Home Crime Victim Of Femicide In Brazil Fights To Create Awareness, Change Laws

Victim Of Femicide In Brazil Fights To Create Awareness, Change Laws


Bárbara Penna lost her two children, a 2-year-old girl and a 3-month-old boy, in a fire set by her ex-partner. (Courtesy of Bárbara Penna)

By Luciano Nagel

PORTO ALEGRE, Brasil — A survey by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights places Brazil in fifth place in the world ranking for femicide.

The term describes the murder of women because they are women. Brazil ranks fourth in Latin America, behind El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala.

In 2019, 3,737 women were murdered in Brazil. The number is lower than the 4,519 homicides of women in 2018, down by 17.3 percent. These data, from the 2021 Violence Atlas, cover the total number of women victims of lethal violence in the country in 2019. It includes both times when women were killed for being women and acts derived from urban violence, such as robberies that included murder and other conflicts.

The Brazilian Public Security Yearbook  notes that in 2020, Brazil recorded 1,350 cases of murdered women.

In the state of Río Grande do Sul, domestic violence cases are on the rise, according to the chief of the Women’s Police Station in Porto Alegre, the delegate Jeiselaure Rocha de Souza.

The delegate Jeiselaure Rocha de Souza is the chief of the Women’s Police Station in Río Grande do Sul. (Photo: Press Department, Civil Police) 

“In 2021, there was a 25.8 percent increase in femicides in Río Grande do Sul, compared with the same period a year earlier. This year 77 crimes of femicide were recorded,” said the police. The data show that more than 84 percent of these crimes were committed by the victim’s partner or ex-partner, and 75 percent took place in the family home.

“A woman’s home, for victims of domestic violence, is still the least safe place from them to be, because they are murdered in their own homes,” said the delegate.

The police also said 50 percent of femicide cases took place on the weekend, and 35 percent were with firearms.

The Brazilian police arrest a man accused of attacking his partner. (Photo: Press Department/RS Civil Police) 

In Río Grande do Sul, there are 23 police services specialized in helping women, geared toward the prevention, investigation and legal processing of crimes. At these police stations, a battered woman can make a formal complaint and ask for urgent protection measures.

The Maria da Penha Law states that violence against women is a crime and shows how to prevent, confront and sanction aggression. Created in August 2006, it states these Specialized Women’s Police Stations should offer urgent protection measures within 48 hours.

In Brazil, there are only 400 Specialized Women’s Police Stations, spread throughout 374 cities, per a survey by Revista AzMina. It means that in 93 percent of Brazilian municipalities (the country has some 5500), women who suffer from domestic violence must seek attention at a regular police station.

Survivor, fighter and winner 

In Porto Alegre, Bárbara Penna was the first activist for the cause of protecting women who have been domestic-violence victims, after she was attacked by her ex-partner João Moojen Neto. Penna was burned and thrown out of a third-story window in her building.

Bárbara Penna was attacked by her ex-partner João Moojen Neto. She was burned and thrown out a third-story window in her building in Porto Alegre. (Courtesy of Bárbara Penna)

In the fire, which took place in November 2013, she lost her two children, a 2-year-old girl and a 3-month-old boy. An older neighbor who tried to help her died of smoke inhalation. At that time, Penna was only 21 and had been in an abusive relationship for three years.

She was burned over 40 percent of her body and suffered broken heels, ankles and vertebrae, craniocephalic trauma and two cardiopulmonary arrests. She was in a coma for two months, had an infection and underwent more than 249 surgeries. She found out her children had died four months later, when she was released from the hospital.

It was not until September 2019 that João Moojen Neto was sentenced to 28 years, four months in prison for the death of the two children and for attempted homicide. He is in prison today.

On her Instagram, Penna is gathering signatures for a petition to change the Maria da Penha Law and to add other palliative measures regarding modifications to it.

“We should have almost a complete reformulation of the law. To lower the numbers of women attacked and murdered, we need to know explicitly what will happen to the aggressor, what women’s real rights are, what protections she and her children will have. We also need a truly severe punishment for the aggressor, which is currently not the case,” she says.

Translated by Melanie Slone. Edited by Melanie Slone and Fern Siegel

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