silence from the university’s silence. She also revealed having suffered retaliation for being the creator of the site and was told that the university was an isolated case. The administration explains that the locations in the periphery of the university and that reduced number of bystanders increase the number of assaults.
A representative from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) reported of cases of rape where the aggressor was freed in the same week as the assault in the dorms and of highly sexist parties organized with the intention of violating students. According to her, the dorms are inhabited by people who do have any connection with the university.
Representatives from Pontifícia Universidade Católica (PUC) reported that, at their university, feminist groups were limited and censored even in the words that they used by the DCE (Diretório Central dos Estudantes). For example, if they were to open a discussion over abortion, it would have to be discussed as “women’s health” due to the connection of the college with the Catholic church.
According to the representatives of Universidade Estadual da Zona Oeste (UEZO), the situation on campus is even more complicated, because the public security in the area is subordinate to the militia with a history of alleged rape. The students there suffer constant harassment but, even in cases of rape, do not report in fear of their own death.
According to the reports of a representative of Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF), in the university campus in the town of Rio das Ostras, rapes happen by daylight, there have been situations where students are locked out of registration after harassment, and an attempt to expulse a sexist professor has been in vain. One woman was stalked and abused by four men who then threw her in a river after thinking she was dead.
The director of UNE, Barbara Cardoso, pointed out that “it is necessary that the universities recognize that machismo and sexism exists in these spaces and also that there are many different ways that violence takes up shape, as well as the psychological impacts by professors.
Present in the audience, the coordinator of the União Brasileira de Mulheres, Luciana Targino, explained that placing the Polícia Militar (PM) in the universities would only increase the cases, since the majority of police officers are men and there exists a strong history of sexism in the organization.
The fact that this information is shared and these glaring acts of aggression and institutional neglect are being debated constitutes a step forward for student woman groups.