Without any changes, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff signed a law on Aug. 1 making it mandatory for hospitals of the public Single Health System to provide integral and multidisciplinary emergency attention to victims of sexual violence.

The law, originally proposed by Federal Representative Iara Bernardi of the Workers Party for São Paulo, has been before the Congress since 1999 and was approved by the Brazilian Senate in July.

According to the Carta Capital magazine, the law includes the diagnosis and treatment of injuries and exams to detect sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy of victims of sexual violence.  

Days before President Rousseff signed the law, a group of 56 biblical scholars and theologians from different churches and four Christian bodies ― the Alliance of Baptists of Brazil, the Center for Biblical Studies, Catholic for the Right to Decide, and the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI Brazil Region) ― made public a statement in favor of immediate and full approval of the law. 

The statement said: “In any age and in a universal way, sexual violence should be prevented through educational and critical work together with up-to-date scientific knowledge, and with all the technological and policy instruments available in all situations requiring emergency assistance, monitoring and rehabilitation, and an effective treatment of the impacts of sexual violence.”    

It further identifies multiple problems that trigger violence mechanisms, such as social, economic and political inequality, manifest in structures that naturalize direct and indirect forms of violence.

The biblical scholars and theologians lament that the Bible has been used as a cultural imagination that legitimates or naturalizes the domestic and public scenarios of aggression. They also underline that “the exercise of biblical interpretation, when not done in a fundamentalist way, helps us to maintain a critical stance in relation to the available social answers.” 

For its part, the National Conference of the Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) said on Aug. 2 that it lamented that President Rousseff had signed the law without any modifications. The bishops had  requested the exclusion of an article and two sections which define sexual violence and which guarantee, in those cases, the interrupting of a pregnancy..  

"The new law was approved very quickly by the Congress, without the appropriate and necessary parliamentary and public debate, which the serious and complex nature of the matter requires. This has given rise to a lack of terminological and conceptual precision in several provisions of the text, bringing with it risks of a wrong interpretation and implementation, as has been pointed out by important jurists and medical doctors in Brazil,” said the CNBB.

Data from the Brazilian Public Safety Forum, shows that in five years the number of rapes registered in the country increased by 168 percent, from 15.351 in 2005 to 41.294 in 2010. Ministry of Health figures indicate that from 2009 to 2012, reported rapes increased by157 percent. According to the Secretariat of Policies for Women, it is estimated that every 12 seconds a woman is raped in Brazil.