Domestic violence in Brazil
Domestic violence is a well-known problem in both the city and state where I live in Brazil. Today, the rates of domestic violence are higher than ever before in Goiania, Goias, with the Police Department for Women citing 415 women reporting domestic violence or agression in the months of August, September and October of 2012 alone. Brazil is now the champion in crimes of domestic violence in a ranking of 54 countries, with the state of Goiás ranking in seventh place within Brazil.
Although these numbers are high, according to the specialist Aline Soares Ribeiro Vilela, only a small number of the agressions committed are actually reported. She explains that violence against women occurs in all sectors of the city, independent of social class. The agressor is usually someone close to the victim, such as the husband, partner, boyfriend or an ex, who is often motivated by jealousy or rejection.
The agression usually follows a pattern, with the agressor swearing and name-calling, then resorting to threats and eventually physical violence. Although it is recommended that a report be made at the first signs of domestic violence, reports are almost always made much later, after the act of violence or threat, in an attempt to maintain the family together. Interestingly, women of higher social classes are much more likely to delay their reporting, due to fear of estrangement and of exposing the family’s problems publicly, which could provoke further problems at home or in society.
When talking about domestic violence, however, I find that it is not only marital violence that is important to consider. There are a great number of registered incidents of domestic violence involving children, grandchildren and mothers. Domestic violence also includes the beating of children, as well as when children (usually the son) beat their mothers, sisters or grandparents. In such cases where children are the culprits, the origin of the problem is usually drug-related. Often the child is trying to get money for drugs, and begins by stealing and selling things from the home. Violence then occurs because drugs change a person’s mood and behavior, thus giving more courage to the child to act out. It is usually only then that the parents will report the child, in an attempt to save his/her life and prevent the tragedy from escalating.
Another issue related to domestic violence is the cultural tradition of spanking in Brazil. Almost a year ago, a controversial bill was passed in Brazil, called the Law of Spanking, which states that children may not receive corporal punishment. The law is meant to be educational, since studies have demonstrated that violence does not educate children and, instead, paralyzes and reduces their capacity for reflection. From what I commonly hear in my social circles, it seems that spanking children is a very common practice. Recently, at a children’s tea party, one mother (whose daughter is two years of age) had no problem in sharing with the other mothers that she spanks her child when is she is disobedient. As shocking as it sounds, it wasn’t the first time I heard this type of story. A couple of years ago, while doing some volunteer counseling at a free school for children, one of the girls who came to see me reported that her mother hit her and her two year old brother almost daily. At the time, a Brazilian friend told me that if I reported the mother, the children could be taken away and put into an orphanage, which is potentially an even more dangerous situation. This incidence occurred shortly before the Spanking Law was passed. Under the new law, parents are not in danger of losing custody of the child. However, doctors, teachers and public officials who have knowledge of physical punishment to children and adolescents and do not report it to the authorities are subject to a fine ranging from three to twenty minimum wages. The punishments for parents assaulting their children are the same as established by the Statute of Children and Adolescents (ECA).
On September 22, 2006, another law known as the Maria da Penha law was signed by the then-president of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Among the many changes introduced by the law is the increase in the severity of punishment for assault against a woman by a family member. This law provides concrete mechanisms to prevent domestic and family violence against women, in accordance with: the Federal Constitution, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women. It also provides for the creation of special domestic courts for women, amending the previous penal code. In addition, the government has made available two hotlines: one for children to report sexual abuse (Ligue 100) and another for women who want to report domestic violence (Central de Atendimento a Mulher, Ligue 180). The latter is available 24 hours per day, and can be dialed for free from any phone, anywhere in the country. This hotline has received over 2,7 million calls from April 2006 to June 2012.
Passing laws to protect women and children from abuse is a good step, but it does not solve the problem if there are not viable alternatives for women to leave situations of abuse. Shelters for abused women and children are helpful, but temporary solutions. In many cases, these women do not have any education or money, and often go back to their husbands for support. How can this situation be improved? The reduction of domestic violence comes through prevention programs such as lectures, campaigns, brochures and folders distributed in schools, churches, associations and the community in general. More home shelters, referral centers and specialized police stations are necessary here in Goiania, and all over Brazil. Ideally, there would be the formation of a multidisciplinary task force to protect and care for victims, made up of professionals from psychosocial, legal and health backgrounds.
Creating more training programs to help women find employment would help them become financially independent and able to leave situations of abuse. In addition, more free daycares for young children would enable mothers to effectively leave the home to study and work. While there are free daycares in Goiania, they are far too few, and the waiting lists are long. Often mothers leave their children alone at home in the care of an older child.
While these facts are shocking and sad, they are not problems beyond solving. As I have pointed out, there are several factors, both cultural and systemic, that perpetuate the problem of domestic violence. Awareness is the first step in bringing about change.