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Brazil falling behind in its fight against pedophilia

. Jan 18, 2020
child abuse pedophilia brazil

On March 28, 2019, São Paulo’s civil police knocked on the front door of a professor and engineer in a coastal town. In order to avoid fanfare, law enforcement informed the building’s staff that they were there to investigate a case of corruption in state-owned companies. But the real reasons were different: police were there as part of Operation Light on Childhood, one of Brazil’s most extensive police probes into child abuse rings, which ended with hundreds of people arrested and more than 761,000 child abuse images seized.

After entering the apartment, the officers split up and blocked the windows and entrance to the kitchen. These actions are standard procedure in such operations, to stop suspects from committing suicide. One of the agents who took part in the arrest and spoke to The Brazilian Report under condition of anonymity, explains that “pedophiles, realizing that they will be arrested, often try to kill themselves to avoid causing shame to their family.”

</p> <p>This case illustrates the fight against pedophilia in Brazil, where it is a police issue and not a public health matter. The primary tool to combat the crime is the same that is used to propagate perpetrators&#8217; illegal content: technology. While peer-to-peer systems allow pedophiles to share child abuse images—in what is one of the fastest-growing businesses online, with estimated annual revenue of USD 3 billion—authorities use tracks left behind on these platforms to catch the criminals.</p> <p>The most common strategy is using hashes, which are functions created from alphanumeric expressions, consisting of what is essentially DNA of content online. Using these series of numbers and letters, authorities can track where these materials are, who sends them, and who receives them.</p> <p>In Brazil, investigations are carried out by the Federal Police, with the assistance of state police forces and the Ministry of Justice, which keeps a database of these hashes, which are shared internationally to help combat the spread of child abuse images.</p> <p>In the Justice Ministry headquarters in Brasília, there is a big screen with a map of Brazil, showing the downloading and uploading of child abuse media in real time. However, the volume is substantial, as is the number of people who access this content.</p> <p>Sources heard by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that asked not to have their names disclosed stated that the police don&#8217;t have the infrastructure to arrest all pedophiles in Brazil. They said that even if law enforcement were to receive support from the Armed Forces, it would be impossible to arrest everyone who downloads child abuse images. Despite these claims, there are no official estimates of how many pedophiles currently live in Brazil.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1244430"></div><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script> <h2>Breaking the cycle</h2> <p>An <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-56704-4#author-information">article</a> published in scientific journal <em>Nature</em> showed how the Brazilian Federal Police plans its operations, based on investigations into the exchange of child abuse images. The paper used information from Operation Darknet which, between 2014 and 2016, identified 182 targets out of nearly 10,000 users, and rescued at least six children who were being abused.</p> <p>Bruno Requião da Cunha, the author of the article, showed that Brazilian authorities focused on distribution forums of child abuse images, instead of trying to go after members of the criminal organization itself. This new model emerged because, unlike other types of crimes, there is less formal hierarchy among pedophile rings, instead there is a sense of collaboration to ensure that all members can access the material.</p> <p>Groups were defined from the volume of interactions with photo and video exchanges on dark web forums, which are encrypted and not indexed by web search engines. Investigations showed that in the group in question, only 7.4 percent of forum users shared relevant content, with only ten users accounting for almost one-third of post views. Of these ten, eight were eventually arrested.</p> <p>“Though this core of criminals are closely connected and cooperating for resources, which makes it difficult to break ties, police intervention was 60 percent efficient in reducing the number of post views by 90 percent,” explained Mr. Cunha. The study highlights that when targeting collaborative criminal groups, approximately 60 percent of the key users must be removed to properly disrupt the network.</p> <p>A wider network was identified by the Federal Police, containing 10,407 users, of which only 766 were strongly connected—the other 9,638 were largely inactive, never posting content and rarely viewing it. &#8220;These weakly connected users might be composed of individuals that joined the forum out of curiosity or paedophilic inclinations,&#8221; states the report.</p> <h2>Child abuse according to Brazilian law</h2> <p>The Out of the Shadows Index, published by <em>The Economist</em> in January 2019, showed that Brazil ranks 11th out of 40 countries analyzed according to their legal framework, government commitment and social engagement to combat the sexual abuse and exploitation of minors. On a 100-point scale, Brazil scored 62.4.</p> <p>One of the contributing factors to this result is Brazil&#8217;s legislation to protect minors, the Child and Adolescent Statute, commonly known as ECA. The law makes a clear distinction between the sexual abuse of children and teenagers. Minors under 12 years old are considered children; those aged 13 to 18 are classified as teenagers. While sex with the first group is understood as pedophilia, the second is classified as hebephilia.</p> <p>However, the crime of &#8220;pedophilia&#8221; does not actually exist in Brazilian law. The crimes attributed to pedophiles who act on their desires are either rape of a vulnerable individual—which involves the practice of sexual activity with children under 12 years of age—and the storage, sale, distribution or production of pornographic material with children and adolescents.</p> <p>Marcelo Moreira Neumann, a psychologist specialized in legal psychology, explains that pedophilia is a type of paraphilia, a deviation of behavior motivated by a pleasure for objects or people. This behavior, when directed at children and adolescents, is classified by the medical class as a mental health disorder motivated by many factors, though often involving a sexual trauma suffered during childhood.</p> <p>According to Dr. Neumann, pedophilia is the search for something which was lost during personal growth. The result of this, he says, is the search for continuous pleasure. &#8220;This person is a hostage to this quest,&#8221; says Dr. Neumann, because the object of desire—in this case, a child—replaces a certain feeling only at that instant, but the emptiness remains, encouraging the continuation of the practice.</p> <h2>Victims remaining silent</h2> <p>A study commissioned by the Ministry of Human Rights shows that the vast majority—almost 90 percent—of child sexual abuse occurs in the home environment, usually perpetrated by parents, step-parents, uncles, siblings, and neighbors. Also, according to the study, girls are the main target in 70 percent of these occurrences.</p> <p>Despite its initiative to carry out the survey, Brazil&#8217;s Human Rights Ministry—headed by lawyer and Evangelical pastor Damares Alves—has erred in its efforts to combat child sex abuse, according to lawyer Ariel de Castro Alves, who has worked in the field for 25 years. &#8220;The government&#8217;s discourse that only the family may protect its children, and that society and schools should not address issues of sexuality, turns out to be more conducive to the perpetuation of abuse and impunity.&#8221;</p> <p>A survey by the Ministry of Health shows that between 2011 and 2017, Brazil recorded an 83 percent increase in reports of sexual violence against minors, with over 184,000 cases reported. Of this total, 31.5 percent involved children.</p> <p>For Mr. Alves, silence is a problem, as it prevents people coming forward to report crimes. This creates flaws in the system, added to the lack of preparation of professionals responsible for attending to these individuals. He defends that sex education classes in school may be a strategy to curb these practices, as only then will children and adolescents be aware of the abuse.</p> <h2>Crime and punishment</h2> <p>The Brazilian system of coping with pedophilia is still embryonic compared to the size of the population and the number of cases discovered. Health services—which are the first port of call for victims—despite reporting the incident and addressing the physical effects of abuse, do not make the appropriate follow up, which should involve social care and preventive education.</p> <p>Meanwhile, pedophiles themselves have no-one to turn to for assistance to prevent them acting on their paraphilia. One of the few institutions in Brazil to help treat pedophiles is the Pérola Byington Hospital in São Paulo, but it is overloaded with cases from all over the country.</p> <p>In practice, the only strategy of fighting pedophilia in Brazil is incarceration and violence. It is common knowledge that when pedophiles arrive in prisons, they are victims of abuse themselves and are often murdered by fellow inmates.</p> <p>Marcelo Neumann says that Brazil needs to veer away from &#8220;the police and repressive approach&#8221; and start discussing the exercise of sexuality in a mature and unprejudiced way. He advocates a model aimed at educating and systematically treating pedophiles, allowing these individuals to speak about their desires and aspirations to psychologists and social workers.</p> <p>However, Brazilian lawmakers are against this approach. There are currently 171 bills pending in Congress to combat pedophilia, including some proposals which would allow for the chemical castration of child sex offenders.</p> <p>In the Senate, one bill demands a referendum to decide on whether pedophiles should be given automatic life sentences. One of the authors of the proposal, former Senator and Evangelical pastor Magno Malta—one of President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s staunchest supporters during the 2018 presidential campaign—is currently being sued after falsly accusing a married couple of raping their own daughter.</p> <p>A report from newspaper <em>Folha de S. Paulo</em> stated that the girl&#8217;s father was unable to read the lawsuit he filed against Mr. Malta because, after repeated assaults in prison, he lost sight in his right eye and only has 25 percent vision in his left. The man, who works as a ticket collector on municipal buses, was subjected to regular torture while incarcerated. He told the newspaper that his aggressors removed some of his teeth. &#8220;They took a pair of pliers and kept tightening them, until my teeth just burst,&#8221; he said.

 
Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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