Victim of Gender-Based Violence

What is gender-based violence?

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) sets minimum standards for state actions to promote women's human rights and suppress violations. It defines discrimination as:

Any distinction, exclusion, or restriction based on sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on the basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field" (Article 1, CEDAW).

The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women, held in 1994 in Belém, Pará, defined such practices as an offence to human dignity and a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between women and men. The United Nations defines violence against women as "any act of violence based on gender that results or is likely to result in physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether in public or private life." This violence affects all ages, from infants to the elderly, manifesting differently: physical, psychological, sexual, financial, and moral.

The concept of gender-based violence has expanded to encompass any physical, psychological, sexual, or symbolic aggression against someone vulnerable due to their gender identity or sexual orientation.

How To Recognise If You Are A Victim of Domestic And Family Violence

Domestic violence”, according to Article 3 of the Istanbul Convention, encompasses all acts of physical, sexual, psychological, or economic violence occurring within the family or domestic unit or between current or former spouses or partners, regardless of whether the perpetrator cohabits or has cohabited with the victim. Subsequently, a “victim” refers to any individual who is subjected to these behaviours (cf. subsections b and c of Article 3 of the Convention, with Brazil being a signatory per Decree No. 563 of August 16, 2010).

More broadly, the Maria da Penha Law (Law No. 11.340/2006) defines domestic and family violence as any action or omission based on gender that undermines one’s physical, psychological, moral, sexual, or economic integrity, as long as it is committed within the family, domestic unit (permanent residence), or in any intimate relationship.

Regarding the latter, the Superior Court of Justice has extended the application of the Maria da Penha Law to include ex-boyfriends, ex-fiancés, and, more recently, the law is understood to apply to relationships between friends as well, such as those who share a residence or maintain a non-romantic intimate relationship. This not only applies to relationships between spouses, partners, and fiancés but also to family members (parents and children, uncles and nephews).

American psychologist Lenore Walker, in her studies on this topic, noticed that domestic violence occurs in a cyclical manner, going through the following stages:

  1. Tension Building: The perpetrator becomes irritable and impatient and issues various threats. Often, they prevent the victim from communicating with friends and family, claiming that they interfere with the relationship. This isolation makes the victim feel lonely and helpless.
  2. Escalation/Incident of Aggression: At this stage, violence manifests itself, whether it be verbal, moral, psychological, sexual, or economic. The victim, now completely isolated from any support network, feels utterly vulnerable and is in denial, unable to acknowledge their situation and reluctant to seek help.
  3. Honeymoon Phase: Typically after the aggression, the victim distances themselves from the perpetrator, who appears remorseful, apologises, and promises to change to regain the victim’s trust. Do not be deceived; this is just a phase, and after the trust is restored, a new episode is likely to occur.

Alarmingly, the more the cycle repeats, the more intense the aggressions become, potentially leading to femicide (gender-specific murder). It is crucial to understand how this cycle unfolds and be aware that there is a way out and that help is available.

Below are signs to help you identify if you are in an abusive relationship, thereby interrupting the cycle of victimisation you may be undergoing:

One of the most significant challenges for victims of gender violence is recognising the signs of an abusive relationship. Since victims often fail to acknowledge they are in an abusive relationship, they might consider violent practices as normal.

A relationship is deemed abusive if it silences your desires, wishes, or personality or engages in repeated humiliation or any other form of violence highlighted on this website. The relationship can be romantic, familial, or platonic.

At this point, it's vital to emphasise the importance of listening to close individuals who have your best interests at heart, like long-term friends or family members, as these people often signal to the victim that something is wrong, but the victim often ignores them.

Below are some signs to assist you in this diagnosis:

1. Control

The manipulation sought by the abuser can be contained in a simple phrase. This interferes with your personal sphere - dictating what you can or cannot do. Classic examples involve clothing choices and activities, with the excuse of “I know what’s best for you”. It may seem like care – but it isn't!

In their quest for control and the annulment of their partner’s identity, the abuser primarily targets privacy. The invasion of privacy often comes under the guise of love, focusing mainly on text messages, social networks, and emails. This invasion can be subtle or blatant. Stay conscious of these signs to recognise an abusive relationship.


2. Isolation from Others

"That friend of yours is not a good influence on you; don't hang out with her anymore. I don’t want people thinking you’re like her."

"I don’t like how that friend of yours looks at you; I don’t want you hanging out with him anymore."

These examples are signs of an abusive relationship. Masked as a concern, the abuser merely wants to distance others from their partner and monopolise all their emotional and social needs.

The goal is for the partner to depend solely on the abuser. This way, they ensure exclusivity and that the partner does as they wish. This is a cruel form of manipulation since it poisons healthy relationships with others to gain total control.


3. Belittling the Partner

In this scenario, the abuser can’t stand seeing their partner doing well. Nothing will ever be enough, and they won’t be impressed with the partner’s significant achievements.

The abuser needs to belittle the other to feel superior in the relationship, either privately or even by mocking them in front of others. The abuser's goal is to lower self-esteem so the individual feels incapable of making their own decisions.

In doing so, the partner is led to believe they are nothing without the abuser and that the relationship is the only way to feel good and protected. This way, the belief that one can only be well whilst with the abuser forms roots.


4. Emotional Games

Emotional blackmail unveils the abusive relationship. Therefore, the abusive partner shifts the blame onto the other. With this, they intend for the individual to feel bad about themselves and acknowledge mistakes, even when there aren't any.

Emotional games serve to display the power dynamic within the relationship. Deprivations may occur, such as withholding sex and intimacy or even resorting to distance and silence to make the partner do what they want. Stay alert to identify these elements. This way, you'll know how to get out of an abusive relationship.


5. Aggression and Violence

The aggressor comes to physically strike their partner. However, after the violence, they claim to have been out of control. They promise it will never happen again, swearing love and claiming they ‘cannot imagine living in a world without their partner’.

Unfortunately, this example is more common than we think and typifies an abusive relationship. The aggressor was not out of control. It is aggression – and more often than not, it occurs in multiple instances, turning into a cycle.

Remorse and promises are manipulations to maintain the relationship. Violence is violence. It is dangerous to live with someone who attacks their partner, both psychologically and physically. Understanding these aspects is crucial to identifying and leaving a toxic relationship.


How to Leave an Abusive Relationship?

Exiting an abusive relationship is extremely challenging. The abuser can emotionally engulf the victim, leaving them paralysed, fearful, and emotionally dependent on the relationship.

However, there are various emotional issues embedded in both the victim's and the abuser's stories. Therefore, if you identify with these signs, the best way to address these issues and develop solid coping mechanisms is through therapy.

Talking to friends and family can help. Contrary to what the abuser wants you to believe, you must strengthen your support network (which includes your friends and family). You can seek professional help from a psychologist or psychiatrist, and if you wish to end the relationship, it is always advisable to consult with a lawyer or public defender.

The path to freeing yourself from a toxic relationship doesn't have to be a burden. Seek help!

One of the most common forms of domestic and family violence against women is marital violence.

Marital violence stems from the notion that the man is the head of the marital society. The 1988 Constitution stipulates that men and women have equal rights and duties. Society and public powers must ensure the constitutional norm is applied, steering clear of gender stereotypes.

The false perception, resulting from centuries of inequality, that men hold familial power makes them view their wives merely as objects in their lives, available for use at their discretion. Often, family and friends fail to support the victim because they believe in this supposed hierarchy between men and women in marital relationships. This so-called “natural” legitimisation by society — of violence within relationships, especially within marriages — gives rise to various types of violence against women, such as marital rape.

Women are taught to be passive, submissive, and always available to satisfy their partners' desires, but this is untrue!

To cite one form of marital violence, consider marital rape. According to the WHO, one in three American women has suffered or will suffer physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, which is the most common form of violence against women.

Despite the deeply ingrained patriarchal notion that women should always be sexually available within marriage, it’s crucial to understand that this is untrue. Even within a relationship, be it dating, engagement, cohabitation, or marriage, explicit consent from the partner is required for sexual intercourse; otherwise, it constitutes rape!

When rape occurs under these circumstances, it is termed marital rape.

Seek help. Here, you can find a list of services that can assist you.

Anyone can report a violent situation to the authorities and ask for measures to be undertaken. By law, in a fight between husband and wife, you should save the wife. Report it! Fully exercise your citizenship and help those who cannot or do not know how to ask for help!

Types of Violence

Violence enacted against women can be:

  • Physical: This encompasses any aggressive act that impacts the victim’s physical body, such as slaps, punches, hair-pulling, shoves, etc. It's vital to note that an act can qualify as physical violence even if it does not leave visible marks! Under the Maria da Penha Law, women who are victims of domestic and family violence are given priority for forensic examination. To find out what a forensic examination entails, click here.
  • Moral: Any aggressive act that tarnishes the victim's honour constitutes moral violence. The aggressor might falsely accuse the victim of committing a crime or degrade her by attributing negative actions (not criminal) that she didn't do or insult her to cause humiliation. A common practice within this type of violence is the sharing of intimate photos on social media or within groups to disgrace and embarrass the victim. For a better understanding of the types of crimes that moral violence might entail, click here.
  • Psychological: Psychological violence includes any action that harms the victim’s psychological health, leading to diminished self-esteem or emotional damage that hinders their full development. It commonly manifests as yelling, punching or kicking walls, throwing objects towards the victim, or continuous insults, e.g., “You’re stupid,” “You’re ugly,” “Nobody wants you,” “You’re a nobody,” etc. Continuous exposure to these stimuli may lead to a condition known as Learned Helplessness Syndrome, where the victim cannot perceive a way out, even if there is one.
  • Sexual: This includes any aggressive act that violates the victim’s sexual dignity, non-consensual sexual practices, prohibiting the use of contraceptives, and coercion related to marriage, pregnancy, or abortion. The aggressor often uses threats, coercion, blackmail, and intimidation to make the victim engage, participate in, or witness sexual practices against their will. This category also includes the commercial exploitation of the victim’s sexuality. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual violence as any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic a person’s sexuality using coercion. Victims of sexual violence are prioritised for medical, psychological, and health care within the SUS-SUAS system. Sexual violence also occurs if the person cannot consent due to alcohol or drug effects, being asleep, or being mentally incapacitated, among other situations.
  • Patrimonial: This refers to any act involving the withholding, subtraction, or total or partial destruction of the victim's assets, including personal documents, valuables, or financial resources. Recently, courts have argued that non-payment of alimony can be characterised as a form of patrimonial violence, as it withholds legally guaranteed funds essential for the child and mother’s sustenance, with the latter often relying on it to care for the child.

How to Get Help

If you have been a victim of domestic or familial violence or are at imminent risk of victimisation, it is advisable to go to a police station and file a report. At this time, you will be given a risk form to assess your situation and determine which measures would be appropriate to take for your protection.

Recently, the Maria da Penha Law was amended to allow for the autonomous filing of protective measures independently of whether a criminal process occurred or not. You should request the paperwork from the prosecutor in your city or the public defender's office.

The Maria da Penha Law provides for two types of protective measures – a) those binding the aggressor and b) those intended for the victim. The judge may apply one or more of these measures within 48 hours of the request.


Protective measures binding the aggressor include:

I - Suspension of possession or restriction of carrying weapons, with notification to the competent body, under the terms of Law No. 10,826, of December 22, 2003;

II - Removal from home, domicile, or place of coexistence with the victim;

III - Prohibition of certain conducts, among which:

a) Approaching the victim, their family members, and witnesses, establishing a minimum distance between them and the aggressor;

b) Contacting the victim, their family members, and witnesses by any means of communication;

c) Frequenting specific places to preserve the victim’s physical and psychological integrity;

IV - Restriction or suspension of visitation rights to minor dependents after consultation with a multidisciplinary team or similar service;

V - Provision of provisional or temporary alimony.

VI - Aggressor's attendance at recovery and reeducation programs;

VII - Psychosocial monitoring of the aggressor through individual and/or group support.


Regarding the possibility of establishing provisional or temporary alimony, it is crucial to present elements that allow for their immediate establishment; otherwise, it is common for the judge to refer this duty to the Family and Successions Court. Documents that you can request the police authority to include in the record are marriage or stable union certificate, birth certificate of children, pay stub, and bills (water, electricity, telephone, internet, health insurance, dental insurance, food expenses, rent, property tax). If you don't have any formal document proving the affective relationship, don’t worry. State how long you have been together (or separated) so that it is recorded in the description of the facts.

There are also personal and property protective measures aimed at protecting the victim.


Personal measures include:

I - Referral of the victim and their dependents to an official or community protection or assistance program;

II - Ordering the return of the victim and their dependents to their domicile after the aggressor's removal;

III - Ordering the victim's removal from home without prejudice to rights related to assets, child custody, and alimony;

IV - Ordering legal separation;

V - Enrolment of the victim’s dependents in the nearest basic education institution to their domicile or their transfer to such institution, regardless of vacancy availability.


We can identify the following property measures:

I - Restitution of assets wrongfully taken by the aggressor;

II - Temporary prohibition of acts and contracts of purchase, sale, and leasing of joint property, unless expressly authorised by a judge;

III - Suspension of powers of attorney granted by the victim to the aggressor;

IV - Supply of provisional security, through judicial deposit, for material damages resulting from the practice of domestic and familial violence against the victim.


The judge should notify the competent registry for the purposes outlined in items II and III of this article.

It’s important to be aware of these measures since taking precautions with your assets as soon as possible increases the chances of preserving them.

We know that in times of pain and suffering, it is very hard to think about practical aspects like custody, alimony, and visitation. Often, the situation is so severe that one cannot wait before contacting the police or another support organisation. Ideally, jot down important data so you won’t forget to mention them to the police. For example, if your husband, partner, or boyfriend manages your assets, it's important to mention this data so they can no longer act on your behalf. You can always ask the police to supplement your statement and request other protective measures. If you are very nervous, try talking to a friend, family member, or psychologist before filing the report; this will help you have more clarity about the important facts you should report for your personal and property protection.

The judge may also order the aggressor's preventative detention in cases where there are risks to the woman's physical or psychological integrity. If the crime has just been committed, the police officer can order the aggressor's arrest in the act.

If you have suffered physical or sexual violence, you can also go directly to a hospital and report the origin of the injuries. This will be important for the future performance of the bodily exam. Health units are required to report signs of violence against women under penalty of accountability.

It's important to always be accompanied by a lawyer or public defender. If this is not possible, ask a friend or family member to accompany you in these acts. This will make the situation less traumatic and provide emotional comfort.

Various institutions work in the confrontation and prevention of violence. We can mention the Military Police, Civil Police, Public Prosecutor's Office, Public Defender's Office, Specialised Centers for Women’s Assistance, the House of the Brazilian Woman, the Ministry of Women, health services, Women's Prosecutors within the Legislative Power, State and Municipal Women's Secretariats, among other specialised services.

To know the services available in your state, click here.


a) Courts Specialised for Domestic and Family Violence Against Women
These judicial bodies with civil and criminal jurisdiction are responsible for processing, adjudicating, and executing cases resulting from acts of domestic and family violence against women.

b) Social Assistance Reference Centers
These public units work with families to promote healthy family relationships, access to rights, and improvement in quality of life. 

c) Shelter Homes 
These facilities offer protected asylum and comprehensive care (psychosocial and legal) to women facing domestic violence and the threat of death, with or without their children. Women can stay in these places from 90 to 180 days. During this time, they should acquire the necessary conditions to resume life outside these temporary shelters. 

d) Specialised Police Stations for the Assistance of Women (DEAMS)
 In the Civil Police structure, these stations provide preventive actions, legal investigations, and classification. At these units, it is possible to file a police report (BO) and request urgent protective measures in cases of domestic violence against women. 

e) Casa da Mulher Brasileira (House of the Brazilian Woman)
Although many units are under construction throughout the country, the Casa da Mulher Brasileira serves women in situations of violence. They offer shelter services and qualified listening through a multidisciplinary team, providing psychosocial care and a playroom for children aged zero to twelve. Users have access to transportation to health services and the socio-assistance network when necessary, as well as temporary housing for those at imminent risk of death. 

The Casa da Mulher Brasileira also provides services from:

  • Women's Defense Police Station (DDM), which operates 24/7, working on the prevention, protection, and investigation of domestic violence crimes.

  • The Court of Justice of São Paulo, with a specialised court/department for domestic and family violence against women. A judge adjudicates and determines necessary urgent measures, such as granting protective measures, ordering search and seizure, and decreeing the arrest of the aggressor. It operates from Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

  • The Metropolitan Civil Guard, which supports enforcing judicial measures issued by the Justice System through the Guardiã Maria da Penha program, is available 24/7.

  • The Public Defender's Office offers guidance to women about their rights and legal assistance. Every woman is entitled to a lawyer. The public defender also clarifies doubts, informs about risk situations, and explains the case's progress, operating from Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

  • The Public Prosecutor's Office monitors cases within the Justice System to ensure law enforcement. It operates from Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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