In Brazil a woman dies every hour and a half as a result of assault. That’s fifteen women who die, every day, because of violence against women.
In theory the law Maria da Penha is supposed to prevent domestic abuse and the homicide of women in the home. But a recent study has revealed that since the law came into effect in 2006 the number of abused and assaulted women hasn’t changed – in fact, the number has increased since 2001.
The law is meant to impose harsher and longer punishments for abusive and violent men and it also forbids the payment of fines as penance. It is named after bio pharmacist Maria da Penha Fernandes whose ex-husband tried to kill her twice – she was electrocuted and shot at with a firearm. Her attacker Marco Antonio Heredia Viveros was sentenced to eight years in prison, but was released after two years for good behaviour.
The report, published by Ipea estimates that from 2001 to 2011 around 50,000 women were murdered – 5,000 deaths per year. Ipea says a huge part of these murders were result of domestic violence – and at least one third of these women were murdered in their own homes.
Maria da Penha law was created so that men realized that domestic abuse is not a punishment-free crime which in itself was great progress in 2006. Domestic abuse used to be a husband and wife affair, where the authorities had no real business interfering. At least now it is considered a crime against women.
In fact Solange, 43, was waiting for the law to come into effect to open a case against her husband, who is a military policeman.
She said: “Maria da Penha Law only had three years when I made a formal complaint. I was following the process so I could open a case against him. He broke my nose, I filed a police report and I stayed married to him another year because I didn’t have the courage to take a stand [against him]”
Her son is in therapy and slowly recovering from the traumatic events at home. At four years old he remembers helping his father clean his mother’s blood off the floor after a beating.
“He’s in therapy to this day. He’ll be 12 soon. The therapy takes time because it’s about fear, insecurity. Now he is more confident.”
Solange says her ex-husband also beat up her children. He hasn’t spent a night in jail after breaking her nose and constantly abusing her for fifteen years.
Solange harshly criticises the Maria da Penha Law for its loopholes that allowed her husband to go unpunished.
“[The law] works in part to protect but it doesn’t work to condemn. On the Facebook page I created to spread awareness there is no one who managed to condemn [their agressors]. Social and psychological work is present and it works but the judicial part is what doesn’t work.”
She also says that the punishments aren’t harsh enough.
“The punishments are too soft, it’s community service for people who broke someone’s arm or leg. He broke my nose in four parts and he didn’t even get community service.
Speaking out against him was a positive step for her and it might even serve as an example for other women
“He had to be exposed in some way,” she tells me. “One of the ways I punished him was telling everyone what he did because I couldn’t hide my face. I was exposed and he wasn’t, he’s still free. I think he has to pay.”
Despite effective protective measures the law hasn’t done anything to change people’s attitudes towards this kind of crime. Although the law is there the attitudes of the authorities are the most worrying – they haven’t been enforcing it and in Solange’s case her husband got off on a technicality.
According to many abused women the police didn’t do anything when they made formal complaints about their partners – even when they said they were in fear for their lives.
Mara Rúbia Guimarães was blinded when her ex perforated her eyes with a table knife because she didn’t want to get back together. She said she had approached the police four times to ask for help but it amounted to nothing.
She said: “I heard an officer say that things aren’t that simple. It’s not just going and talking. But it was. He blinded me and now I will live the rest of my life in darkness.”
Though the punishments for domestic abuse are harsher than before the police force doesn’t take complaints from abused women seriously enough which results in an obstacle for the law to even work.
Abuse originates from the need of control and the objectification and dehumanization of women. From the man who hits his wife to the policeman who dismisses the women’s bruises the trace of misogyny can be seen, clearly. The ordeal suffered by Maria da Penha changed the law but it didn’t change the culture that results in these kinds of crimes.
Maybe the police think they have better things to do than care for a citizen who is suffering at the hands of her partner. But if the police actually acted on the complaints maybe they would be able to prevent deaths and broken women who have to live with scars of their past for the rest of their lives while their abusers walk free. These women will always live in fear.
Photos courtesy of wilpf.org / Creative Commons License