“For Women Only”: How Rio Is Failing to Solve Its Sexual Assault Epidemic (TW: Rape, Sexual Assault)

Rio, Brazil-Rio is one of Brazil’s largest cities.  It’s a popular tourist destination, and is known for night life, beaches, and being beautiful.  But Rio’s not just a shiny paradise-~-it has a significant sexual assault problem, especially on its public transit system.  There have been reports of women being raped on the metro while bystanders just stood there.  The frequency with which the crime was being committed is horrifying.  Finally, Rio decided to do something…and created women only subway cars to project women as they traveled the city.

Rio didn’t exactly invent the wheel on this one.  India has also done this, as has Japan.  The question is, is this a solution?  And the answer, I’m sorry to say is, no.

This is, at best, a temporary solution.  But my guess is that not all women will be able to fit in these special cars all the time.  And even if this prevents some rapes for the time being, the reality is that sexual assault stems from systemic problems regarding the way women are viewed and treated in a society.  For this to be happening at the level seen in Rio, there are some serious issues at play, and simply separating out women won’t fix them.  For that, Rio is going to need to do so much more to change the ways that women are treated and create substantial deterrents for sexual assault.

For starters, Rio needs to start cranking out PSAs about bystander interventions.  Bystander interventions are probably the MOST successful method of preventing a sexual assault from occurring.  But in order for THAT to happen, there’s going to need to start being a serious, open dialogue about what’s going on.  The fact that this IS rape and that it is NOT acceptable needs to be made absurdly clear, and that can be done through things like ads, PSAs, and the use of the media as a platform.  It also has to leak into the schools, because young people growing up in a culture that stands by and lets this happen aren’t going to learn how to stop it on their own.  Once you’ve got that groundwork, it’s more likely that people will step in and do something.  And that’s going to do more, long term, than hiding the problem-~-and the women-~-away in separate subway cars.

On top of that, Rio needs to start prosecuting rape and sexual assault cases.  This means that police need to be trained to believe women when they say that they have been raped.  Cases need to be opened and perpetrators need to be investigated, prosecuted, and punished.  This is the only way people are going to start taking this seriously.  It’s not just a public disturbance or something bothersome on the metro, it is a violent crime and it needs to be treated as such.  Until Rio is ready to start actually putting rapists behind bars and making it clear that rape is not going to be tolerated, this problem isn’t going to go away.  It may happen less frequently on the metro, but let’s be honest: this isn’t just happening on the metro.  If it’s happening on the metro, in public, then it’s happening everywhere.

The reality is that this approach is based on the idea that rape is a crime of opportunity.  It’s actually a crime of power.  While removing this particular opportunity does something, it doesn’t actually solve for the underlying issues.  All it does is move the problem to a different space in which opportunities occur.  The same concept applies to slut-shaming: even if women cover up, that doesn’t change the fact that rape will continue to occur.  It doesn’t occur because women wear short skirts, or because women ride the metro.  It happens because women aren’t valued as people, because men aren’t taught to accept “no” for an answer, because men aren’t taught to respect women.  It happens because people aren’t taught to step in to protect women, to defend them.  It happens because women aren’t treated or seen as real people.

If Rio-~-or Japan, or India, or even the United States-~-wants to meaningfully reduce sexual assault, then these underlying problems eed to be addressed.  You can separate women out all you want, but at the end of the day, the only way to really combat sexual assault is to start taking it seriously and go from there.  Anything else is just slapping a band-aid on a gunshot wound-~-just false hope that the problem is solved when really, it’s just being swept under the carpet.

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~ by Randi Saunders on August 14, 2013.

2 Responses to ““For Women Only”: How Rio Is Failing to Solve Its Sexual Assault Epidemic (TW: Rape, Sexual Assault)”

  1. Even better than your FP piece. There are many social issues which could benefit from proper cause analysis for solution management, rather than applying a quick fix. I had no idea rape of this kind was such a problem in today’s age. Seems so…Dark Ages.

  2. The problem with these cases is that Rio, India and Japan are just the extreme cases. As you mentioned at the bottom of your post even in countries such as the US and here in England rape is still a very hard crime to punish with the majority not attaining a conviction. In recent times we seem to be regressing into this “blame the woman” mentality. This isn’t the victims fault, whether they wore a short skirt or even walked home alone at night and until the people in power, the police, the justice system and most importantly the public come together and enforce this then we will continue to fight an uphill battle with such dangerous crimes.

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