Gang Rape That Shocked Brazil Widely Shared Online; Laughter On Twitter

Joffre Swait comments
| World

Note: most of the links in this story are to news items written in Portuguese. Apologies for the inconvenience.

The story of the rape of a sixteen-year-old by at least thirty men in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, dominated Brazilian airwaves and social media sites yesterday. The story shocked this country of over 200 million, provoking flash-protests organized in Rio and statements from politicians of every stripe. Interim President Michel Temer issued a statement in which he called for an "emergency meeting of security chiefs from all of Brazil's states", according to CNN. The Interim President, who stepped in only a few weeks ago and immediately eliminated several federal departments while calling for smaller government, yesterday created a new department within the country's Federal Police to "coordinate actions all over the country" in the war on crime against women, according to Brazil's Globo News.

The response online rapidly became politicized and polemical in a crime-stricken country that is already deeply divided over the last sixteen years of rule by the socialist Workers' Party, and the recent removal from office of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. Impeachment proceedings against Ms. Rousseff began on April 18, an event which removed the president from office for a constitutionally mandated 180 days. Ms. Rousseff stated on her Twitter account, "I reaffirm once more my total rejection of violence against women."

On social media the rape story has become a narrative battle ground between political right and left. YouTube videos, tweets, and memes decrying rape culture and calling for more and better efforts from the Ministry of Education on gender identity were responded to with calls for the legalization of the death penalty, the institution of chemical castration as a punishment for rape, and the repeal of the 2003 Disarmament Statute. A Twitter account was created which published photos of a young woman with her face pixelated out, brandishing pistols and assault rifles. The account claimed they were photos of the victim, and the photos went viral, often accompanied by calls for "the whole story".

Tweet says: globo news agency won't show this, but we'll make sure it's seen. Tweet says: she's no saint, just like a lying newspaper, simply for sale.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the vicious crime is that the victim was rescued and some of the perpetrators identified because video and photos of the rape were shared online by men who were there.

According to Camila Moraes of Spanish newspaper El País's São Paulo bureau, Twitter user @michelbrasil7 first posted video of the rape along with comments delivered "in a jocose tone", including saying "they made a tunnel in the girl, more than thirty guys". Photos and video showed the men holding handguns and rifles. One photo showed men posing by the victim's bleeding genitals. Moraes reports that Michel's posts received many shares before receiving many more protests, but that even after the backlash he did not take the video or photos down. Twitter has since shut down his account. More than 800 anonymous reports denouncing the crime were sent to one agency in Rio de Janeiro alone. These reports led to the eventual discovery of the victim in a slum in western Rio de Janeiro. Her whereabouts had been unknown to her family for several days.

According to reports, the woman has taken an anti-venereal disease cocktail, been treated for her bleeding and a burst bladder, and is now recovering. Four men have been identified and are being sought. The victim's boyfriend, an little-known professional soccer player, is suspected of involvement and gave a deposition to Federal Police several hours ago.

In 2013 members of a gang in Rio kidnapped and raped an American tourist in front of her French boyfriend. Several were caught and sentenced. After the incident made headlines, several Brazilian women came forward saying they recognized the men as their own sexual assailants. Foreign coverage often focused on the effect the crime might have on tourism leading up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Today the leading headline at is "In the name of public health: postpone or move Olympics because of Zika".


Joffre Swait

Joffre Swait grew up in three countries, for no particular reason beyond his dad's wanderlust. He blogs and vlogs as Joffre The Giant, but when writing about serious times in serious places he uses his real name. Like here, for example. Joffre Swait really is his real name, because this is a serious website. He and his wife Kimberly used to own a used bookshop in upcountry South Carolina, but now they live as missionaries in Porto Alegre, the capital city of south Brazil's gauchos, with their five kids (Renata, Joffre, George, Ward, and Mara).