Brazil: Sex Scandal on Big Brother Provokes Debate on Machismo

[All links lead to Portuguese language pages except when otherwise noted.]

In the early hours of the 14th of January, on Big Brother Brazil (BBB), the program with the largest audience in the country, there took place “a rape on live television, without anyone doing anything about it”. The comment comes from Alê, a feminist blogger who was disgusted by the passivity of the biggest television network in the country, TV Globo, when she witnessed the event. Alongside her, thousands of other internet users voiced their outrage.

After partying on Saturday night, BBB contestant Monique Amin, a 23-year-old student, went to her bedroom. Having consumed alcohol – as is encouraged by “Globo itself (…) in copious measures” – Monique got into bed, clearly drunk. Daniel Echaniz, a model aged 31, went with Monique and lay down next to her on the bed. Moments later, he appears to be making sexual movements towards her. However, as the program itself has admitted, Monique was not awake, and it was therefore impossible for her to consent to any sexual activity.

Blogger Leticia Fernandez shared the news stream that the premium version of BBB showed at the time:

Está rolando o clima entre Daniel e Monique debaixo do edredom. Ele se mexe, parece acariciar a sister, mas a loira não se move.

Things are hotting up under the covers between Daniel and Monique. He's moving around, seems to be fondling her, but she's not moving.

As you'd expect, the video of the event was not available on the internet for very long. Videos on YouTube were removed “for violating YouTube's policy on content involving nudity or sex”.

Love is a beautiful thing … machismo is not

The events didn't receive any immediate response on television, except for the comments of the program's presenter, Pedro Bial, who said – after viewers had been shown a video that, according to several Twitter users, had been edited to diminish the impact of the events that “love is a beautiful thing”. However, the size of the backlash on the internet was inversely proportional to the televised response. The topic was discussed on blogs, news sites, Twitter and Facebook.

On Twitter, many people suggested that “it might be a hoax to increase the ratings”, according to blogger Rosangela Basso.

Ana Marques, known as Morango, a former participant of the show, criticized the handling of the events, saying that she herself felt violated:

Esperei ouvir de Bial, jornalista e pai de uma filha que tem a idade de Monique, um manifesto de repúdio à atitude de Daniel que servisse de exemplo. Também esperei do “BBB” uma edição minimamente transparente e depois, um posicionamento. Mas foi o contrário.

I expected to hear Bial, who is a journalist and the father of a daughter Monique's age, be an example to others and condemn Daniel's attitude. I also expected that BBB's editing would not be very transparent, and that they would then make a statement. But what happened was the opposite.

Though opinions on sexual abuse in BBB were almost unanimous across the social networks, there were also internet users who saw the case from a different perspective.

"Machismo Kills", Slut Walk, Brasilia 2011. Photo by Bianca Cardoso on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

"Machismo Kills", Slut Walk, Brasilia 2011. Photo by Bianca Cardoso on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Journalist Sara Martinez (@sarafcmartinez) complained of the spread of comments such as “she was drunk / she deserved it / she's a slut / the guy is black, so it was bound to happen”. While several people shared photos of the Slut Walk [en] protests in Brazil, journalist and writer Nina Lemos, shocked by Pedro Bial's statement, summarized the day's events as “cynicism and machismo”:

Chocante é (…) também o machismo que correu solto na internet o dia inteiro ao se falar do caso.  “Quem bebe além da conta não tem do que reclamar no dia seguinte. Se quer respeito, aprende a beber”, escreveu um blogueiro com milhares de seguidores.

The machismo that raced around the internet all day whenever anyone mentioned the events […] is also shocking. “Anyone who drinks so much that they lose count can't then complain the next day. If you want respect, learn to drink responsibly”, wrote one blogger with thousands of followers.

More than just an incident on a reality show, what happened between Daniel and Monique also raises important questions related to sexual behaviour and education in Brazil.

Alex Castro, from the Papo de Homem (Men's Chat) blog, wrote an article based on “the following rule: if there's any doubt, don't rape”:

Estamos há séculos ensinando as meninas como se vestir e como agir – para a segurança delas, claro! Mas talvez fosse a hora de ensinar os meninos como não-estuprar. (…) entre esses pais que controlam as saias das filhas com tanta ênfase e afico, quantos já usaram a MESMA ênfase e o mesmo afinco para controlar os hormônios e os impulsos dos filhos? Para ter uma conversa franca e aberta sobre estupro e escolha?

For centuries we have been teaching girls how to dress and how to act – for their own safety, of course! But perhaps it's now time to teach boys how to not rape. […] amongst all those parents who control their daughters’ skirt length with such enthusiasm and obstinacy, how many have employed the SAME enthusiasm and obstinacy to controlling their sons’ hormones and impulses? Enough to have an honest and open conversation about rape and choice?

In just a few hours his article gathered “3 thousand likes on Facebook, 850 RTs (retweets), 160 comments, and was read 80 thousand times”, as he reported on his private profile on Facebook.

In the same vein as “it's not women who need to learn to avoid and protect themselves against rape, it's men who need to learn that they must not rape”, the collective blog Biscate Social Club furthered the debate on rape, stating:

Estupro não é sexo. Estupro não é uma vontade incontrolável de dar prazer à outra pessoa mesmo que ela não saiba que quer muito isso. Estupro não é um favor, não é um acidente, não é uma empolgação. Estupro é uma violência que decorre de uma relação de poder. No estupro, aproveita-se da vulnerabilidade do outro.

Rape is not sex. Rape is not an uncontrollable urge to give pleasure to another person even if she doesn't know how much she wants it. Rape is not a favour, not an accident, not exciting. Rape is violence that results from a love of power. Through rape, a person takes advantage of the other person's vulnerability.

Applying the law to a “reality show”

As journalist Natalia Mendes wrote in a special article for the Nota de Rodapé (Footer) blog, it was only “after the mobilization on the social networks and the #DanielExpulso (#EvictDaniel) hashtag reaching first place in Twitter's Trending Topics” that the program's producers took action.

It was only in the episode on Monday 16th January that Globo decided to make its move. Not specifically mentioning what happened, Pedro Bial said that Daniel had broken the show's rules and had therefore been evicted. Federal Public Defender Francisco had already stated on Twitter that it was Globo's duty to do so, reinforcing the use of article 215 of the Penal Code regarding rape of a vulnerable person, explaining “that the instigation of the action does not depend on the victim”, as the action would be assumed.

Maíra Mano explains in her blog why the actions can be considered a crime:

Segundo o artigo 213 da lei 12.015, de 2009, é estupro “constranger alguém, mediante violência ou grave ameaça, a ter conjunção carnal ou a praticar ou permitir que com ele se pratique outro ato libidinoso”. (…) também é preciso mencionar o artigo 215, que fala sobre violação sexual mediante fraude e estupro de vulnerável na modalidade em que a vítima está impossibilitada, por outro meio, de oferecer resistência.

According to article 213 of law 12.015, of 2009, “to oblige someone, through violence or serious threat, to have sexual intercourse or to practise or allow someone to practise with him or her another libidinous act” is rape. […] it is also necessary to mention article 215, which speaks of sexual abuse through deceit and rape of a vulnerable person by means of the victim being unable, for other reasons, to offer resistance.
"You cannot touch without my consent". Photo by Bianca Cardoso on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

"You cannot touch without my consent". Photo by Bianca Cardoso on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

On Tuesday 17th January, the presenter spoke again on the program about the case, and confirmed TV Globo's statement that both Daniel and Monique were conscious on the Saturday night, even despite Monique “possibly suffering from alcoholic amnesia” having previously claimed that she didn't remember what had happened. Globo itself announced on the 17th that both of them had denied rape in statements to the police.

It would not be the first time that a case of sexual abuse has occurred in a Big Brother reality show. The website Operamundi details a similar case in South Africa, in which although “many people demanded that the student be held legally responsible for his actions”:

os dois seguiram no programa até o final. Após votação popular, Richard ganhou o BB da África do Sul e faturou o grande prêmio — Ofunneka ficou em segundo.

both of them stayed in the program until the end. After the popular vote, Richard won South African Big Brother and claimed the grand prize – Ofunneka came second.

Ana flávia Ramos, from the Tab na Rede (Tab on the Net) blog, leaves us with a question:

O histórico de barbaridades no BBB já não é novo, mas quais serão os limites do programa após um suposto estupro em cadeia nacional? Como será interpretada pelas autoridades públicas e pelos telespectadores a omissão da Globo diante do caso?

The history of barbarity in BBB is by no means new, but where do the limits lie for this program after an alleged rape on a national TV channel? How will Globo's shortcomings regarding this case be interpreted by the public authorities and television viewers?
Raphael Tsavkko Garcia contributed to this post

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