Beware the front of a woman and the back of a horse.
“We needed special stations and police officers who were trained to listen and understand.”
Who: Women’s police stations
What: Handle reports to the police and investigate crimes which affect women in relationships.
“The women were afraid to go there. Violence within a private environment was not regarded as something society should get involved in.”
Marta Rocha receives us in her office at the civilian police station, wearing a floral print dress and high heels. Before being photographed, she carefully applies her lipstick. Marta Rocha has advanced to one of the most senior positions within the Rio de Janeiro police district, and she dresses in a very feminine way, as do most of the other women police officers we meet. Commissioner Rocha is highly regarded and respected, and the murder of a tough woman judge is actually taking up all her time at the moment. Marta Rocha is convinced that police officers are behind the assassination. But she feels passionately about the women’s police stations, which is why she has agreed to see us.
“There is an old Brazilian proverb which says ‘You don’t put a spoon between a man and a woman’ – no matter how brutal the violence - because ‘someone who loves does not kill’.
The number of cases reported to the police quickly increased.
The police are no better or worse than the society around them. The general attitude used to be that no-one should get involved. We needed special stations and police officers who were trained to listen and understand. It worked. The number of cases reported to the police quickly increased.”
There should really be women’s police stations everywhere, all around the country, but some states have been more ambitious than others. There are more stations in the big cities, and in the state of Rio de Janeiro there are ten, with two new ones soon to be opened. Rio also has five courts which are specialised in violence against women and – for the last year – a mobile police bus which travels around to areas which do not have a women’s police station.
“I went with the bus once,” says Rocha proudly. “A woman came to us and said her husband had threatened her with a knife. He was still at home and we went round to the house. I arrested him myself.”
The following day we take the women’s police bus to the suburb of Paracambi. The public square has been invaded by various state and municipal institutions, as well as a number of voluntary organisations. Samba rhythms are booming out from a huge sound system. There is a long queue of people waiting to get an ID card, an environmental organisation is handing out free plants and a breastfeeding support group is offering good advice.
Two male police officers are also present, both as guards, in case the situation gets out of hand.
Outside the bus is a small table with a lace tablecloth. Brochures about the Maria Da Penha Act are on the table. It is very hot. Two women police officers, Commissioner Waliska dos Santos Garcez and Leni Alves Piranga, invite women who want to talk to come inside. Two male police officers are also present, both as guards, in case the situation gets out of hand, and to carry out checks using the computers and mobile broadband on board.
The first visitor is a mother-of-five in her thirties. The whole family squeezes in. The mother takes a brochure and asks some general questions. Maybe the children are curious to see the inside of the bus, maybe this is the first step in a process which will lead to a police report.
The next group of visitors is from a local women’s group. They have come to complain that the local police are not doing their job properly. They would like to have a local women’s police station, not just an occasional visit from the bus.Three young girls come rushing in. They know about the new law but they have also heard that there is no point in reporting acts of violence to the police – it takes such a long time to get to court.
“That’s not true, it varies from time to time,” says the head of the police station, Waliska dos Santos Garcez.
That may be true, but she knows that the real problem is the slow legal system. It can take eight years for a case reach the courts, and even once sentence has been passed, it is possible to appeal.
The girls have seen a lot of violence.
The girls have seen a lot of violence.
“My sister found proof that her husband had been unfaithful, and that led to a fight. When he left the house, my sister was lying motionless on the floor. She survived, she just had some bruising, and she didn’t report him. I saw everything.”
We visit the DEAM (Delegacia Especializadas á Atendimento a Mulher) women’s police station in central Rio. The station manager, Célia Silva Rosa, tells us that most of the officers working at the police station are men, but that they all receive regular training in the processes of violence. The station is open round the clock, but the duty offers are often able to sleep during the night.
“Not many people live here in the centre. Most people come here on Mondays and Tuesdays, on their way to work.”
Today is Tuesday, and the waiting-room chairs inside the large glass entrance are all occupied. Visibility is important in Brazilian police stations. Throughout many years of dictatorship and police brutality, thousands of innocent citizens were tortured and abused behind close police doors. Now everything is kept open and transparent. No-one appears to bother that people out on the street can see who is waiting.
“It’s not the wealthy women who come here,” says the police commissioner.
He’s never hit me, but I’m afraid of him. I know what he’s capable of doing and what he’s done to other people."
Mirela is in her thirties. She has come to report her most recent boyfriend, who has been pestering her with telephone calls and text messages since she threw him out.
“He’s never hit me, but I’m afraid of him. I know what he’s capable of doing and what he’s done to other people.”
She has had some bad experiences. The boyfriend she had five years ago beat her, and when she left him, afraid that he would kill her, he threatened her: “If you put me in prison, I’ve got friends ...”
“I never reported him. Now I want to.”
After talking to the policeman, she is a little disappointed. The threats were not explicit enough to come under the Maria Da Penha Act. They fall under the category of minor crimes, and will be dealt with in a special court for minor offences. But the police listened to what she had to say, and took her seriously.
“The guy will be called in for questioning. I’ve shown I mean business.”
Maternal deaths: 58 deaths per l00,000 births
Number of children/woman: 2.18
Abortion legislation: Abortion is not legal. It is only allowed if the woman’s life is at risk or if she has been the victim of rape or incest.
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: 41,532 women were murdered in the years 1997-2007. That implies 10 women every day. The majority were murdered by men they knew. In the first six months of 2010 over 40,000 incidents of violence against women were reported.