Preventing Domestic Violence in Brazil

Therapy sessions encourage men to reflect on and talk about their feeling and behaviour.
Photo: Eduardo Martino

In too many countries around the world, there is no law against domestic violence. But gender-based violence has been taken seriously in Brazil since President Luiz Inazio Lula da Silva signed the “Maria da Penha law” in 2006. Named for a woman who was continuously beaten by her husband, the law changed the penal code, allowing an aggressor to be arrested not only for committing an offense, but also if the aggressor’s freedom is determined to be a threat to a victim’s life. The law also provides for gender-based crimes against women to be judged in special courts.

The usual outcome of a trial involving gender-based violence is a 3-4 month-long suspended jail sentence along with mandatory attendance of 20 group therapy sessions at SerH.

The center—the first of its kind to form part of public policy in Brazil—was officially inaugurated on March 30, 2009. This project addresses the root causes of why violence occurs and promotes a culture of zero tolerance of violence,” said Purnima Mane, Deputy Executive Director, UNFPA at the inauguration ceremony.

The rehabilitation center aims to help perpetrators of gender-based violence open up, reflect on their behavior and substitute violence with constructive communication.

The project emphasizes protecting women rather than punishing men.
Photo: Eduardo Martino

Joao recalls the feverish evening not too long ago when he had a harrowing fight with the mother of his children. Joao now attends mandatory group therapy sessions at SerH, an educational rehabilitation group from men who have committed gender based violence.

So far, he has come to five meetings and has 15 more to go but he says he has already changed. “I feel more comfortable talking, exposing problems to others. I am also more open with my new partner and she with me. I used to repress everything,” he said.

Brazil’s gender-based violence law also establishes social measures to assist women. For example, those at risk may be included in government welfare programs, and the law provides for the inclusion of basic information on violence against women in school curriculums. In a related effort, Brazil has established a number of special police stations serving women who have become victims of gender-based violence. These police stations are staffed by personnel trained in how to receive and process reports of these crimes.

UNFPA helps support the initiatives that have led to the establishment of such police stations and to national efforts to include men as part of the solution to end gender-based violence.