More women are killed in Latin America than in any other continent. In Brazil, Roraima is the deadliest state for women. From 2010-2015, killings of women rose 139 percent. Most of these deaths are attributed to domestic violence. In Roraima, many women do not report domestic violence, and even when they do, they feel helpless because they face several barriers, such as a lack of police response, to having their cases heard.
Brazil introduced the Maria da Penha Law in 2006 to prevent domestic violence and ensure justice when it occurs, but the legislation is not frequently enforced. International human rights treaties also obligate Brazil to protect victims of domestic violence. Brazil has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which explains and calls for action against discrimination against women. Additionally, Brazil has ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women “Convention of Belem Do Para,” which enables individuals and civil society organizations to file complaints at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. However, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, Brazilian authorities have systemically failed in handling and responding to cases of domestic violence.
Women find it difficult to report domestic violence because they fear that by publicizing a personal horror, it would open them up to additional embarrassment and trauma. They also have no faith in the system and believe that reporting the violence will not change their situation. In one case, similar to most in Roraima, the victim did not file a report until many years later. After gaining the courage to report her domestic violence, after a year and a half and more than fifteen police reports along with evidence, the statute of limitations expired on each crime she reported. Another case involved a victim whose daughter called the police during an attack. Upon arrival, the police officer told them they had to go to the women’s police station to report the beating; it was closed that day. Other cases show that even if the victim finally gets to speak with a police officer about the domestic violence, they often assume the victim plays a part. In one case a woman was asked what she did “[…] to make him behave that way[.]”
Under CEDAW, state parties are bound to “modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women” to eliminate “practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes[…]” According to the Convention of Belem Do Para, state parties have a duty to “condemn all forms of violence against women and agree to pursue, by all appropriate means and without delay, policies to prevent, punish and eradicate such violence […]” However, Brazil has failed to uphold its duties outlined in these treaties. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, civil police officers do not receive training on how to handle domestic violence cases, and are unable to keep up with the volume of complaints they receive. Instead of receiving immediate help from police on call, the women are forced to wait until the ‘women’s police station’ is available to report abuse.
Brazil needs to implement many changes in order to protect victims of domestic violence and uphold human rights for its women. Brazilian authorities need to implement and enforce existing laws and allocate additional resources to police in Roraima and ensure that women are able to quickly and easily report domestic violence. There should be additional trainings to educate police on how to handle these cases and improve their efficiency. The authorities should also initiate investigations and discipline police officers who neglect their duty.
While enforcement of laws is crucial, methods of prevention should also be brought to the forefront. Since most of the killings of girls and women in Roraima are a product of domestic violence, measures such as campaigns and other methods of education should be implemented to begin transforming a culture that has accepted misogyny and inequality – and domestic violence – as the social norm.