They Heard Her Screams from the Road

Last month, it was reported that a 15-year-old Brazilian girl had been incarcerated, possibly on false or trumped-up charges, in a men's prison facility for nearly a month, during which time she was repeatedly raped and tortured. Today's New York Times has an update on the case. First, to recap, and clarify coverage:

It was at Abaetetuba, in the northeastern state of Para on the fringes of the Amazon, that a 15-year-old girl arrested on suspicion of petty theft was illegally placed among 34 male inmates in late October. For 26 days they treated her as their plaything, raping and torturing her repeatedly. Sometimes she traded sex for food; other times, she was simply raped, federal investigators here said.
"Trading sex" for any basic survival necessity, when there is no other means of securing it, is rape. I'm never sure why news organizations feel obliged to separate the two—"trading sex for food" and rape. Obviously it's because they feel one is less horrible than the other, but I'm not sure which.

Anyway, there are some new details about how the system utterly failed this girl, and, though they are no more graphic than the basic facts of the case, they are quite upsetting.

The police in the jail did more than turn their backs on the violence. They shaved her head with a knife to make her look more like a boy, investigators said, and now are blaming her for lying about her age.
The police claim she said she was 19, though the girl is less than five feet tall and weighs about 80 pounds, and looks about age 12, according to a human rights advocate. Never mind that what the police did to her—and allowed to be done to her—would be an inconceivably, heartbreakingly vicious act no matter what her age.

What has been particularly disheartening to federal human rights officials in the case of the 15-year-old girl is how many people had the chance to protect her. [Márcia Soares, a lawyer and federal human rights official in Brazil] said the police, the judge and a public defender who had visited the jail all knew the teenager was in an all-male setting.

…Residents heard the girl's screams from the road, which is near the jail windows. Yet for weeks no one came to her rescue. It was only after an anonymous note reached the local child protection services agency that she was removed from the jail.
I just honestly don't even know what to say.

The story hints that this case may galvanize a long-overdue prison reform movement in Brazil, and I fervently hope that it does, though I fear the worst—stagnation, apathy, and a slow return to the status quo if the will to revolutionize the deeply ailing system wanes before sufficient funding and planning for women's facilities has been secured.

There are, as are frequently documented on these pages, numerous reasons for the redoubtable prevalence of sexual violence against women across the globe, but perhaps none that has condemned so many women to their dreadful fate as indifference.

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