Girl abused in all-male jail

Now on trial: Brazil's criminal justice system

By Lynn Harris

Published December 12, 2007 5:06PM (EST)

It's one thing to be the only girl in shop class, say, or on the football team. But when you're the only girl in an all-male jail, the story shifts from human interest to human rights. This just in over the Girls Gruesomely Failed by the System wire (it has been positively buzzing lately!): The New York Times follows up and expands on the story of a 15-year-old Brazilian girl sent, on suspicion (not conviction) of petty theft, to an all-male jail that, according to reports, made Sona look like Sandals and Oz look like the Emerald City.

In late October, the girl was placed -- illegally -- among 34 male inmates who, according to the Times summary of Brazil's federal reports, "treated her as their plaything, raping and torturing her repeatedly. Sometimes she traded sex for food; other times, she was simply raped." Did guards look the other way? If only. "They shaved her head with a knife to make her look more like a boy, investigators said, and now are blaming her for lying about her age." (Because if she'd been 19, or 50, that would be OK.) She was removed only after an anonymous tip reached the local child services agency.

Clarice Maria Andrade, the judge who sent the girl to jail, is being investigated, as are others in her office who allegedly tried to cover her tracks. A public defender also visited the girl in jail and apparently saw nothing amiss. "Several officials were aware of what was happening, and at worst they were complicit in it," said the girl's lawyer, Marcia Soares.

Context: Brazilian law requires prisons to offer separate facilities for women, but many simply don't. (To be fair, women represent only 5 percent of the country's prison population, but that number is growing.) A recent government study found female prisoners illegally placed with men "and being subjected to torture and sexual abuse" in five different states.

Ana Julia Carepa, governor of the state of Para, where the jail is located, says the building will be torn down and replaced with a building that includes facilities for women.

Having received death threats from the police, the girl and her family have been placed in a witness protection program. One can only hope that her case will spur change, and that she has found a safe place to start over. The whole time she was in jail, no relative came looking. Residents heard her screams from the road, but it took 26 days for someone to respond.

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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