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Brazil’s Sexual Harassment Issue Indicates Greater Problems in Society

Imagine models dressed in raw meat. It sounds like a strange dream, yet it actually happened during a Miss Bumbum Brazil pageant contest in November. Five brave women visually reminded the world that they are not just meat.

“We are not just a piece of meat. We are blamed for being too sexy. And with Hollywood actresses, what was the excuse?” a contestant told Brazilian media outlets.


A woman is raped every 11 minutes in Brazil, according to a study from the Institute for Applied Economic Research. In addition, a man beats a woman every 15 seconds in Brazil. According to UN Women, around 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner.

Folha De S.Paulo reports that 42 percent of Brazilian women were victims of sexual harassment, according to a Datafolha national survey of 1,427 women. One-third of these women said they were harassed in the streets, one-fifth on public transportation, 15 percent in the workplace, and 10 percent in school settings. Even though Brazil has legislation for workplace harassment, the country does not have laws against sexual harassment in schools and public places.

An Action Aid survey from 2016 reveals that about 89 percent of Brazilian women have experienced street harassment. Street violence prevents women from socializing, learning, living freely, having dignity, and working. The poor public lighting in Brazil does not help women in any way, according to the report. About two in five women in Brazil, the UK, India, and Thailand have experienced sexual assault before age 18. The organization’s Safe Cities for Women campaign in 20 countries seeks to end sexist attitudes toward women through government, business, and individual action.

In a YouGov survey, 503 Brazilian women shared the most common types of harassment they endure: wolf whistling, staring, sexual comments, cursing, stalking, unwanted physical contact, flashing, and rape.

Sexual assault is the least reported violent crime. Many victims do not report rapes or attempted rapes to law enforcement for the following reasons: they did not think anything could be done, they considered the situation a private manner, they feared police response, or they considered the issue unimportant. 66 percent of Americans believe recent sexual assault allegations in the United States reflect greater problems in society.

A report from The World Health Organization found that gender-based violence is a significant global issue and a human rights violation. The report states that countries must address economic and sociocultural factors that foster a culture against women, challenge social norms that support male control over women, reduce childhood violence, reform discriminatory family laws, strengthen women’s economic and legal rights, and provide services for women who have experienced violence.

After the American #MeToo movement began, Brazil formed a similar hashtag – #MeuPrimeroAssedio, a variant of #FirstHarassment – that Think Olga founder and journalist Juliana de Faria created. She also created the Chega de Fiu Fiu street harassment map.

Since creating #MeuPrimeroAssedio, de Faria has used her platform to elevate the sexual assault women experience everyday, notably through her own experiences and through her shock over the sexual comments made about a 12-year-old girl who appeared on MasterChef Junior. She explained how people used #FirstHarassment more than 82,000 times worldwide and realized harassment occurs in every country’s public spaces.

Laws that support male dominance will only further sexual harassment in any country. The prevalence of gender violence in Brazil will continue increasing if the government does not enforce laws or heed international recommendations.

Featured Image by paulisson miura on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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