| Héctor Velasco |
BRASïLIA (AFP) – A debate about sexual violence in Brazil sparked by a lawmaker’s comments on the floor of Congress has spread beyond government chambers, triggering a national debate about rape and sexism in the South American nation.
Opposition congressman Jair Bolsonaro told Maria do Rosario Nunes in Congress he would not rape her “because she was not worth it.”
Then, he said it again.
“Stay here Maria do Rosario!” he yelled during a parliamentary session on December 9, the eve of International Human Rights Day.
“It’s been several days since you called me a rapist, and I said that I did not rape you because you weren’t worth it,” the 59-year-old retired soldier yelled at Rosario Nunes.
It was not clear under what circumstances Nunes called him a rapist, as alleged.
The rival lawmakers have been at loggerheads for years, and Bolsonaro was reacting after an angry debate about the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, under which he served and still supports.
His comments have sparked national fury in Brazil, a traditionally male-dominated society where 137 sexual assaults are reported daily.
Angry Brazilians also took to social media to voice their disgust at his comments, while the United Nations called his comments “unacceptable.”
Rosario Nunes, a close ally of leftist President Dilma Rousseff, filed a complaint, accusing him of libel and slander, and charged him with public incitement to rape.
“I am not doing it for me, but for all Brazilian women, because no one deserves to be raped. I do not accept in Parliament or anywhere, the incitement to rape,” said Rosario Nunes, former minister for Human Rights.
Unrepentant, Bolsonaro said he would not ask for her forgiveness and pressed on with his comments.
“She isn’t worth it, because she’s ugly, she’s not my type. I would never rape her,” he told Zero Hora newspaper.
The rightwing Bolosnaro is known for his outspoken comments and frequent anti-leftists attacks.
He blamed Rosario Nunes for unfairly accusing him, but insisted again he was not interested in her because of her looks.
“Suddenly, she was calling me a rapist, and she repeated this offense,” said Bolsonaro.
“It was an unfair verbal attack, I responded that I was not a rapist and that if I was, I wouldn’t rape her because she wasn’t worth it,” he said in an article in Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.
Several organisations have called for his resignation, and the Brazilian Women’s Union urged women across the country to decry the comments, organising protests in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and Manaus.
“We must fiercely denounce this,” director of the union, Lucia Rincon, told AFP.
“It is a call in support of violence against women. One person with the attitude of this man does not represent any sector of our society,” she said.
On Wednesday, a bill was introduced in the Senate recognising so-called feminicide – specifically targetting women for murder – as a crime. The bill needs to be approved by lawmakers and the president before it can be enacted.
Women’s rights activists worry that many cases of sexual violence go unreported, and the number of actual assaults could be much higher than official numbers suggest.
In 2013, 50,320 sexual assaults were reported, according to Samira Bueno, the director of Brazil’s Forum of Public Safety.
But too many still go unreported, she said.
“We know that only 35 per cent of victims report abuse to police, so in Brazil, there could be as many as 143,000 rapes every year,” she told AFP.
Bueno said abuse persists because victims are blamed, and perpetrators go unpunished as attitudes towards women are “deeply rooted macho tradition,” she said.
“Women victims are still blamed for provoking abuse, because of the way she behaves or dresses.”