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Reports Of Brutal Rape In India, Brazil Ignite National Debate


Two countries, two reports of heinous crimes. And before we get into the details, a warning - this is a story about violence against women and girls, including rape and murder. It runs about five minutes.

In Brazil, a 16-year-old girl told police she was raped by more than 30 men. The alleged attack came to light through videos and pictures of her that surfaced on social media. In India, a 15-year-old girl was found dead hanged from a tree. Reports are that she was also raped and two men have been arrested.

Our correspondence Lulu Garcia-Navarro in Rio de Janeiro and Julie McCarthy in New Delhi joined me earlier to discuss these two cases. I asked Lulu to begin by describing the issues being raised in Brazil.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Brazil is one of the most violent countries in the world, and for women in particular, there are deep roots here. When you speak to historians, they say that it goes back to slavery. I want to remind our listeners that Brazil was the last country in the Americas to ban slavery. It imported far more enslaved people than any other country in the region.

Enslaved women, as you know, were considered property. They were used for sexual gratification, and when I've spoken to victims of gender violence here, there is one common theme. The men see their women as things, property. Hence why violence against women is often carried out by men the women already know.

SHAPIRO: And, Julie, in India, there's been a lot of focus on where this victim came from. How does that figure into the larger conversation?

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Well, this girl came from Uttar Pradesh, which is a state next door. And all of that revived this terrible tragedy two years ago when two young girls were also found hanging from a tree suspected of being raped. It was a murky case, and a lot of times that's the problem here. These cases go unresolved.

But you do often have a convergence of several things happening here. First of all, there's the caste system. Gang rape victims are oftentimes on the lowest rung of the social strata, namely the dalits, formerly known as untouchables. And add to that this pervasive, patriarchal attitude toward women which imbues women with the burden of carrying the honor of a family. So what does that mean? It means she gets caught in these honor games, and violence is perpetrated on her as a result of all that.

SHAPIRO: Julie, in India, what role do the institutions that are supposed to protect these women play when you look at courts and other systems like that?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, after this 2012 case that made international headlines of a young woman who was gang raped on a moving bus in Delhi, there was a move to fast-track the courts, and penalties were strengthened for the crime of rape. But a defendant in Delhi still has an 83 percent chance of being acquitted.

SHAPIRO: Lulu, what parallels do you see between what Julie is describing in India and what you are seeing in Brazil?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I think there are quite a few parallels actually. Let's take this alleged rape. What's happened shows how weak the legal system is. The male lead investigator in this case that we've just been discussing has been replaced after he implied that the girl could've been consenting even though she was only 16 years old and there was apparently 30 men involved and she might've been drugged.

And because this happened in a poor favela, there has been some implication that she, quote, unquote, "asked for it." So we do see these parallels between these different areas where, you know, when you have these weak judicial systems, when you have attitudes entrenched with the people who are actually dealing with these cases, you do have results that are less than optimal.

SHAPIRO: Is there a sense in either of these two countries that this case could be a turning point, a watershed moment? These cases are getting so much attention. Julie, let's start with you in India.

MCCARTHY: I would have to say I do not think this is going to be a turning point, Ari. I think the soul-searching that began in 2012 has turned into a sort of numbness. I mean, you cannot pick up a newspaper in India today and not find an article about rape. And while that means the media has been sensitized, the public has become desensitized. And there's also a kind of silence that resonates out of the central government which critics say is also part of the problem.

SHAPIRO: And, Lulu, in Brazil, do you think this case might actually make a change?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've seen, as in India, big cases here that have happened in the past and very little has been done. There's a lot of outrage right now. There are promises from the highest levels of government that something will be done. But at the same time, this investigation, as I mentioned, is extremely chaotic. And it's really not clear that there will be the will to really tackle this on a broad systematic level in the way that really needs to happen to enact change.

At the same time though, the fact that people are talking about it, they're sitting around their tables and discussing a culture of rape, as it's being called, I think is significant.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro in Brazil and Julie McCarthy in India. Thanks to both of you for being with us.

MCCARTHY: You're welcome.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.