Brazil Rape: Protest Movement Against Sexual Assault Growing Rapidly

Brazil is the newest country turning explosive outrage about rampant sexual assault into a public discourse on rape and women's rights in the country.

In the last few months alone, there have been several gruesome high-profile sexual assault cases in Rio de Janeiro. On one of the most famous beaches in the tourist city, a 14-year-old girl from the nearby slum was raped in public. A 30-year-old woman was raped on a bus full of passengers while the rapist held her at gunpoint. Yet another woman was kidnapped and pulled into a transit van, which careened through populated areas of the city as she was gang-raped in the back. The police ignored her story, and the same men committed the exact same atrocity to a 21-year-old American student the next week, gang-raping her while beating her male companion with a metal bar. Many more rapes have also been reported, with some being filmed and put online by the perpetrators themselves.

These stories, particularly the one about the American student, launched outrage and protests in Brazil led by activists and poor women who face these threats at a far greater rate than their upper-class counterparts. And the Brazilian government is promising to respond, pushing for police action in the cases and investigating new safety protocols to make safe spaces for women. Just recently, a gang-rape case brought to the police by working-class women in the city of Queimadas led to the arrest of six affluent men, an almost unheard-of phenomenon.

Such stories of sexual assault mirror tales heard around the world every day, from the United States to Pakistan. In particular, the story about a woman being gang-raped in a moving vehicle is eerily identical to the infamous gang-rape that happened in India in December. That tale ended far more tragically with the victim's death, but it, too, kickstarted a national dialogue on women's rights in India.

The similarities don't end there. Both Brazil and India have women in powerful positions in the government but do not provide that same power for the average woman. Both have already implemented certain measures for the safety of women, such as women-only public transportation services. They have both also instituted policy measures that have broadened the definition of rape, legally allowing for greater rights for women. These initiatives are just beginning to lead to signs of progress, and they face ever-steeper hills ahead – from cultural norms of violence against women to religious institutions that preach female purity and obedience – but they hold a hidden promise.

These movements suggest there is another revolution happening around the world, one that’s a little quieter and even longer in the making than the Arab Spring. As horrible as these assault stories are to hear, the fact that these stories are in the public consciousness and that issues like rape are being openly discussed and even prioritized by the governments in developing countries is a huge step forward. This global, but homegrown sexual revolution, sprouting not only in Brazil and India but also in countries like Egypt, holds the potential to make women’s rights in the developing world a culturally and socially accepted norm.