Study seeks to understand how penal system deals with violence against women

Faced with a record number of female homicides in Brazil, an FGV project is analyzing how the justice system handles these cases, from reporting to sentencing.
07 三月 2023
Study seeks to understand how penal system deals with violence against women

Sixteen years after the Maria da Penha Law was passed, an average of four women are murdered every day in Brazil. According to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, there were 699 cases of femicide in the first half of 2022, the highest number ever recorded in a six-month period. Based on these statistics, a study by Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Center for Justice and Society (CJUS) is looking at how the penal system deals with the entire judicial process for this type of violence, from reporting to conviction or acquittal.

“We want to improve women’s treatment throughout the process of reporting gender violence,” says Professor Fernanda Prates, one of the researchers working on the project. In light of the alarming data, she says we need to understand the filters and difficulties in information flows in the justice system with regard to violence against women. This is precisely the objective of this study, which is coordinated by FGV professor and researcher Thiago Bottino.

“Some important studies have been analyzing the victimization experience involved in this type of violence, but our research seeks to understand the flows that such violence generates in the penal system. How are victims treated and what are the possible consequences of this treatment? We want to understand the path taken from the moment a police report is filed up to sentencing. To do that, we are talking with the actors who participate in this process. If victims are not supported properly, this can create further victimization,” Prates explains.

In view of this factor, she says that interviews and data collection will be carried out with the Public Prosecutors’ Office, Military Police, Civil Police, coroner’s office, formal and informal networks that support women, the Public Defender’s Office and various professionals who operate in this field. Alongside this work, quantitative data collection will be conducted in order to obtain an idea of how many complaints of this type are received, how many are followed up and how many are taken to completion, among other aspects. 

From research to the creation of public policies

According to Prates, it is crucial to understand the perceptions of actors involved in the process of combating violence against women and the type of treatment offered to them. “We live in a sexist society in which everyone ends up steeped in these values and this can even impact people who are involved in the penal system. Therefore, we are analyzing how these actors understand their work and how they understand violence against women,” she says.

Although the project is focused on a statewide analysis in Rio de Janeiro, Prates says that the intention is for this research to be replicated in other states, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic, which led to a huge increase in domestic violence. “We need to know the impressions and opinions of people who work on the front line, in order to understand the bottlenecks and main challenges that can really impact legal action to tackle violence against women,” she says. 

The project is currently in the process of collecting data from institutions and networks, and it is expected that the results will be presented in the second half of 2023. It is hoped that the information obtained will support public policies, not only improving the way the penal system deals with these cases but also helping reduce levels of violence against women.

Alarming data 

Recent publications such as the 2019 Atlas of Violence, released by the Institute for Applied Economic Research, indicate that in 2018, 1.6 million women were physically assaulted in Brazil. The report also highlights an increase in female homicides in the country in 2017, with around 13 murders per day. In all, 4,936 women were killed, the highest number recorded since 2007. 

To combat this situation, Prates says that when they have the results of the research in hand, the researchers will present them to all the institutions that participated in the study, which are on the front line of the fight against domestic violence and femicide. According to her, it makes no sense for this information to remain only in the academic sphere, without reaching the system that is analyzed.

“These stakeholders, such as the Public Prosecutors’ Office, Civil Police and countless others, sometimes fail to have an overview and an understanding of the flow of allegations. This makes it difficult to determine possible bottlenecks in this process. Therefore, after carrying out this research, we will return with this information in hand, to demonstrate how this whole process works,” she says.

Social struggles and scientific research

Another key aspect of this project, which could lead to improvements, is training of students from the beginning of their course. The idea is to raise their awareness of this subject and also train them to perform excellent scientific research that can propose solutions to society’s problems.

“The engagement of our students, whether they are scholarship holders or volunteers, is something worth highlighting, as they are learning to do research in the very first semesters of their course. FGV allows these young researchers to carry out and experience applied scientific research in various parameters, tackling important topics like this one,” concludes Prates.

Support and funding

This study is supported by Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Applied Research Fund (FPA FGV), which since 2014 has supported more than 251 projects selected by the institution’s Research and Innovation Commission.

Applied scientific research

Applied scientific research is the main focus of the FGV Applied Research and Knowledge Network, created in 2016 with the aim of promoting excellent, high-impact and innovative research in different areas of society. By proposing different processes and solutions to tackle the challenges faced by Brazil’s people, this research contributes to FGV’s mission to promote the country’s socioeconomic growth.

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