The role of the favela in the case of gang rape

The gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in the favela of Barão, in Rio de Janeiro, last month, generated protests against the Brazilian macho culture, and also brought attention to the idea, shared by many Brazilians, that this type of crime is only a problem in the favelas.

In an interview with the American magazine America’s Quarterly, Theresa Williamson, founder of the NGO Catalytic Communities, dedicated to improving the quality of life of those who live in the favelas of Rio, defends that the problem does not only affect the poorer communities. For her, the gang rape in Mangueira is an opportunity for Brazil to face prejudice deeply rooted across the country about the Brazilian woman and life in the favelas.

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Theresa quotes statistics that point to the occurrence of one rape every 11 minutes in Brazil, of which only 35% are reported to the police. "This is a problem that reflects a general perception that a woman is an object, mainly black women", she says, adding that the crime could have easily occurred outside the favela.

"We are living the legacy of slavery in Brazil. Rio was the largest port for the arrival of slaves in the world history. The city received four to five times more slaves than the entire United States. Abolition was 130 years ago and the favelas began ten years after as a direct consequence of people's housing needs", she says.

She regrets the negligence of public authorities regarding favelas and attributes the violence in those regions to the lack of investment. "Crime rates are higher, not because favelas are inherently more dangerous, but because they are marginalised. The logic of slavery lives on. They became the targets of criminals. Most inhabitants are held hostage to this."

The activist sees many qualities in the favelas, such as their architecture, which allows for a solid trading activity using the same space for several purposes. Their low structures and high population density make them extremely social environments. Although they are "autonomous" communities, informally maintained, Theresa believes that they may become urban planning models. She points out that they are neighbourhoods guided towards pedestrians and that children can roam freely because everyone knows each other.

"Favelas have drastically improved in the last decade. Approximately 65% of inhabitants are middle class, compared to 37% in 2001. There is a feeling of pride among the inhabitants and many do not want to leave even if their lives could be improved."

During the winter, many people and families suffer from the cold, as they have no way to keep themselves warm. The street population is generally more affected by the climate changes in the cities. In São Paulo, five deaths have been reported due to hypothermia. These facts cause sadness and concern.

As a response to the negligence of the public authorities, several entities, social movements and good people coordinate, throughout the city, campaigns to collect warm clothes to help those who suffer from the cold.

At PUC-Rio University, students organised a Hip-Hop campaign. Pedro Nascimento, rapper and student of media studies, organised an MC battle with the purpose of collecting warm clothes to distribute in the city streets at weekends.

"After the success of the battles at PUC, the academic centre asked to hold an event within the space of the CA, and then I thought about which topic I could use until this ridiculous cold which we are facing now arrived. At the beginning of June, I heard that a homeless person had died on the streets in São Paulo. This was how I came up with the idea of using the social function that hip-hop has. I gathered the Hip-Hop collective people from PUC and proposed to bring the best of both worlds and have a campaign to collect warm clothes. I told them this was an opportunity to help and to do what we love", stated Pedro for this magazine.

The objective of the several "Campanhas do Agasalho" (Warm Clothes Campaign) is to collect as many clothes, shoes and blankets as possible to meet the needs of families and people in need who are out on the streets. Therefore, during the cold season, solidarity and concerns for others allow us to reduce the suffering of those who have no way to stay warm.

Keep them warm by helping in the warm clothes campaign, and do good! Search for campaigns on the internet or in social movement associations, churches and other people who are engaged in this cause and live your life helping those who need you the most

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