On March 30th, two foreigners were kidnapped after boarding one of the thousands of ubiquitous public transportation vans that crisscross Rio de Janeiro.
They likely chose this van instead of a bus or taxi because the vans are dramatically cheaper than taxis but are seen as quicker and safer alternatives to
the public bus system. These van companies originally developed to serve the poor favelas, home to millions of Rio's poor citizens. Long ignored or
neglected by the formal system, residents built their own informal transportation network, which now has hundreds of routes and has been absorbed into the
The two tourists were headed to a popular nightlife area when they were abducted by the van driver and two accomplices, beginning a horrific journey during
which the woman was raped by all three men and her male companion was beaten with a metal bar before the two were dropped at a bus stop on the outskirts of
Rio de Janeiro.
By the time the shocking details began to be reported in the local media, two of the three perpetrators had already been captured. It appears the trio had
been on an escalating crime spree starting with petty theft, then kidnapping, and finally at least two other rape-kidnappings before the incident involving
Several weeks before, however, a Brazilian woman was raped by the same men in the same van. She reported
the assault to the appropriate authorities in the "women's delegation" of the police who did... exactly nothing. Miraculously, though, when these same men
kidnapped and raped a foreign woman and beat her foreign boyfriend, the police apprehended the suspects in a matter of hours.
The officers responsible for ignoring the first report have been fired, but only after their negligence impacted Rio's international reputation. This
second rape (and the all-important international attention) could have been prevented had they done their jobs in the first place. A third victim has now
come forward, saying she, too, was raped weeks earlier by the same men but didn't go to the police. Is it any wonder given the treatment the other
Brazilian victim received?
In recent public comments Governor Cabral stressed that the rape was "an atrocity," but asserted that it was "not a common practice." Most of his comments
were directed at Rio's image abroad: "the international press has very responsibly stressed that this is not a common practice in our city. The world's
thought leaders know what is happening in Rio in relation to violence," he said.
The governor cited a number of statistics highlighting Rio's improved security, and he's right that violence in Rio has declined dramatically. He did not
cite the rape statistics, though, perhaps because reports of rape have increased more than 23 percent from last year. While this is undoubtedly partly a
result of greater reporting and awareness, as well as an improved security situation, sex-crimes are anything but "uncommon."