RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil is still in shock after the highly publicized gang rape of a 16-year-old girl. But while thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the rape and many more have protested on social networks, there also has been a counterreaction.
The victim, who has not been identified, has told Brazilian media that she went to visit a boyfriend in a poor Rio hillside community, or favela, on May 21. She said she woke up the next day in another house in the neighborhood, naked and surrounded by nearly three dozen armed men. Shortly thereafter, images of the girl, naked and unconscious, began circulating on Twitter, accompanied by boastful, ribald comments from the men apparently involved.
The crime has appalled many in Latin America’s largest nation. More than 100,000 people shared photos on Facebook of one man alleged to have circulated the images and demanded his punishment. But others used the same post to say that the victim shared some of the blame, because she was in a dangerous favela run by a drug gang, or to point to a voice recording being circulated that is supposed to show the victim as a willing participant in a drugged-up orgy.
In a television interview on Sunday night, the victim defended herself against these allegations and said she had terminated a police interview when male officers asked inappropriate questions.
The crime and its fallout have exposed fault lines in a society that has traditionally been paternalistic and conservative but has a growing population of young, progressive citizens who are highly connected via social networks. In addition, the reactions show how some Brazilians have become inured to horrific levels of violence — the country registered 60,000 homicides in 2014 alone, more than 10 percent of the worldwide total. In big, dangerous cities such as Rio, crime-scarred residents often blame themselves if they suffer an assault — for not seeing it coming or for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When news of the teenager’s rape began spreading across the Internet last week, outrage and condemnation were widespread and hashtags like EstuproNaoÉCulpaDaVitima (Rape is not the victim’s fault) spread.
Thousands of women took to the streets of Rio, Sao Paulo and Recife to protest the attack and what they called a culture supportive of rape.
“It is frightening. It is sad, disappointing and revolting,” said Flavia Medeiros, 27, who participated in a demonstration in Rio on Friday. “One of the biggest problems in Brazilian society is the way women are treated.”
Many of the protesters are part of an increasingly active and vocal feminist movement that has used the Internet to communicate, coordinate and protest. In the capital, Brasilia, police used pepper spray on Sunday morning on female demonstrators outside the Supreme Court who threw flowers at security guards.
But other people have argued that the victim was used to hanging out with members of the drug gang in the favela and that by frequenting these circles she exposed herself to risk.
“She was involved with drug dealers, and you know what bandits are like. They are bad. For me, it was not exactly rape,” said Anais Reis, 18, who lives in another favela in central Rio.
“I don’t think any woman should be raped. But if she was involved in the middle of this, this was going to happen one day,” Reis said.
The victim addressed the allegations in the television interview. “These are women saying that I looked for this, that I was there because I wanted to. But nobody thinks, ‘It could have been me,’ ” she said. “Nobody deserves this. It doesn’t matter if I was wearing short clothes or longer clothes, it doesn’t matter where I was.”
The victim said the police officer leading the investigation had asked her whether she was in the habit of having group sex. At that point, she said, she refused to answer any more questions.
“They tried to incriminate me, as if it was my fault I was raped,” the victim said.
That male police officer has now been replaced by a woman. Police, under fire for dragging their feet, launched an operation Monday to hunt for suspects. Two men are now in custody.
On Sunday, in a column for Rio’s O Globo newspaper, journalist Dorrit Harazim compared the crime to a notorious 2012 gang rape in which a young woman was brutally assaulted on a bus in New Delhi, an attack condemned around the world.
Christiana Bento, the officer in charge of the investigation, said at a news conference Monday that she was convinced that a rape had taken place and wanted to verify how many men had participated in the assault.
“She was the victim of sexual violence,” Bento said, referring to the young woman. “She is also being victimized by the population, who are judging her for what she was or no longer is.”