In Brazil, the World Cup Is Over But the Sexual Violence Continues

This blog was co-authored by Alice Taylor and Mary E. Robbins, Program Officers, Instituto Promundo.

A few short weeks after the World Cup ended in Rio de Janeiro, four military police officers were arrested for the rape of three young women in a Rio de Janeiro favela. This episode and others have pointed to continual patterns of sexual violence in Brazil.

In the lead up to Brazil's World Cup, the world's journalistic eyes turned to the sometimes sensationalized stories of prostitution, sex tourism, and sexual exploitation across Brazil. While these are real concerns that must be addressed, they represent only part of the story. Now that the arenas sit mostly empty and the World Cup fans have left, the reality sets in: sexual exploitation and sexual violence didn't end in Brazil when the fans went home.

In the past five years, reports of rape in Brazil have increased by 168 percent. Nationally, 52,700 cases of rape were reported last year, and researchers estimate that this number represents only ten percent of all cases. The vast majority of these reported rapes (89 percent) were committed by men against women and girls.

Who are the men carrying out this sexual violence in Brazil? As in the rest of the world, women and girls are often at greatest risk from men known to them or who are assumed to be protecting them. This is especially true for girls in Brazil: in 2013, 32 percent of girls were raped by an acquaintance or friend, and 24 percent by a father or stepfather, whereas the majority of adult women were raped by men unknown to them. Less than a month after the World Cup final in Maracanã stadium - and less than three miles north - officers from Rio's state police were arrested and accused of raping a girl and two young women (16, 18, and 35 years old) in the favela of Jacarezinho. Six officers have been arrested or implicated in the incident. Earlier this year, 18-year-old Gleiciane Oliveira was raped and killed by a man who ran a bar in her neighborhood, Rocinha, one of Rio's largest favelas.

Sexual violence in Brazil first caught international attention in 2013 with a series of very visible rapes. One was the gang rape of a 21-year-old American tourist in a van; only after her case concluded did it became apparent that the same men had raped a working-class woman just a week before, which authorities failed to investigate at the time. Earlier that year, a 14-year-old was raped on a beach, and yet another young woman on a bus.

What do these cases tell us? One of the most alarming trends is the young age of many of the victims in Brazil. According to national statistics, 51 percent of reported rapes are committed against girls up to age 13, and 19.4 percent are against adolescents between 14 to 17 years old. And, even more prevalent than rape is the ongoing issue of sexual exploitation of young girls. In a household survey carried out by Promundo and partners, 14 percent of all men reported ever paying for sex with girls younger than 14 years old.

What can be done to end this growing problem? First, we need a better response from the justice sector. A lack of routine investigations, inadequate police training, impunity, and historic mistrust and fear in reporting to the police all disproportionately threaten the safety of poor women and girls - during and after major events. Low-income women are also less likely to have access to justice and social services - not to mention adequate access to safe transportation and well-lit streets. Security dynamics have also shifted in many favelas; whereas drug lords once outlawed rape as a crime punishable by death, imposing a kind of outlaw justice, there has been an increase in reports of rapes in some favelas where police occupation has forced drug traffickers out or underground. In other words, presence of the much-lauded "police pacification units," which are supposed to rid favelas of drug trafficking, seems to have either worsened, or at best, been ineffective in addressing sexual violence as well as domestic violence against women.

The other missing piece is prevention. We need to reach boys and men. Promundo's research offers insight on which men use violence, and therefore, how to develop better approaches to preventing this violence. In Brazil and elsewhere, we find that men who witnessed their mothers experience violence perpetrated by a man and men who themselves experienced sexual violence, as well as those who hold inequitable views about what it means to be men, are more likely to commit sexual violence. In order to end this sexual violence, we urgently need to take preventative messages to schools and communities and to end impunity to all forms of violence against women.

Indeed, in Brazil and around the world, there is much that we already know about how to end violence against women. From bystander interventions in which men question other men who use sexual harassment or who sexually exploit underage girls, to creating safe spaces in metro cars and better lighting in communities, to reaching parents on how to raise their children without violence, we can end sexual violence using preventative methods that have been proven to work.

And, these methods can be creative; we can use soccer, for example, as a way to reach men. Although the World Cup is over, Promundo coordinates soccer tournaments in various communities in Rio de Janeiro and uses those spaces to promote positive, healthy, non-violent ideas about what it means to be men. Evaluations of approaches, supported most recently by Avon and the UN Trust Fund, have found that the men who participate show reduced acceptance of sexual harassment and violence, and in some cases are more likely to be involved as non-violent fathers. Before the soccer tournament, more than one in five men said there were times that a woman deserved to be beaten; that number dropped to one in 10 after the intervention, and men's reports of having used violence against a female partner also declined compared to a control group. As one participant shared, "We talked about violence on the field, off the field, violence between friends. ... We talked about how to respect the people closest to you because they're the most important; that's why we have respect on the field."

When stereotypes abound about Brazilian women - within their country and from afar - ending all forms of sexual violence and exploitation will mean investing in these prevention efforts on and off the field, and throughout the year.