August 10, 2006

Shaming the aggressor

This Monday President Lula signed a new law for the “Enfrentimento da Violência Doméstica”. The news papers here hail the law as a significant step forward in the fight against domestic violence directed at women. Before a man caught beating his wife could walk away from the situation with minimal repercussions. Typically he would only be required to provide her with the cesta básica, an amount of rice, beans and other basic food stuffs defined by the Brazilian government as the minimum for a family. But now with the new law the aggressor is suspect to penalties of up to three years in prison. Interestingly the impact of this new law is considered not take effect so much through the length of the prison sentences but rather the shame it will put the men in amongst their friends. Apparently the previous legislation allowed these men to get away with domestic violence without anybody in their communities finding out about it, whereas the new law in sentencing them to prison would make the situation public. As Jacqueline Leite from the Centro Humanitário de Apoio à Mulher (Center for assistance for women) explained to A Tarde reporters: “Até então, o homen condenado pagava uma cesta básica e ninguém ficava sabendo. Agora eles podem ser até ridiculadas em frente aos amigos por causa da sua violência” [Until now the mand condemned for domestic violence paid a cesta basica and no-one would come to know about it. Now they may be even ridiculed in front of their friends because of their violence].

A similar view of a prison sentence in itself not being sufficient for stopping crime is central also to another campaign here. This year the local electricity company Coelba has taken the reduction of illegitimate use of electricity as one of its prime prerogatives. Ads on the penal consequences of fazer gato [plugging oneself into someone else’s power line] proliferate in the newspapers, tv and billboards. But like the ideology behind Jacqueline Leite’s comments, the final impetus of Coleba’s campaign is on the shame being imprisoned would bring to one’s family. Spending time in a Brazilian prison as people here are well-aware of does not constitute an enjoyable experience, but it seems to be the more indirect consequence of shame one would bring to one’s family if condemned to prison that at least is seen to function as more efficiently to impede crime.


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