Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 | 8 p.m.
RIO DE JANEIRO — A Brazilian court has convicted three men in the gang rape of an American student on a transit van, a crime in Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana seaside tourist district that shocked the nation and focused attention on a surge of reported rape cases in Brazil.
A judge sentenced two of the men — Jonathan Froudakis de Souza, 20, and Walace Aparecido de Souza Silva, 21 — to 49 years in prison each for crimes that included rape, aggravated robbery and extortion, in a ruling issued Wednesday. Another man, Carlos Armando Costa dos Santos, 21, was found guilty of rape and extortion and sentenced to 21 years. A 14-year-old boy who took part in the assault is awaiting trial in a separate court for minors.
The assailants pummeled the face of the American student, 21, breaking her nose and raping her repeatedly in front of her male companion, a French citizen who was tied up and beaten with a metal bar as he witnessed the assault. The victims were forced to use their bank cards to withdraw cash, which was stolen, before the attackers freed them in a gritty area of Rio.
The attack, in late March of this year, drew scrutiny to a wave of rapes on public vans and buses, pointing to the dangers in using public transportation in Brazil’s major cities. Weeks later, in June, fury over an increase in bus fares set off antigovernment protests across the country, with demonstrators expressing anger over deplorable public services and abuses of power by politicians.
After the rape of the American student, a 22-year-old working class Brazilian woman said she had been raped by the same men in the same van a week earlier, on March 23. Though she had reported the crime immediately, the police failed to investigate, provoking criticism that the authorities failed to take action until an American had suffered the same abuse.
“The authorities still seem to be more concerned in dealing with the rape case of a foreigner instead of my own,” the Brazilian victim said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
She said she had been summoned to a hearing on July 24 and was made to wait the entire day, in proximity to the defendants’ families, before being told that the defendants were not able to appear because a vehicle was not available to bring them to the court. The hearing was rescheduled for Aug. 27; it was unclear when a judge would rule on her case.
“It is utterly degrading the way I’ve been treated by own legal system,” she said, “but I’m comforted a little knowing these criminals will go to prison.”
In his ruling on the case of the American student, Judge Guilherme Schilling Pollo Duarte said the actions of the men during the attack were characterized by a “complete disregard” for the victim.
Despite the long sentences, at least two of the men are unlikely to spend anywhere near their full sentences in prison, even if they are convicted in the separate rape case of the Brazilian victim. Brazilian law limits the enforcement of any sentence, regardless of its severity, to 30 years, and inmates, including those convicted of murder, are often released long before spending so many years in prison.