During the early months of Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic, Rio de Janeiro police detective Fernanda Fernandes was certain that cases of domestic abuse were rising, but there was little she could do about it as few women came forward to file a report.
“Women [were] unable to escape their abusers while stuck at home,” said Fernandes, who runs the Specialized Delegation for Support of Women (DEAM) in Rio’s sprawling Duque de Caxias suburb. The number of complaints has, however, risen as the outbreak has ebbed, and more women have left their homes to lodge complaints with police, she said.
Around the world, police and prosecutors, victim support teams and women’s movements, as well as the United Nations, have reported rising domestic violence during coronavirus-related lockdowns. The pandemic in Brazil has left many couples jobless, adding to domestic tensions, Fernandes said.
Brazil recorded 649 femicides during the first half of 2020, according to figures from the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, up two percent from the same period in 2019. But other crimes against women such as assault and rape, which usually require victims to file a police report, fell during that period, the Forum noted.
“The decrease in the registration of some crimes in this period is more a reflection of the difficulties and obstacles women encountered during the pandemic to report abuse, than a sign of a reduction in cases,” the Forum said in its latest October report.
Fernandes – whose team in Duque de Caixas handled 4,121 cases of domestic violence in 2019, the most of any DEAM team in Rio state – has held Facebook Live sessions to brief the local community on the need to report signs of domestic abuse.
Part of the challenge, she said, is convincing some women that abuse is unacceptable. Others fail to grasp the danger of their situation as they do not believe their partners are capable of killing them.
Taylaine Alves, a 19-year-old mother of two, was severely burned in a 2019 attack and later died in hospital from her injuries. Alves’s boyfriend was charged and is in prison awaiting trial. His lawyer from the public defender’s office declined to comment.
“We mothers never forget,” said Jozilene Pereira Alves. “Life goes on, but a piece of me is dead.”
Brazil introduced tough penalties for domestic abuse in 2006 with the Maria da Penha law – named after a woman who was left paraplegic after being shot by her husband in her sleep.
However, it was not until 2015 that Brazil officially recognised femicide as a crime – years after most other countries in the region, including Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Mexico.