For Brazil's Women, Laws Are Not Enough To Deter Rampant Violence : Parallels Alexsandra Moreira, a mother of four, was stabbed 21 times by her husband. "Even with all the laws, when everything was done to protect her by the book, we failed," says the prosecutor in her case.
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For Brazil's Women, Laws Are Not Enough To Deter Rampant Violence

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For Brazil's Women, Laws Are Not Enough To Deter Rampant Violence

For Brazil's Women, Laws Are Not Enough To Deter Rampant Violence

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Brazil remains the country most affected by the Zika virus with at least 1,600 cases of the birth defect microcephaly. The country is also one of the most dangerous places in the world to be female. Numbers show that a woman in Brazil is killed every two hours and assaulted every 15 seconds, often by someone she knows. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro traveled to the northern Brazilian city of Natal, where gender violence has skyrocketed. She begins her story with the case of a woman who was murdered. And a warning to our listeners, this story does contain graphic details which might not be appropriate for everyone.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: She thought she was safe. Alexsandra Moreira thought she had managed to break away and protect herself. On the day she was killed, her brother even escorted her to the station in the morning.

ANDREZA DA SILVA: (Through interpreter) When she got on the bus, my brother told her - if anything happens, just call me. Ten minutes later, his phone rang, and it was her. All he could hear was her screaming, pleading for help.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Andreza da Silva, the sister of 32-year-old Alexsandra. The bus had just been pulling away when the father of Alexsandra's four children jumped on.

DA SILVA: (Through interpreter) He went straight to where she was. He wanted her to get off, but she refused. They started fighting. And she said she wouldn't go with him. That's when he pulled out his knife. He stabbed her 21 times.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Andreza da Silva shows me a picture of her sister. In it, she's sitting on a bed. Her long, dark hair frames her smiling face. Alexsandra, she says, had been with a man who ended up murdering her for 18 years. But, Andreza says, her family didn't know Alexsandra's secret life.

DA SILVA: (Through interpreter) Sometimes, we'd see her with a bruise or a mark, and she'd tell us that one of the kids had bitten her or some other excuse. She never told us. It was only when she finally left him that she confessed that he beat her and her children.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Beat her savagely - cutting her, tying her up.

DA SILVA: (Through interpreter) He would tell her that if she ever said what was going on, he would kill her, the children and our parents.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But one day, she'd had enough. He had attacked her at the supermarket where she worked, bashing her head. She reported him to the police, and she was taken into a woman's shelter for victims of domestic violence, called a casa abrigo in Brazil, except he found out where it was. He showed up. The shelter asked for a restraining order against him, but the court didn't grant one. So Alexsandra was actually asked to leave, and she went to go stay with her parents.

DA SILVA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "He became relentless," Andreza tells me. "He would show up outside the house, at all hours of the day and night. The police did nothing. The neighbors said nothing."

And then, on that December morning, he finally made good on his threats. Why do you think this happened? - I ask Andreza.

DA SILVA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "The men here think that if you're with a woman, you own her," she tells me.

Latin America has the highest rate of murders of women on Earth. In most countries of the region, including Brazil, there are specific laws against femicide and violence against women generally. But they haven't been working.

ANA CLAUDIA MENDES: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ana Claudia Mendes is the director Natal's of violence against women department. She says the reasons for the uptick in violence are many. Murders generally are up in northern Brazil, as drug and gang violence takes its toll amid a security crisis. Also, new laws haven't acted as deterrents, with police and the courts failing to follow through. Add to that a lack of budget and facilities. In Natal, there's only one women's shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We are allowed to meet some of the women who are sheltered in the same casa abrigo Natal where Alexsandra had been staying. We agreed not to use their names for their protection.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The first woman is 26. She tells me she met the man she's now hiding from when she was only 15. She had a child with him when she was just 17. He would rape her, hurt her. She told people what was happening. But even her family said it was better to have a man, even a bad one, than not.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: For another woman at the shelter, the root of this crisis of violence against women starts in the home.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says, "you see people tell their sons that they shouldn't do a specific activity because it's women's work." She says, "boys are allowed to run and play, while girls are taught to cook and clean." "It teaches us to be submissive," she says, "to be subjugated."

Our last stop was to see the prosecutor, Erica Veras, who was dealing with Alexsandra, the murdered woman's case. She tells me she's still haunted by what happened.

ERICA VERAS: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "I went to Alexsandra's funeral," Erica Veras recounts, "and the children were throwing themselves on the coffin." "Don't go, Mother. Don't go, they screamed."

VERAS: (Through interpreter) How did we lose that victim? Why did the system fail to protect her? For me, it was emblematic. Even with all the laws, even when everything was done to protect her by the book, we failed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then she shows me a diary entry that Alexsandra wrote at the women's shelter, when she finally thought she had broken free. It's entitled "The First Day Of A New Life." Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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