Upside Down World
Tuesday, 30 August 2016
Brazil Truth Commission Details Extent of Rape During Military Dictatorship PDF Print E-mail
Written by Danica Jorden   
Friday, 16 January 2015 09:10

Brazil’s National Truth Commission (Commissão Nacional da Verdade, CNV) presented its final report on the history of the human rights violations committed by the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985 on Wednesday, December 10, 2014. One of the chapters in the three volume, 4,400 page report was entitled, “Sexual Violence, Gender Violence and Violence Against Women and Children.”

Through its working group “The Dictatorship and Gender,” the CNV took testimony and  detailed the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon against those the dictatorship considered to be political and social activists or otherwise subversive. It describes how women, including nuns, were raped, how rapes were carried out in the presence of partners and children, and how sexual violence was also committed against victims who were ultimately killed. It also makes mention of the enduring scars, both physical and psychological, left upon those who were sexually violated. Lesbians, bisexuals, homosexuals, transsexuals and the transgendered were subject to particularly cruel violations of personal and human rights.

“Inserted into the logic of torture and part of the hierarchical structure of gender and sexuality, the sexual violence recounted by survivors of the military dictatorship constitutes abuse of power not only if we consider power as the faculty or possibility of the state agent to inflict suffering, but also the permission (explicit or not) to do so. It was thus that routinely, in the instances where torture became a mode of exercising power and total domination, [concepts of] femininity and masculinity were utilized to perpetrate violence, breaking down all the limits of human dignity,” the report said. [1]

Lucia Murat, in her testimony published by the CNV in May, recounted how she had been subjected to sexual torture. “I was naked with a hood over my head and a cord around my neck that went down  my back to my hands, which were tied behind my waist. While the torturer was touching my breasts, my vagina, putting a finger in my vagina, it was impossible for me to defend myself because if I had moved my arms for protection I would have hanged myself, so I instinctively fell back.” [2]

Cristina Moraes Almeida was first arrested in 1969, when she was 19 years old. During torture sessions, she was mutilated on the chest and breasts, and injuries were made to her leg with a drill.

“I want to forget. But I ask you: what kind of professional in psychology could erase these marks? No one;  no one. And today the [torturers] say: ‘I don’t know, I didn’t see anything, I’m not responsible.’ Look, to call them torturers is a compliment. Serial killers, without a doubt.... I want this chapter to be over for me. Because I’m still living it as if it had happened yesterday.”[3]

Likewise, Brazil’s president herself may have relived her earlier trauma during the report’s presentation. As earlier accounts have mentioned, President Dilma Rousseff was overcome in the middle of her speech accepting the report. She stroked the sides of her mouth while composing herself, perhaps viscerally recalling how, as her own deposition states, her face was beaten and teeth knocked out during her long period of torture and imprisonment. She has refused to go into further discussion of her experiences.

Wealth did not prevent, and may have played a part, in being subject to torture and rape. Karen Keilt was detained in with her husband in May, 1976. They were released in the beginning of July, after having paid a “ransom” of $400,000, according to the CNV, which recorded the following testimony from Ms. Keilt:

"They began to beat me. They hung me from the parrot’s perch. They tied me up. They hit me, they gave me shocks. They started shocking me on the chest, the nipple. I fainted. I started bleeding. From the mouth. I was bleeding from every place there was. I was bleeding from the vagina. The nose, mouth... I was very, very hurt. I saw one of the guards and he took me to the back of the cells and he raped me. He said I may be rich, but I had a c*** like any other woman. He was horrible [crying]. Oh God! [crying]."[4]

For James N. Green, Commission participant and expert on Brazil at Brown University, the inclusion of LGBT subjects in the CNV’s final report was a victory in two senses. One is the official recognition of LGBT victims. But also, according to Green, "this is a very important, historic conquest. The role of homosexuals in the redemocratization of Brazil has always been very forgotten.”[5]

Unfortunately, it appears that the persecution of LGBT victims of the dictatorship was so extreme many took their own lives, some managing to slit their wrists to end the pain. Sadly, their plight was not even considered worthy of discussion by the Left in the recent past. Journalist João Silvério Trevisan, founder of the landmark gay and lesbian newspaper Lampião da Esquina, published in Rio from 1979 to 1981, remembers, “Indigenous, black, environmental, and LGBT movements were considered ‘minor struggles.’ At the beginning of the ABC movement, [former president] Lula even said ‘there are no fags in the working class.’ There was a great deal of indignation, and later the movements were included and marched in the major strikes.”[6]

At the report’s presentation, in a stunning example of the duration of rape culture, a long-standing and wildly popular federal deputy representing the State of Rio de Janeiro verbally accosted another deputy who had just given a speech, in an attempt to not only dismiss her position in the federal government, but also to call into question and mock the entire proceedings.

As Federal Deputy Maria do Rosário (Workers Party-Rio Grande do Sul) left the podium after her turn during pronouncements by parliamentarians in the Chamber of Deputies, Jair Bolsonaro (Progressive Party – Rio de Janeiro) took the stage and called out to her.

“Stay, Maria do Rosário. Stay here and listen. A few days ago, you called me a rapist in the Green Hall and I said: ‘I wouldn’t rape you because you don’t deserve it,’” he declared. [6]

Whether Maria do Rosário had previously offended Bolsonaro is unclear. It is clear, however, that Bolsonaro has been carrying out a campaign of harassment against Maria do Rosário for some time, as this was not the first incident in which he has told her the he “wouldn’t rape her because she did not deserve it.” He uttered the same words to her before in the corridors of Congress in 2003, at which time he also pushed her and called her a “vagabunda,” or tramp.

According to writer Luka Franca, “Sexual violence against women is always about power, and Bolsonaro, in saying that a woman doesn’t 'deserve' to be raped, reclaims that position of superiority.

“The primary important thing to remember is that in Brazil, rape is [considered] a heinous crime. In other words, it’s good as well to remember that this form of violence against women, lesbians, and trans men and women is also a way to take away our humanity, just as rape is widely used as a weapon of war in diverse conflicts around the world as a way to destabilize entire communities. Rape is always a question of power and this is what Bolsonaro ultimately reclaims when he reiterates that one woman or another “doesn’t deserve” to be raped….

“The deputy continues to enable the perpetuation of this form of violence and torture. It is always up to us to point out and demand that sexual violence is not acceptable. The threat — be it subtle or not — of raping any woman demonstrates how much we really need to advance in terms of emancipation and empowerment of all those, of every gender, who are marginalized in our society.” [7]

All translations by the author.

Danica Jorden is a writer and French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian translator.








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