Taking Rape Seriously – R.I.P. Viviane Alves Guimarães Wahbe

I want to share a story that a Brazilian friend of mine wrote about on facebook about the case of a 21-year-old Brazilian law school student who killed herself after being raped by a colleague. One can’t say for sure, but it’s highly plausible that a macho culture that doesn’t take rape seriously and believes women bring it upon themselves by being “provocative,” combined with weak efforts by the law to prosecute rapists, may have contributed to this young women’s decision to end her life.

Here’s what my friend said (the original Portuguese follows):

RAPE IN BRAZIL AND INDIA (the “BR” and the “I” of BRIC of corruption and impunity): After hearing even here on facebook that the cause of the downfall of innumerable Brazilian officials  has been, naturally, their women, their lovers, I was fed up with accepting the attitude of accepting machismo that exists in Brazil. Because of this, in conducting my own comparisons between India and Brazil, we have here the case of a law intern who, as far as we know, was raped at a Christmas party by one of her “lawyer” colleagues (probably because her clothes were too provocative, as I hear constantly in the accounts of the strongest justifications for rape throughout the world, where the woman is always to blame) and I share here the name of the law firm, with the hope that this case is investigated as quickly as possible. The girl threw herself from the tenth floor of her apartment building. In India, society has now asked that rapes be investigated and punished. In Brazil, some say, it’s a little better, but the attitude of many people continues to be the same. I hope that this case will be investigated as quickly as possible and that the “lawyers,” just as our “politicians,” if they are guilty, that they be convicted [for their crimes]:

Viviane Alves Guimarães Wahbe, 21, was an intern at the law firm Machado, Meyer, Sendacz e Opice (São Paulo).

ESTUPRO NO BRASIL E NA ÍNDIA (O “BR” e o “I” no BRIC da corrupcao e impunidade): Depois de até escutar aqui no facebook que a causa da queda de inúmeros governantes brasileiros tenha sido, naturalmente, as mulheres, as amantes, dos mesmos, fartei-me de aceitar esta atitude de aceitacao machista que há no país. Por isso, fazendo as minhas comparacoes entre a Índia e o Brasil, temos aqui um caso de uma estagiária de direito que, tudo leva a crer, foi estuprada em uma festa de Natal por seus colegas “advogados” (provavelmente porque suas roupas deviam ser provocantes demais, como escuto constantemente nos relatos das maiores justificativas de estupro em todo mundo, nos quais a culpa do estupro é sempre da mulher) e posto aqui o nome do tal escritório de advocacia, com esperanca de que o caso seja esclarecido o mais rápido possível. A menina se jogou do décimo andar de seu prédio. Na Índia, a sociedade agora pede que estupros sejam esclarecidos e punidos. No Brasil, alguns dizem, é um pouco melhor, mas a atitude de muitas pessoas ainda é a mesma. Que se esclareca o caso o mais rápido possível e que “advogados”, como os nossos “políticos”, se forem culpados, sejam condenados:

Viviane Alves Guimarães Wahbe, 21, era estagiária do escritório Machado, Meyer, Sendacz e Opice Advogados.

I went to investigate the incident and here is what I found out:

Viviane died on December 3rd, having thrown herself from the 7th floor of her apartment building. The alleged rape occurred on November 24th, after a business dinner when she took a taxi home, sharing it with a male colleague.  The following Monday, November 26th, Viviane came home distraught because the colleague had been telling others at the office that he had had sexual relations with her. Distressed, Viviane was taken to the hospital. There exists the possibility that she was drugged before she was raped. While Viviane was in the hospital, she told her family that she drank two glasses of champagne at the party and had a difficult time remembering what happened next – she blacked out, in other words.

The case is currently being investigated by the police in São Paulo.

I’m sure everyone would agree that this is awful. But the point really is: why is this still culturally acceptable? Why are men so convinced that they can impose themselves sexually on women? Obviously there must exist not only a sense of entitlement, but no threat of punishment either. The rapist in this case, remember, bragged to his colleagues about having sex with Viviane!

The solution is two-pronged: law enforcement must be more on top of things, increasing the penalties for rape, clarifying its definition, prosecuting quickly and educating the public about how all of these policies will be enforced. Secondly, there must be a cultural shift away from blaming women for the violence of men. We must support our women and protect them. The truth is, I find this argument of women holding full responsibility to be insulting to both women AND men. You’re telling me, then, that a man is incapable of keeping his pants zipped when he sees an attractive woman? That his basest animal instincts have to come flying out and attack her? Get real.

Furthermore, often it’s a case of men taking silence as “yes.” Who knows how forcefully Viviane resisted; if she was drugged, there was probably no resistance at all. She could have been scared and he, likely being bigger and stronger, wasn’t able to resist. Men may think that the girl is playing hard to get. The woman may be afraid of crying out, for fear that the encounter might turn more violent. It’s complicated. But men have brains and they should use them more – it should be clear when a woman does not want to have sex with you (especially if you drug her first! hello!) and you need to leave, instead of thinking that if you just stay longer, say the right thing, hold her down just right, whatever, she’ll comply, you’ll get your fix and life goes on. That’s sick.

As for the law firm where the rapist and his victim worked, Machado, Meyer, Sendacz e Opice – all they’ve said so far is that they are very sorry that this occurred, they are assisting with the investigation and that out of respect for the victim and her family, there aren’t discussing the occurrence publicly (“o escritório não se manifestará sobre o fato“).

Let us all remember Viviane and learn to become advocates in our own lives for ending this horrible crime. R.I.P. Viviane.

14 thoughts on “Taking Rape Seriously – R.I.P. Viviane Alves Guimarães Wahbe

  1. Gabe says:

    And what about that West Virginia girl massive rape?
    Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, are charged with digitally penetrating the girl first in the back seat of a moving car after a party Aug. 11 and then in the basement of a house. Mays also is charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. The two maintain their innocence.
    What do you tell about that?

    • Hi Gabe.

      Thank you for commenting and for bringing this case to my attention, which I had not heard of. The details (at least from what I have read at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/13/trial-to-begin-in-ohio-hs_n_2866339.html) do suggest that the alleged perpetrators are at fault. Regardless if you want to accept that they raped the victim or not, there seems to be plenty of physical evidence and spoken testimonial that the girl was taken advantage of while she was inebriated. I wish that these types of cases were taken more seriously, because anyone who has seen the evidence in this case should come to the conclusion that, you know what, these boys went too far and they took advantage of this girl and it’s wrong.

      I would like to point out, too that a rape victim has no advantage in claiming rape if it isn’t rape. Rape is plenty awful for who is claimed to have done it, but it’s always worse for the victim – and the victim has to live with the consequences forever. It is unlikely that this teenage girl – who goes to school with everybody involved – would want to admit that she was raped if she wasn’t. Think about it.

      This case also reminds me of a rape case that is often studied in law schools: In re John Z. You have a similar scenario: two guys, one girl, all minors, one party. Like in the Steubenville case, the victim brought the case to court, where awful cross-examining occurred. Legal professionals with experience in rape and other sexual assault cases often recommend that the issue be settled outside of court, so that the victim doesn’t have to relive the experience by being cross-examined on the witness stand. I highly recommend the following article by Professor Michelle Oberman of Santa Clara University’s Law School about this case: Two Truths and a Lie: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1769902. I think that In re John Z. can provide a lot of insight into handling the Steubenville case.

      Thank you again for your feedback and I hope you will continue to comment!

  2. Elis Oliveira says:

    Natasha,

    I have friends that worked at this law firm and it seems like there everyone not only know that she was raped, but actually know who is the rapist (who, believe it or not, is one of the partners in the business). Asides from that, most people say that while he raped the girl (who everyone who was at the party remember she left UNCONSCIOUS) he actually made a videotape and sent it to other male lawyers, humiliating the girl. She would have killed herself after she found out this tape existed.

    Asides from that, the Police here in Brazil found and officially stated that they found notes from the girl in here room, specifically saying she was “drugged and raped” at the Christmas party. After the party she stopped eating and sleeping, and was put on pills to try to come back to normal. She never did.

    Now, people like this Will (which is a fake, that takes his name from a French porn-star — just look it up on Google) try to quiet the case down, and EVERY SINGLE law student in Sao Paulo knows this is the doing of this powerful law firm, the second largest here in Brazil, that is afraid to lose big bucks and is trying to pretend nothing happened.

    As a law student myself, I am disgusted that people would pretend a young girl and her whole family did not have their lives crushed in the name of money. Anyone who ever worked in these big law firms here now what kind of sexual harassment interns must go through. Its sad that even when a tragedy like this takes place, nobody does a single thing.

    • Elis,

      Obrigadíssima por seu comentário. A sua perspectiva projeta uma luz importante sobre o assunto. Vamos continuar lutando para que as pessoas reconhençam a importância de levar a sério o assunto de estupro – e como eu pretendo estudar direito também, é muito importante estar alerta aos riscos que pode trazer a carreira.

      Continua comentando!

      Elis,
      Thank you so much for your comments. Your perspective shines a light on the topic at hand. We will keep fighting to ensure that people understand the importance of taking rape seriously – and as I plan to study law as well, it’s very important to be alert to the risks that such a career can bring.

      Keep commenting!

    • Hi Patricia. Thank you for your comment. I had the same reaction to Will’s comment – I have not found any media sources that corroborate his thoughts and I asked that we wait until a full investigation is completed before drawing conclusions. Regardless, this case should be taken as an opportunity to openly discuss the issue of rape in Brazil. Keep commenting!

      • kadu says:

        Hi, Natasha.

        Sadly, Will is right:

        http://oglobo.globo.com/pais/sp-policia-ja-descarta-estupro-no-caso-de-estudante-de-direito-7180802

        The headline says that the police “already rejected rape” in the investigations. What is worse is that the article itself proves the title is a lie: the first line says that the police considers rape an increasingly remote possibility. That’s not what I understand by “rejecting”.

        Thanks for giving attention to this case. Perhaps if the whole world starts commenting on the barbarity of the crime and on the sexist way the police and the media are dealing with it, Brazil will be put under the spotlights with India. And then we won’t be able to pretend rape is something that only happens over there, only because they’re less civilised than we are.

        • Thanks Kadu for your thoughts. I’m just as frustrated as you by the news. I don’t understand why rape is being dismissed as a cause, when the coworker she shared a taxi with home bragged about having sex with her upon his return to the office the following week! Sex happened and Viviane obviously did not consent. I agree with you that the police and media have an incredible role in framing this story and I’m saddened that they are leaning towards “accident” and “psychological problems” as the cause – rather than what seems evident, which was drugging and rape by a coworker.

          Keep writing Kadu.

    • Hi Amanda.

      Yes, I am fully aware that the acronym BRIC represents Brazil, Russia, India and China, to represent the world’s largest emerging economies. I simply copied what my friend had written on her facebook page – I wanted to share exactly what I originally heard that interested me in Viviane’s story and then I explained further what other sources I had found that either corroborated or clashed with the information my friend had shared. The BR of BRIC was one place where she was mistaken, but the core of the story remains true. Thanks for your input. Please keep commenting.

  3. Will Helm says:

    A polícia descartou a possibilidade de Viviane ter sofrido algum tipo de abuso. Acredito que a luta contra o estupro é um dever de homens e mulheres, mas essa não foi a situação nesse caso. Por favor, acompanhem a cobertura do lado minoritário e sério da imprensa brasileira.

    • Will, obrigada pelo seu comentário. Vamos esperar até o caso ser investigado para saber a causa da morte da Viviane, pois parece que a polícia ainda está recolhendo todos os detalhes. Gostaria saber também quais são as suas fontes da imprensa brasileira – é sempre bom saber todas as perspectivas. Agradeço o seu reconhecimento da obrigação de todos nós para lutar contra o estupro. Segue comentado.

      To my English readers, below is my translation of this comment (in Portuguese) left by a reader:
      The police threw out the possibility that Viviane suffered any type of abuse. I believe that the fight against rape is the responsibility of men and women, but it wasn’t the case here. Please, follow the small and serious side of the Brazilian press’s coverage of this story.

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