By S. Celulari
“Yes, You’re Being Raped by the Press”, displayed in bold letters on the first slide of my McCann Scholars presentation delivered last Thursday.
To be honest, I felt a knot in my throat at the touch of such a delicate topic that is often kept unheard of by too many of us. Addressing the press' promotion of rape culture was like facing a lion without a weapon. Finding the evidence to back it up was the opposite though. In seconds, my eyes scan across "Two minor girls gang-raped in Rajasthan's Jalore," "16-year-old girl raped in Palghar," "Girl raped by school owner, aide in Jhansi." There is something wrong with this picture. I feel a deep void looking right into my eyes. Why so many unsolved cases, so many perpetrators on the loose, so many voices muffled by the press, media, government, corruption, by me.
André de Camargo Aranha, white, rich Brazilian businessman, sexually assaulted 23-year-old white female, Mariana Ferrer. As most news reports would say, it was the 'perfect' rape set up: beach club, alcohol, girls in bikinis and drugs. "She was drunk..." or "The suspect was teased by the victim..."
I’d rather take a different approach to this. The 21 year-old blogger went out to a club in Fortaleza, in 2018, with a group of friends and what was supposed to be a fun night turned into sedation, brutal acts of violence, and two long years of a court case battle.
In the news and the streets, I hear "she set him up; her rent was 5-month late. She is unemployed." "He was an animal! She was a virgin." Is this about Mariana vs André? Is this all about our justice system being bribable to the point of pardoning a rapist under the argument that "he didn't have the intent to rape her when he was rapping her." What?
Zooming into the case, André, like many others before him, is a victim of the socially constructed idea that women are objects to be consumed at men's own pleasing. From the billboards to mass media, everything screams to the objectification of women. We live in a society that teaches its females, from very early on, to enhance their bodies with the intention to instigate men to desire them, for being desired has become the means with which we measure worth in the 21st century. Lipstick, high heels, short dresses, and push-up bras are just a few examples of the add-ons expected of women to bear and that have become normalized too quickly.
People still ask, "Why did she keep this a secret for so long?" This is what most sexual assault victims do in Brazil and in the rest of the world. Actually, only 7.5% of victims will report their case to the police, and that number will not increase if the concept of masculinity isn’t unraveled carefelly and the government doesn’t understand once and for all the severity of rape.
Mariana Ferrer has proof. She has videos. She has text messages. She has the lab reports confirming that André’s semen was found in her vaginal canal. Her blood tests verified the presence of "rape drugs" in her system the night of the crime, but in a white, priviledged male-dominated world, all this is not enough.
And it will never be enough unless the Brazilian stigmatized social construct stops giving privileges to heretoressexual, white males of the upper class and starts facing these girls.
In the end, how could I approach this topic solely from Ferrer's perspective? When I look at this case, I consider Mariana, the white, middle class, educated, famous blogger (aka the fame of the case), but I also think of all the Brazilian women out there. What Ferrer went through is what millions of Brazilian women have gone through as well. Considering the women in the rest of this country, Mariana is the lucky one for living under very privileged conditions. Let us take a young Black girl from the rural areas of Piaui who is raped by her father and remains silent about it until she gets pregnant. Voiceless inside a country with no eyes for 'people like her', she endures it. But why is it that her case is only granted the cover page of the top magazines in the country after she gets pregnant at a young age? And then, on top of that, the religious fanatics from the Universal Church protest against her abortion. It is instilled in the minds of people that rape is only granted center stage when it is to bash on the victim for letting it happen, for drinking next to male, for wanting an abortion, or for not making it clear that she didn't want it. Excuse me? What does the concept of rape becoming negotiable say about the society that defends this beliefs?