Last week, a 25-year-old businesswoman and a 13-year-old schoolgirl were both gang-raped in different corners of Brazil.
Both cases shocked the nation but, in a country where a woman reports a rape every three hours, there is a growing awareness that such attacks are not isolated incidents.
The recent high-profile gang rape of a 16-year-old in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, whose brutal assault was filmed and then spread on social media, sparked outrage – leading to protests and demonstrations around the country. It also sparked a ferocious row over gender violence and rape culture in Latin America.
“Violence is trivialised,” said Iara Amora, a lawyer, who took part in a debate on the subject at Rio’s city council last week. “We need to combat this idea that a rapist is a maniac, and the gender discrimination that reinforces the concept of beautiful, demure and homely women.”
Paloma Oliveira, 24, organised a rally in Rio within 24 hours of the favela rape.
She saw a huge response, as thousands joined demonstrations against rape culture and misogyny in Brazil – in scenes reminiscent of the protests in New Delhi after the gang rape and murder of medical student Jyoti Singh in 2012.
“People want dialogue, they want to talk about it,” said Oliveira. “The more we share what we suffer, the more it will improve.”
But Cristiana Bento, the lead police investigator in the case, told newspaper El País: “The whole of Brazil is talking about it. But I still think it’s too little because people don’t have awareness.”
A recent survey by ActionAid UK found three quarters of women had been victims of harassment and violence in cities across the world, including Brazil. More than half of Brazilian women aged 18 to 24 said they had been harassed at public or community events. The incidence of rape was higher among women with lower levels of education (22 per cent) compared to those with professional qualifications (two per cent). According to government figures, an estimated 13 million women have been victims of domestic abuse.
One force for good is social media, which has enabled a series of campaigns and helped breakdown the taboo surrounding gender violence across Latin America, where machismo endures.
Last September, celebrities in Brazil launched a viral campaign via Facebook called “Curiosity Saves”, using cryptic status updates to encourage fans to spread messages against domestic violence.
In November, proposed changes to abortion laws – as well as the revelations that a potential candidate for Mayor of Rio had hit his ex-wife – inspired a “Women’s Spring” movement along with the #MyFirstHarassment (#MeuPrimeiroAssedio) confessional campaign online.
And it is not just in Brazil. The UN’s Cartas de Mujeres, or Letters from Women, campaign was launched in Ecuador in 2011, encouraging women to share their real experiences of violence. It received more than 10,000 letters in three months and encouraged the capital, Quito, to criminalise sexual harassment in public places. The project has since spread to Peru, Bolivia and Guatemala, highlighting stories of women who have suffered violence.
Christine Brendel, regional director of the ComVoMujer women’s project said such efforts showed how Latin American women were finally breaking their silence.
Speaking at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum last month, she said: “We started in Ecuador with 12,000 letters in about three months. In Peru, there were 15,000. And we got to Bolivia and thought because of the educational level, it would be less, but it was more than 17,000.
“This is really something which we can bring from the southern hemisphere to England, to Germany, to give greater visibility to a real problem that we also have. I think that it is less taboo [in Latin America] than in Europe.”
But she added that the campaign for gender equality still had a long fight ahead, as Latin America sees a shift from the political Left towards the Right.
Two years ago, the continent had a record-breaking four female heads of state and was lauded for its progress on equality. That number has since halved and could be reduced to just one if Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is ultimately impeached. Under Ms Rousseff’s presidency, Brazil introduced a femicide law, which defined gender-based murders as “heinous” and introduced tougher sentences for the killing of women and girls.
Today, Brazil’s current interim government under acting president Michel Temer no longer has a single female cabinet member. Ms Brendel said she feared the political changes could lead to a regression in women’s rights after the rise of “presumed equality” gave the impression of progress.
“I think one of the main problems is in the unequal power relations between men and women [in Brazil],” she added.
“We seem to be equal so everyone is saying, ‘what do you want, you’re an empowered woman, what else do you want?’ Maybe presumed equality does more harm.”
The answer, according to Ms Brendel, lies in long-term, sustained campaigns, such as the UN’s End Violence against Women. It has already led the way for new laws offering greater protection for women in Bolivia, Peru and Guatemala.
But perhaps most significantly, it has given women a voice.
“In my house, I have an aggressive husband who always wants to have the last word,” wrote Juana, from Peru, who’s suffered physical and psychological abuse. “He told me I would learn to shut up when he told me.
“It’s very good that we have a movement like this in our country. I always wanted to tell my story.”