Brazil gang rape: Why did an American's attack get more attention than a local's?


(L-R) Wallace Aparecido Silva, Carlos Armando Costa dos Santos and Jonathan Froudakis de Souza, who allegedly raped a foreign tourist in a van in Rio de Janeiro on March 30, 2013 are presented to the press in Rio on April 2, 2013. The three are accused of the rape of an American student who was assaulted as her French boyfriend was forced to look on during a horrific six-hour abduction aboard a Rio public transportation van, local media reported.



SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Media outlets around the world have, over the past couple days, all had one major headline in common: American woman gang raped on Brazilian transit van.

The news of the attack on the 21-year-old staying in paradise city Rio de Janeiro on a student visa was horrific. The American woman was picked up by a van — a common form of public transportation in Rio that hold about a dozen people — along with a 23-year-old male friend from France near the famous Copacabana beach just after midnight on Saturday morning.

Other passengers were forced out of the van as the woman was beaten in the face and sexually assaulted by three men, who also took turns driving. The woman's friend witnessed her attack after being tied up and beaten with a metal bar.

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The harrowing attack lasted six hours, only ending after the three attackers forced the couple to use their bank cards to withdraw money and then dropped them off at a bus station on the outskirts of the city.

The gang rape, of course, drew comparisons to that of a 23-year-old student in India who was fatally beaten and gang raped while on a moving bus in New Delhi.

Two men were arrested over the weekend after police traced purchases made with the victims' credit cards, and authorities said one of them confessed to the rape. Another suspect was arrested Monday night.

The terrifying tale wasn't just splashed across international newspapers and websites. It was — and still is — being heavily covered in Brazil, with Folha de S.Paulo, a highly respected and broadly circulated national newspaper, publishing at least seven stories on its website since the news broke on Sunday.

But the American wasn't the only woman to accuse the men in the van of rape. Another 21-year-old woman, this one Brazilian, came forward and said she was attacked by the same three men in the van, who held her for an hour on March 23. The woman registered her case with police, but authorities were said to have investigated the claim slowly. Three other women have also since come forward to report being robbed by the group of men in the van.

The numerous attacks prior to that on the American woman only caught the media's attention after the foreigner's sexual assault was reported on, which caused concern for the safety of visitors heading to Rio and the rest of Brazil for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

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"Everyone should be shocked by this horrendous crime," Aparecida Gonçalves, the head of Brazil's national office for combating violence against women, told The New York Times. She said that reports of gang rape are fairly rare in Rio and other parts of the country, but that cases of rape on public transportation, including buses and the subway, remained an issue in some large cities.

According to Brazilian national newspaper Estadão, reports of rape in Rio have gone up 23 percent, from 4,871 in 2011 to 6,029 in 2012, which is an average of 16 per day last year.

While this might seem like bad news, it is actually a positive change, which started in 2009 when Brazil's criminal code was changed to expand the legal definition of rape.

Gonçalves confirmed to the Times that the number of rapes reported is due to a positive shift in the way Brazil looks at sexual assault.

"Women are more courageous about coming forward with what happened to them than in the past," she said.