Pará, Brazil: “Snow White The Shoplifter and The 20 Felonious Dwarves”

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Drug-addicted 16-year-old prostitute, Itatiba, Campinas, to TV Gazeta. “He” is allegedly a military policeman assigned to the area.

She goes by the name Bruna, the Little Surfer Girl, and gives new meaning to the phrase ”kiss and tell.” First in a blog that quickly became the country’s most popular and now in a best-selling memoir, she has titillated Brazilians and become a national celebrity with her graphic, day-by-day accounts of life as [an underaged] call girl here. But it is not just her canny use of the Internet that has made Bruna, whose real name is Raquel Pacheco, a cultural phenomenon. By going public with her exploits, she has also upended convention and set off a vigorous debate about sexual values and practices, revealing a country that is not always as uninhibited as the world often assumes. –Larry Rohter, “She Who Controls Her Body Can Upset Her Countrymen,” New York Times, April 27, 2006

Moral crusades advance claims about both the gravity and incidence of a particular problem. They typically rely on horror stories and “atrocity tales” about victims in which the most shocking exemplars of victimization are described and typified. Casting the problem in highly dramatic terms by recounting the plight of highly traumatized victims is intended to alarm the public and policy makers and justify draconian solutions. At the same time, inflated claims are made about the magnitude of the problem. A key feature of many moral crusades is that the imputed scale of a problem … far exceeds what is warranted by the available evidence.

cause celebre, n. — 1. a legal case that excites widespread interest 2. a notorious person, thing, incident, or episode 

Jovem presa com 20 homens teria feito sexo para poder comer: “A young woman imprisoned with 20 men, in Pará, was forced to have sex in order to eat.” The Estado de S. Paulo reports.

Media-watchers here in Brazil frequently complain that white, middle-class crime victims from the metropolitan areas are far, far more likely to turn into media causes célèbres than poor crime victims from the urban periferias and sparsely populated Northern and Northeastern states — who are likely not even to end up as a proverbial statistic.

If a “resistance followed by death” incident involving police was a summary execution, and such incidents are never investigated, then that death does not count against the murder rate. Because police, by definition, never murder anyone — on duty or off.

The Madeleine case — a British tot who disappeared in Portugal — is a striking case of the standard “poster child” treatment typical of “moral panic” journalism.

Globo is so dedicated to that story that I recall it “interrupting its regularly scheduled programming” the other week to announce, breathlessly, that “new photos have become available of the room from which the girl may have been kidnapped!”

May have. Ecce Globo.

But there are also signs that this is changing, to the extent that “fairness-and-balance poster-child cases” are found and heavily promoted, so long as they have a sensational angle (such as a woman forced to service 20 men sexually in order to survive) and fit a highly simplifed and schematized  — generally Manichaean — narrative about the state of social relations.
On which see also

Here, a case has arisen in which a woman prison was locked up in a cell with a large number of men, whom she accuses of raping her.

This “poster child” story is used to shine on a spotlight on prison conditions and the law enforcement problems of the distant Amazonian state of Pará.

I will have to go and look at Globo’ coverage of the story, which we caught briefly on the Globo News network last evening before cutting in the DVD player and watching a film. Which we tend to do often. “Damn that television: There’s nothing good on …”

The Estado, it seems to me, has done a very good job of taking the sensational, individual case and putting it in a historical and contemporary political and social context: A congressional probe is now investigating the problem (though it gets little ink alongside the soap opera of the Sex Senator and his political future), which human rights groups have been denouncing for years.

The story has a “moral panic” element, but a contextualization like this helps to overcome it. The story has a serious policy, budget and rights enforcement dimension. It is not a crisis, but it is a persistent problem, one that may require more resources to solve definitively. There are plenty of people with suggestions on how to do so. It is high time they got listened to.

And speaking of moral panic, the top comment on the story on the Estadão’s Web site demonstrates that readers feel free to interpret the issue in the apocalyptic light of that moralizing metaphysical (often Schopenhauerian in origin) pessimism often heard from the extremes of the Brazilian political spectrum.

Rather than “We are all prostitutes,” in this case it is “We are all savages.”

Eu arrisco uma: somos uns selvagens, lá perpetradores, aqui omissos conscientes. Só isso pra explicar o fato em si e o sentimento que uman notícia dessa caia no esquecimento. Eqto sociedade, estamos doentes e, tratando a juventude desse jeito, morreremos na barbárie. Lá e aqui.

I will risk a comment: We are a bunch of savages, with perpetrators on one side and those who knowingly look the other way on the other. Only in this way can the fact be explained, and how news like this could be forgotten. As to society, we are sick, and, treating our youth this way, we are going to die in a state of barbarism. Both there and here.

BELÉM – A jovem L., de 20 anos, que ficou presa 15 dias numa cela com 20 homens e denunciou ter sido estuprada e humilhada pelos presos, teria sido obrigada a manter relações sexuais com os detentos em troca de comida. A afirmação foi feita por integrantes do Conselho Tutelar à Rede Globo. Os responsáveis pela delegacia poderão ser demitidos, caso a denúncia seja comprovada.

A young woman known as L., 20, who was imprisoned for 15 days in a cell with 20 men and charged that she was raped and humiliated by the prisoners, says she was obliged to have sexual relations with the other prisoners in exchange for food. The statement was made by members of the child welfare council to Globo Network. Those found responsible by police will be dismissed if the charges are proved.

A related-story link from the Estadão:

Para a polícia, Abaetetuba é a “Medellín brasileira”

In the view of police, Abaetetuba is “the Medellín of Brazil.”

The municipality has a population of 133,000. Medellín has a population of 2.1 million.

Segundo apurou o Estado, a jovem será incluída no Programa de Proteção a Vítimas e Testemunhas Ameaçadas (Provit). O pedido deverá ser feito pela Secretaria Especial dos Direitos Humanos. Presa por furto, L. denunciou que foi agredida e foi vítima de violência sexual na cadeia de Abaetetuba (PA). Libertada, teria sido ameaçada por policiais.

The Estado was able to discover that the young woman will join the witness protection program, PROVIT. The request to include her was made by the Special Secretary of Human Rights. Arrested for theft, L. charged that she was assaulted and the victim of sexual violence in the Abaetetuba jail in Pará. Once freed, she was allegedly threatened by police.

Shocking as it seems — as it is, really — it actually seems like a pretty common, ordinary case of what human rights groups tend to denounce as the chronic problem of “the de facto death sentence for the chicken thief.”

On human rights groups and their relation to Brazilian police, consider this excerpt from a blog entry by a military police colonel current serving as head of strategic planning for the secretary of public security in Rio de Janeiro.

NGOs dream of using the criminal power and the weapons of the traffic in favor of a social revolution they deem to be imminent and inevitable … It is needful for us not to heed their caveats, and to assume the risks and the collateral damage. It would be impossible to be more explicit than the words of Gov. Sergio Cabral about the narcotraffickers: “They are terrorists, they are evildoers.” – Col. Mário Sérgio de Brito Duarte, former commander of BOPE, the “trooper elite” of the Rio military police — unofficial but highly publicized motto: “We kill to create a better world” – and currently in charge of strategic planning for the state Secretary of Public Security (SSP), Rio de Janeiro. See also BOPE Blogs: “Only the Hard Men Can Save the City”

A bill to declare social movements like the MST as “terrorist groups” was recently shelved in the Brazilian congress.

On a recent challenge to this mentality, one that denounces it, essentially, as a moral panic campaign, see also

No local bookstores are carrying this book, have it in their database, or even know how to order it. I ordered it directly from the publisher two weeks ago, but it has yet to arrive.

A secretária de Segurança Pública, Vera Tavares, ex-presidente da Sociedade Paraense de Defesa dos Direitos Humanos (SPDDH), determinou às Corregedorias da Polícia Civil e do Sistema Penal que abram inquérito disciplinar para “apurar, responsabilizar e corrigir de imediato as distorções encontradas”.

The [state] secretary of public security, Vera Tavares, former president of the Pará Society for the Defense of Human Rights, ordered the internal affairs divisions of the state police and the penal system to start disciplinary proceedings to “investigate, identify responsibility and immediately correct the distortions uncovered.”

Desde 2001, entidades de defesa dos direitos humanos vêm alertando para graves violações nas cadeias e unidades de internação de jovens no Pará. Em 2001, a Comissão de Direitos Humanos da Câmara dos Deputados alertou para a situação de jovens presas no centro de internação feminina do Pará. “Freqüentemente, os policiais tentavam convencer as meninas detidas em xadrezes a terem relações sexuais com eles”, diz o relatório feito após inspeção no centro. Duas jovens disseram que os policiais “prometiam soltar as meninas, se elas concordassem em prestar favores sexuais”.

Since 2001, human rights groups have been alerting authorities to serious violations in the jails and juvenile detention facilities in the state. In 2001, the Human Rights Committee of the federal lower house warned of the situation of young women imprisoned in detention facilities for women in Pará. “Often, police tried to convince girls being held in the cells to have sexual relations with them,” said the report, prepared after a visit to the center. Two young women said the police “promised to let the girls go if they agreed to perform sexual favors.”

A polícia alegou que a jovem ficou na prisão com homens pela falta de uma ala feminina na cadeia e escapou por um “descuido” dos carcereiros. Também contestou a informação do Conselho Tutelar de que ela tem apenas 15 anos. Afirmou que a garota tem 20 anos, mas usava um documento falso para que parentes tivessem acesso ao programa Bolsa-Família, do governo federal.

The police alleged that the young woman was imprisoned with men because the jail lacked a women’s wing, and that she escaped due to “carelessness” by one of the jailers. It also contested the charge by the [welfare council] that the girl is only 15. They say the girl is 20, but used a false document so that her parents could have access to the federal government’s Bolsa-Familia subsistence subsidy.

I am a little unclear on this point: Is the charge that she was let go in return for sexual favors, rather than actually “escaping”?

Also, if the Estadão has discovered which of the two stories is true — Is she 15, or 20? — it does not tell us how it knows this. But it goes ahead and lists her age as 20 in the lede. If there is uncertainty about the fact, it should indicate that. “… who states her age as 15 but whom police say is actually 20.”

Em nota, o presidente nacional da Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (OAB), Cezar Britto, classificou como “hedionda e intolerável” a prisão da jovem em cela com homens. “É algo impensável no mundo moderno, além de um grave ataque ao sistema constitucional”, afirmou Britto, que pretende levar o tema para discussão na Comissão Nacional de Direitos Humanos do Conselho Federal da OAB. Para ele, o episódio mostra o “descaso das autoridades brasileiras no que se refere ao sistema penitenciário”.

In a press statement, the national president of the Order of Brazilian Attorneys, Cezar Britto, classified the detention of the young woman in a cell with men as “outrageous and intolerable.” “It is something unthinkable in the modern world, as well as a serious attack on the Constitution,” said Britto, who plans to take the subject up with the National Human Rights Committee of the OAB Federal Council. In his view, the episode shows “the neglect by Brazilian authorities of the prison system.”

Os casos constam em relatório da organização internacional Human Rights Watch (HRW), de 2002. Segundo a organização, no Pará “tanto jovens como adultos relatam freqüentemente terem sofrido espancamentos e tortura nas mãos da polícia durante e após a prisão”.

The cases figure in a report by Human Rights Watch from 2002. According to HRW, in Pará, “both minors and adults frequently report having suffered beatings and torture at the hands of police during and after imprisonment.”

Pesquisa do Conselho Nacional dos Direitos da Criança e do Adolescente (Conanda), apresentada na Comissão Parlamentar de Inquérito (CPI) do Sistema Carcerário na semana passada, identificou 685 jovens presos em delegacias de polícia brasileiras – 7% dos 10.500 jovens atualmente internados no País. O levantamento apontou déficit de 3.396 vagas nas 366 unidades de internação – além de delegacias, estão abrigados em locais superlotados. Em inspeção aos centros de internação, em maio, o Conanda apontou o Espaço Recomeço, no Pará, como o pior do País.

A study by the National Council on the Rights of Children and Adolescents (Conanda), presented to the CPI (parliamentary commission of inquiry) of the Prison System Last week idenfited 685 minors serving time in Brazilian police precinct lock-ups — 7% of the 10,500 mintors currently incarcerated in Brazil. The study found a shortfall of 3,396 openings in the 366 detention facilities — besides police precincts, they are housed in highly overcrowded locations. In its inspection of detention facilities, in May, Conanda pointed to Espaço Recomeço [“new beginning”], in Pará, as the worst in Brazil.

A unidade está superlotada desde 2002 – tem 138 adolescentes em um espaço com capacidade para 48. Os técnicos do Conanda dizem ter encontrado jovens apinhados em celas sem luz, com vazamento de esgoto e sem camas – eles dividiam redes. A unidade já foi palco de rebeliões e fugas, a última no dia 8.

That unit has been extremely overcrowded since 2002 — it has 138 teens in a space designed for 48. The Conanda inspectors say they found young people penned up in cells without light, with leaking sewage and no beds — they shared hammocks. The unit has been the scene of rebellions and mass escapes, the latest on November 8.

Globo’s main story on that incident was that the riot police, while preparing to retake the facility, were listening to the soundtrack of the popular film Tropa de Elite, which deals with police ultraviolence, to pump themselves up.

[Correction: The Tropa de Elite incident was another prison rebellion, in Recife.]

A fairly irrelevant detail becomes the focus of coverage (perhaps because the film features a prominent Globo actor). Ecce Globo.

“Life imitates art.”

A Fundação da Criança e do Adolescente do Pará (Funcap), responsável pelo atendimento dos jovens, admitiu a superlotação e disse que aguarda a liberação de espaço para transferir os internos e reformar a unidade. “O sistema de internação de jovens no Pará apresenta os mesmos problemas de presídios de adultos, como superlotação, violência e custo alto”, diz o advogado Ariel de Castro Alves, do Conanda.

The Pará Foundation for the Child and Adolescent (Funcap), which is responsible for caring for the young persons, admitted the overcrowding and said it is waiting for space to become available so that it can transfer the prisoners and renovate the unit. “The detention system for minors in Pará has the same problems as the adult prison system, such as extreme overcrowsding, violence, and high costs,” said attorney Ariel de Castro Alves of Conanda.

Later, I want to have a second look at how Globo covered the story, especially on television. It struck me as sensationalistic at the time, and a fairly typical example of Globo jumping late onto the bandwagon and “discovering” the scandalous state of affairs as if were not a case of the chronic same old same old.

Such as its recent “discovery” that paramilitary groups have conquered a ton of territory in Rio de Janeiro — almost a year after other journalists had begun trying to report on this development.

Or its insistence that the phenomonenon is an unprecedented one, when it ought to know full well that it has a long history and deep historical roots.

Globo is shocked! shocked!

The lead-in to a typical news segment will often tell you so, Wolf Blitzer-style: “And now for a shocking story!”

Globo is fond of emotional ventriloquism — telling you how to feel about things, or attributing strong emotions to subjects of coverage without quoting their actual words.

Or when it does quote their actual words, those words do not seem to actually reflect the strong emotions attributed to the speaker.

See, for example

One of the best films I know about the cause célèbre phenomenon and the disconnect between “moral panic” and lived experience, is Citizen Ruth, with Laura Dern, directed by Alexander Payne.

I went to college with the screenwriter, I would add.


Just to highlight the fact that I personally know somebody who won a Oscar (but have not talked to the guy in a decade, at least, to be honest. They guy is too much of a high and mighty Hollywood mucky-muck now to answer e-mails from his old kegger buddies.

Mr. Oscar-winning screenwriter, thinks he’s all high and mighty now — but even so, agreed to be the script doctor on an incredibly bad Jurassic Park sequel, contributing such gems as “HIM: Look out behind you! HER: [Screams] Run away! EVERYONE RUNS AWAY, SCREAMING.”

Write me, Jimbo.)


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