|Women against Violence: Breaking the Silence (UNIFEM, 1997, 116 p.)|
|The Power Axis: Gender Violence in Brazil|
Domestic violence is not easy to define. It does not coincide exactly with gender violence, although it occurs within the domestic space. Gender violence is much broader, in that gender prescribes norms not only for men-women relations but also men-men and women-women relations. According to one theory, "Domestic violence has a gender: masculine, whatever the physical sex of the domineering person" (Welzer-Lang 1991:278). This means that the male marks his territory, within which he is sovereign and allowed to punish women and children - even with death. As patriarch, he is in charge of domestication of the people living in that space, although he may delegate part of these functions to women, especially regarding children. As socializers, women fulfill masculine designs at the same time as they tame the young, thereby reaffirming the gender status quo.
Real life, however, requires another type of analysis. Like the rooster, man establishes his territorial dominion: he is absolute master, followed by woman, children and servants, who occupy a position similar to the children. In Brazil, servant girls are often obliged to render sexual favours to the man or to his son. When domestic violence embraces non-related persons it is understood as within the family nucleus. In effect, the two modes of violence overlap; both occur in the midst of affect relationships, with an even more serious issue for domestic violence: daily relationships.
The preferred victims of family violence are women and children. While women administer physical and emotional punishment to children, their slaps are lighter than those of men.3 Although male authority in itself constitutes such a threat that usually beating is not necessary, when it does occur, it is heavy, often resulting in bone fractures and other serious bodily harm. As for women, they constitute a permanent target for male power and its opposite: male impotence. In fact, impotence is the other side of power. While women, who are socialized to deal with impotence, still find it hard, for men, who are raised for power, the experience is much more difficult. As a result, I believe that violence most often springs from the incapacity to experience impotency, or what I have called a "small-power syndrome" (Saffioti 1989; Saffioti and Almeida 1995). Thus, when power is enjoyed only in one or two dimensions, it is not enough. In terms of class, for example, except for an elite, all are dominated/exploited. While men enjoy power in gender relations, this does not enable them to change the prevailing class power relations. Thus their gender power is a small power, employed to compensate for domination in other areas. The small-power syndrome is, in fact, an experience of impotency.
3. Based on research from Defense of Women Police Stations and at the SOS Child in SPaulo (Saffioti 1996).
A large percentage of Brazilian men suffer from this condition. In order to estimate its extent, we have to rely on the only existing study, done in 1988 (FIBGE 1990). This concerns only physical aggression, and does not distinguish between domestic and non-domestic violence, but since most domestic violence takes place in the home and most non-domestic violence takes place in public places, we can construct a reasonably accurate picture from this survey. Among cases of physical aggression in the home, the study found that 63 percent targeted women. Only 37 percent of the victims were men. Among women, 90 percent were from 18 to 49 years old, an age range in which they would normally be married. It would seem reasonable to suppose, therefore, that a large part of these aggressions were caused by their companions. Between 0 and 9 years of age, the proportion of women victims was very low: 3 percent. Between the ages of 10 to 17, this number went up to 8.7 percent, while for women over 50 it was 8.2 percent. In this last group there is a high probability of women being either widowed or separated; between 10 and 17 however, there is quite a large group who, although not in a stable relationship do have active sexual lives with their boyfriends, and consequently, share some time together.
Among men the incidence of physical aggression in the home is distributed much more homogeneously across the age spectrum. Under 17 years of age, the proportion of men who are victims is 20.3 percent; increasing to 31 percent among men aged 18 to 19; 33 percent among men aged 30 to 49; and 16 percent among men over 50. Thus among both the youngest and the oldest age cohorts, the percentages are practically twice those of women, which suggests male involvement in violent relations with other men throughout their lives. Although once in a while a man will be hit by a woman, this does not show up statistically, primarily owing to man's greater physical strength and the social incentive men have to act violently. It is likely, therefore, that men suffer violence at the hands of other men; a little over a third of them suffer physical aggression in the home. If there are women who engage in physical struggle with other women, this is much less relevant statistically than women beaten by men. For children, boys or girls, a large part of home violence is committed by parents. At later ages, both sexes may be victims of adults, often their own children.
In public spaces, men are the main targets of physical aggression, making up 87 percent of the victims in commercial buildings, 68 percent of the cases in public streets, 73 percent of cases in schools, and 90 percent of cases in sports stadiums. Relatives predominate as physical aggressors in the home: 52.3 percent. In public areas, unknown aggressors or police together account for 83 percent in commercial buildings and 90.6 percent on public streets. In stadiums, the attackers are the police: 61.3 percent.
Among victims of family violence, two-thirds (66%) of the targets are women. Females aged 0 to 9 are only 2.8 percent of the victims; those from 10 to 17, are 9.9 percent; those from 18 to 29, are 43.6 percent; those aged 30 to 49, 38.4 percent and those 50 and over, 5.3 percent. Once again, the age groups preferred by the aggressors coincide with those in which women are generally married, suggesting that the women are beaten by their companions.
Among male victims of family violence there is again homogeneity across the age spectrum: of such victims ages 1 to 9, 8.1 percent are males; ages 10 to 17, 18.4 percent are male; ages 18 to 29, 30.8 percent are male; ages 30 to 49, 28.4 percent are male and of victims over 50 years old, 14.3 percent are males. Males tend to suffer physical aggression only once, while females are more often subject to repeated violence. When the aggressor is known but unrelated, the proportion of victims is inverted: two thirds are men and only one third are women. In addition, men represent 88 percent of the victims of police violence; all of the victims of violence by private security workers; and 65 percent of victims beaten by unknown aggressors.
While the Legislative Committee of Inquiry collects more specific information on violence against women, the data unfortunately constitute a closed universe; thus we cannot ascertain how much they represent in terms of violence committed against all human beings, women and men. What these data do show are some regional differences. In the south of the country, there are higher numbers of bodily lesions whereas, in the northeast, the percentages of rape and homicide of women by their companions is frightening.
There are no national data on sexual violence in Brazil, although the high incidence of marital rape is well-known. Although the Brazilian Civil Code specifies the performance of "marital duty" for both spouses, it exists, de facto, only for women. This means that when the husband wishes to have sexual relations, the wife fulfills a marital duty by obliging even if it is not what she wishes at that moment. Women agree not only in obedience to the husband but also because "men will go after it outside the house if he can't get it at home," as women frequently testified. If women refuse, however, men can use force. While outside marriage, rape is a crime subject to 6 to 10 years imprisonment, marital rape is not included in the Penal Code. While it is considered an incidence of domestic and family violence, and thus subject to investigation by police, it is usually very hard to prove.
Regarding sexual violence against children, the incidence is much higher than generally imagined. Although also committed by strangers, the great majority of sexual-abuse cases against children occur within the family. In a study of incest abuse within 50 families in SPaulo, findings were similar to those in other countries. Contrary to what was thought, adolescence, the time of life when the secondary sexual characteristics bloom and girls become exuberant, is not the preferred age of aggressors. Sexual aggression may begin with babies and continue throughout adolescence, but it usually starts between 7 and 10 years of age. Within the 50 families, all of whom had reported abuse, there were 52 aggressors, all of whom were men, and 63 victims, all of whom were girls. Of the aggressors, 37 were biological fathers and 6 were stepfathers; 11 of the girls gave birth to their fathers' children. Other relatives who inflicted violence against children included cousin, uncle, grandfather, brother-in-law (Saffioti 1993, 1995, 1997).
Although children of both sexes are subject to child sexual abuse, international statistics show that 90 percent of the victims of this type of violence are girls as opposed to 10 percent boys. The aggressors are, almost always, men. It is estimated that between 1 and 3 percent of sexual aggressors are women (Clarac and Bonnin 1985; Rush 1980). The abuse takes various forms. Boys are usually victims of anal penetration, although not exclusively. Oral sex is also frequently performed by both boys and girls on adult men. Girls are the favorite target of domestic sexual aggressors.
Like physical violence, sexual abuse occurs in all social classes, differing only in the approaches. In the popular strata, the use or threat of physical violence to commit sexual abuse is more frequent. In the richer and better educated strata, the most frequent approach is seduction. It is difficult to say which approach causes more harm. In-depth interviews with the 63 victims indicated more serious damage through seduction. When the child is brutally raped, with a threat of death and a visible knife, it is inevitable. The child is paralyzed by fear; there is no possible resistance. Inter-family sexual abuse through seduction involves a child emotionally, making him or her a co-participant, at least, in terms of self-perception. Typically, the child does not see itself as victim, but instead feels enormous guilt.4
4. This type of family abuse is not the same as incest, a phenomenon which takes place between people of the same approximate age, who have a peer relationship, rather than one permeated by power. In incest, there is no violence, as there is in the case of incestuous abuse, there is a large age gap and the link is one of authority.
Domestic violence, especially sexual abuse, has always been a well-kept family secret. It was the feminists who raised the veil of secrecy which still hides many aspects of this phenomenon. Feminists are the overwhelming majority of those studying domestic violence worldwide. In Brazil, there were feminist demonstrations each time a woman was killed by her companion. Not until 1985, however, did the pressure become organized, aimed at making this type of violence visible, stopping it, and punishing its perpetrators.