Two incidents involving sexual harassment and assault took place in Brazil and the U.S. this week, shocking each nation. Though both were seemingly isolated incidents, part of what made them so horrifying was the thought that these terrible events could somehow reflect on the people of the respective countries. I'd like to think that they were, in fact, isolated incidents, but the events are undoubtedly telling.
In Brazil, a female college student at a respected university was chased by a mob shouting and cursing at her and threatening to rape her, supposedly because she was wearing a very short skirt to class. She barricaded herself inside a classroom and was escorted off the campus by military police. Several videos of the incident were floating around the Internet this week, though most have been removed (this one seems to be working). It seems as if a few reactions to the woman's attire sparked a mob, consisting of both men and women accusing the woman of being a whore. The incident provoked outrage all over the country, with many shaking their heads at what was perceived as evidence of a machista society. [From an outsider perspective, the irony of this terrible incident is that it debunks the gringo myth that Brazilians love nudity and approve of wearing little clothing in everyday life, as opposed to just at the beach].
I take your mob and I raise you something infinitely worse.
In California, a fifteen year-old high school student left a high school dance intending to go home, and instead went to drink in an alley behind the school. She wound up getting drunk, and was attacked by around ten male students who gang raped her for nearly three hours, while allegedly around a dozen other people stood around watching and did nothing. Several of the attackers have been arrested (they are being tried as adults even though they're minors), though police are still looking for more suspects, including those who watched and failed to call the police or alert authorities. The girl was found later in critical condition, and only was released from the hospital three days later. All over the U.S., people expressed outrage and disbelief that such a large group of people could watch such a brutal crime and refuse to stop it.
Both incidents forced both countries to reflect on issues people neither want to think about nor acknowledge. In the case of Brazil, some claimed that the victim "asked for it" because she provoked her fellow students with her "lewd" clothing. In the U.S., there's likely a minority who blame the incident on immigrants, since the arrested suspects are Latinos. But fundamentally, the large majority in each country tried to reconcile how something so unthinkable could happen in civilized places in this day and age, how as a part of a crowd, seemingly normal individuals could become monsters.