Congress member Maria do Rosário – who was told by Bolsonaro: ‘I would never rape you because you don’t deserve it’ – fears increased violence in Br
Congress member Maria do Rosário – who was told by Bolsonaro: ‘I would never rape you because you don’t deserve it’ – fears increased violence in Brazil
In profiles of Brazil’s far-right president-elect, one infamous interaction is seldom omitted: during an argument outside the chamber in 2003, Jair Bolsonaro told fellow congress member Maria do Rosário: “I would never rape you because you don’t deserve it.”
Over the past 12 months, as Bolsonaro rose from the periphery of Brazilian politics to its pinnacle, the incident has been retold in countless news articles and replayed on primetime broadcasts around the world.
The insult is seen as the quintessential example of the offensive language that Bolsonaro has used against women, gay people, Afro-Brazilians and indigenous people.
In all the coverage, however, one voice has often been missing: that of the woman he jeered.
“I really lament that this is what I’m known for,” said Do Rosário in an interview.
Recently re-elected to her fifth term in Brazil’s lower house, Do Rosário, 52, is a veteran member of the leftwing Workers’ party who has steered legislation on equal pay and tougher punishments for femicide.
“I’m behind numerous human rights laws in Brazil, but this [insult] is what people remember. Bolsonaro has taken that away from me,” she said.
As Brazil braces for Bolsonaro’s inauguration on 1 January, she fears that dark times are looming for human rights and women’s rights in the country. “It’s extremely worrying that a man who looks at rape as something women can deserve is now president,” she said.
The 2003 incident began when Bolsonaro was arguing in a TV interview for a reduction in the age of criminal responsibility.
Maria do Rosário approaches him and says: “You sir, promote violence.”
“Oh, I’m a rapist now?” asks Bolsonaro.
“Yeah, yeah,” Do Rosário responds.
Bolsonaro angrily replies, “I would never rape you because you don’t deserve it,” before pushing her in the chest, saying: “You called me a rapist, you’re immoral! Lowlife!”
Bolsonaro has maintained that his reaction was a justified response to an insult, once writing: “Many would have had the same reaction.”
But he repeated the comment twice more in 2014, landing him a conviction for moral damages against Do Rosário, who was awarded $3,000 in damages – which Bolsonaro never paid.
This April, Brazil’s attorney general brought a case against Bolsonaro for inciting hate speech against women, LGBT people, Afro-Brazilians and indigenous communities, but the supreme court dismissed it on free speech grounds.
Maria do Rosário and many on the left fear that under the Bolsonaro presidency, such rhetoric will empower and increase violence in a nation where a woman is victim of physical violence every 7.2 seconds.
“People emulate his violent, disrespectful ways,” she said.
Last year, Brazilian authorities registered 606 domestic violence cases and 164 rapes per day. One recent study found that 58% of Brazilians agreed partially or fully with the statement: “If women knew how to behave, there would be less rape.”
“Knowing all we know about him, people still voted for him,” said Do Rosário. “Not all, but some people who vote for him really believe that men should choose which women should be raped or not.”
Bolsonaro’s rise has coincided with – and fuelled – a growing backlash against feminism in Brazil, and activists fear that rights and protection for women who are victims of domestic abuse and rape may diminish under the Bolsonaro administration.
As a congressman, Bolsonaro voted against a 2015 “femicide” law – sponsored by Do Rosário – which gave harsher sentences for homicides motivated by gender.
He defended his stance in August, asking: “Would you rather have the femicide law or a gun in your hands?” He then argued that all the women he had spoken to preferred the latter.
During the campaign Bolsonaro said he was the only candidate who was truly worried about violence against women because he proposed chemical castration for rapists.
In 2013, Bolsonaro was one of the authors of a bill proposing to revoke the right for rape victims to get legal abortions. Several days before his election, he signed a “term of commitment” with the Catholic church, pledging to defend the “right to life, starting from conception”.
His nominee to become minister of women, family and human rights, Damares Alves, is an evangelical pastor who has said she wants “Brazil without abortion”, and accused feminists of “making a war between men and women.”
The feud between Bolsonaro and Maria do Rosário is sure to continue as Bolsonaro occupies the executive.
“Us women on the left are going to have to work hard in the next four years,” Do Rosário said, “Because we want to confront rape, and meanwhile we have a president-elect who encourages it.”