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Brazil: Sex Abuse Revealed by Children's TV Presenter Provokes Debate

An interview with children's television presenter Maria da Graça Meneghel, or Xuxa as she is more widely known, has hit Brazil like a bombshell after being shown last weekend on TV Globo's Sunday programme “Fantástico”. Xuxa, 49, spoke about her 26-year career, her success, her family, her relationships with football legend Pelé and racing driver Ayrton Senna, and the late Michael Jackson's marriage proposal. She took the country by surprise when she revealed that she was a victim of sexual abuse until she was a teenager.

The interview has since been transcribed and published [pt] on various blogs:

Na minha infância até a minha adolescência, até os meus 13 anos de idade foi a última vez. Pelo fato de eu ser muito grande, chamar a atenção, eu fui abusada, então eu sei o que é. Eu sei o que uma criança sente. A gente sente vergonha, a gente não quer falar sobre isso. A gente acha que a gente é culpada. Eu sempre achei que eu estava fazendo alguma coisa: ou era minha roupa ou era o que eu fazia que chamava a atenção, porque não foi uma pessoa, foram algumas pessoas que fizeram isso. E em situações diferentes, em momentos diferentes da minha vida. Então ao invés de eu falar para as pessoas, eu tinha vergonha, me calava, me sentia mal, me sentia suja, me sentia errada. E se eu não tivesse uma mãe, se eu não tivesse o amor da minha mãe, eu teria ido embora, porque o medo de você ter aquelas sensações de novo, passar por tudo isso, é muito grande. Só que eu não falei pra minha mãe, eu não tinha essa coragem de falar com ela. E a maioria das crianças, dos adolescentes, passa por isso.

Throughout my childhood until my teens; I was 13 the last time. I drew attention because I was very big. I was abused, so I know what it's like. I know how a child feels. We feel ashamed. We don't want to talk about it. We think it's our fault. I always thought I was doing something to cause it: my clothes or drawing attention to myself, because it wasn't just one person who did this to me. And it happened in different situations, in different stages of my life. Instead of talking to someone, I felt ashamed. I stayed quiet, I felt bad, I felt dirty, I felt wrong. And if I didn't have a mother, if I didn't have my mother's love, I would have run away, because the fear of having those feelings again, the fear of going through all of that again, is so great. Actually I didn't tell my mother; I wasn't brave enough to speak to her. And that happens to a lot of children and teenagers.
Screenshot of Xuxa in a dramatic moment of the interview

Screenshot of Xuxa in a dramatic moment of the interview

The revelation triggered an avalanche of comments on the internet, and until the following morning the presenter's name and several associated terms were still among the most popular on Twitter.

Luisa Clasen [pt] provides an overview of the reactions:

O quadro foi ao ar ontem, 20 de Maio, e no mesmo instante os trending topics foram tomados por várias hashtags relacionadas. Quando eram 20:30, a hashtag Xuxa já tava começando a decolar, com quase três mil mentions, e teve o pico às 22:39, com mais de 50.000 tuítes. [...] Mesmo o assunto sendo sério, a rainha dos baixinhos já tinha conquistado a antipatia de vários tuiteiros por causa da conta dela (hoje administrada só pela assessoria), por isso os tuítes se dividem entre os que comentam, defendem e os que zoam, mas a maioria dos manolos queria mesmo era fazer piada. Na internet inteira, as opiniões se dividem.

After the interview was aired on 20th May, the various hashtags associated with the story immediately became trending topics. The hashtag  Xuxa was already starting to take off at 8.30 p.m. with almost 3,000 mentions, but reached its peak at 10.39 p.m. with more than 50,000 tweets. [...] Even though it is a serious matter, the “children's queen” [translator's note: as she is known in Brazil] had already angered other Twitter users via her account (now handled solely by her public relations company) [translator's note: after a misunderstanding involving her daughter], so the tweets are divided between those simply commenting on the issue, those defending her and those mocking her, but in reality most people were just joking around. Opinions are divided across the web.

Whilst opinions differ as to the presenter's motives, few would deny that the prime-time interview has raised a serious issue. According to Sueli, “Xuxa pressed her finger firmly on the wound”:

Infelizmente muitas mulheres tem casos de abuso sexual para contar, vividos na infância e na adolescência. Não raro se sentem culpadas, com medo e com vergonha de falar sobre um assunto que é tão íntimo, avassalador e que na maioria das vezes deixa sequelas por toda a vida. A violência sexual praticada contra crianças e adolescentes é um crime covarde principalmente porque cometido contra quem não tem condições de se defender. Além disso, na maioria dos casos é praticado por um adulto que faz parte da família ou que integra os círculos de amizade e de confiança da família. Xuxa em seu depoimento falou sobre três homens: todos conhecidos e de alguma forma frequentadores da sua casa. E geralmente é assim mesmo: padrinhos, pais, padrastos, noivos da tia, amigos do irmão.

Unfortunately many women have suffered sexual abuse in childhood. Often they feel too guilty, afraid and ashamed to talk about such an intimate, overwhelming topic that often leaves them with lifelong scars. Sexual violence against children and teenagers is a cowardly crime because it is committed against those who are unable to defend themselves. Furthermore, in most cases it is carried out by a family member or someone in the circle of trust. Xuxa spoke of three men in her interview: all of them were previously known to her and were invited into her home. It's usually the same: fathers, stepfathers, godfathers, aunts’ boyfriends, or brothers’ friends.

Confrontation

Between January and April of this year, Disk 100 received 34,142 [pt] complaints of sexual abuse against children. Disk 100, a telephone service provided by the Special Secretariat for Human Rights, allows complaints to be reported by dialling 100 and is open every day from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. There has been a 71% increase in complaints compared with the same period in 2011, which indicates an increase in awareness.

The mobilisation of society should only increase (with or without Xuxa's help) following President Dilma Rousseff's approval of law nº 6719/2009 last Friday, known as “Joanna Maranhão's Law”, which extends the time frame for legal action against perpetrators of sexual exploitation in Brazil. The date it was passed, 18 May, is symbolic: it is the National Day for the Fight against Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children and Adolescents [pt]. Xuxa was invited to be the spokesperson of the Campaign against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Teens.

Xuxa posa com cartaz da Campanha de Enfrentamento à Exploração Sexual de Crianças e Adolescentes

Xuxa with a poster from the Campaign against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Teens. Photo: Gustavo Velasco

Statements from famous victims aid child abuse campaigns by provoking debate on an issue that is much more commonplace than many people realise. Deputy Manuela D’Ávila [pt] says that it is time to set aside dogmas and preconceptions, and asks that Xuxa and others like her be allowed to talk without feeling guilty:

Para quem atua na área de Direitos humanos a confissão de sentimento de culpa pela violência sofrida é quase um atestado de veracidade. Por que? Porque a sociedade faz com que crianças e mulheres sintam-se responsáveis pelo abuso sofrido. Sedutora, assanhada, jeitinho de p_ _ _, assim dizem. E infelizmente, a repercursão debochada, irônica de muitos confirmou a tese. Independente da reação da vítima, se teve medo e calou, se gritou, se … Vítima é vítima!!! [...] Sei que é muito bom para quem luta contra a exploração de mulheres que ela fale, que a sociedade debate, que se tire da escuridão crianças violentadas dentro de casa. a maior parte dos abusos são idênticos ao dela: dentro de casa, gente conhecida, anos de dor e silêncio, vítima sentindo-se culpada.

For those who work in human rights, the admission of feelings of guilt after suffering violence is almost an affirmation of truthfulness. Why? Because society makes women and children feel responsible for the abuse. Seductive, brazen, acting slutty, as they say. And unfortunately, the mocking, ironic repercussions conformed to the theory. Regardless of the victim's reaction, if she was afraid and kept quiet, if she screamed, if… a victim is a victim! [...] I understand it's better for the fight against exploitation of women if they speak up, for society to discuss it, for children violated in their own homes to be taken out of the darkness. Most cases of abuse are the same as hers: at home, people you know, years of pain and silence, the victim left feeling guilty.

Moreover, revelations from famous people give other victims the courage to speak up. After being greatly affected when reading difficult stories on social networks, Sofia [pt] tells her own story of childhood abuse:

Agora, para tudo e pensa: mesmo que tenha sido por audiência ou por uma causa nobre, estamos todos hoje falando sobre algo importante – não exatamente a Xuxa, mas o abuso infantil. Poucos que não passaram por isso conseguem ter ideia de como isso pode ser doloroso. E aí é bem fácil fazer comentários imbecis e pejorativos. Quero falar sobre isso não só por ter passado por esta situação, mas por ter filhos e para poder alertar outras mães. [...] E, por mais que ninguém queira falar sobre isso, por mais que todos finjam que isso não acontece na própria casa, o risco existe e muito pior é deixar que um filho carregue essa dor.

Now, after everything, I think that even if it was for the audience or for a worthy cause, it means that today we are all talking about something important- not just Xuxa, but child abuse. Few people who have not been through it can have any idea how painful it can be. And it is very easy to make stupid and derogatory comments. I want to talk about this not only because I went through it, but because I have children and I want to warn other mothers. [...] And, as much as no one wants to talk about it, as much as we all pretend this doesn't happen on our doorsteps, the danger exists and it would be much worse for a child to live with the pain.

Aline [pt] believes that the interview allowed many girls who suffer sexual abuse on a daily basis to have their voices heard:

Através de seu depoimento Xuxa pode ter salvo milhares de vidas que também se viram na mesma situação, mas superar é a única forma de mostrar a esses criminosos que apesar das adversidades e da impunidade, ser feliz e contar com o apoio da família, é o que mais importa.

Xuxa may well have saved the lives of thousands of girls in the same situation through her interview, but overcoming it is the only way to show these criminals that despite the difficulties and impunity, being happy and having support from your family is what matters the most.
Selo do Dia Nacional de Combate ao Abuso e à Exploração Sexual de Crianças e Adolescentes.

"Make it right. Protect our children and teenagers," says the slogan of the National Day for the Fight against Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children and Adolescents.

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