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In Brazil, Support Groups Also Help Perpetrators Of Domestic Violence

In a number of Brazilian states, judges are ordering those guilty of domestic violence to join group discussions. Participants say they're resistant at first, but eventually find the experience to be a real eye-opener.

Educating against violence
Educating against violence
Natalia Cancian

PARANOÁ — In a public building in Paranoá, in central Brazil's Federal District, a group of 15 people meet once a week to talk about domestic violence. In this case, though, the participants aren't victims seeking support. They're the perpetrators themselves, abusers who've either been referred here by the justice system, or, in rare instances, come of their own free will.

"We have to give men their share of responsibility," says Lucia Bessa, the Federal District's undersecretary for women's affairs. "Normally we women, whether it's about reporting abuse or leaving an abusive relationship, bear all the responsibility. But what about the male partner? What about the abuser?"

The discussion groups, organized by a body called the Center for Assistance to Family and Perpetrators of Domestic Violence (NAFAVD), are an attempt to answer that same question. Similar efforts are being made in other Brazilian states. Overall, there are 25 such services being offered in nine different states, according to a Adriano Beiras, a psychology professor at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).

Discussion and educational groups for perpetrators of abuse are still few and far between, in other words, but they appear to be gaining ground, in large part because of domestic violence legislation enacted in 2006. The so-called Maria da Penha Law, named after a biopharmacist who was herself a victim of domestic abuse, specifically recommended such groups as a way to "educate" against violence.

"A man who has abused a woman can do it again to another if all we're doing is focusing on the victim," says Beiras. "It's like trying to fix a problem without looking at the root cause."

Anger and resistance

The discussion groups give offenders an opportunity to reflect on their behavior. The sessions are overseen by psychologists and social workers, and recommended by judges generally for minor cases, when threats are made, for example. Often the men are slapped with restraining orders as well.

"When they get here, they are mad," Rebeca Rohgls, founder of the Albam Institute in Belo Horizonte, says of the discussion group participants. "In many cases they're here because of threats they made, so most of them believe they didn't do anything wrong. "She knew I wasn't going to kill her," they say."

Rohgls is a pioneer with these kinds of programs. "In the group sessions, we work on raising awareness among the men, which is a way to protect women," she adds. Rohgls says participants often attend meetings for between four and six months, and that topics commonly discussed include gender, women's rights, paternity and the Maria da Penha Law.

One of the biggest obstacles, according to Isabel Cristina Ribeiro, a coordinator with the NAFAVD program in Paranoá, is the "macho culture" that men use to justify violence. "Usually, they arrive and say, "I hit her, but she provoked me,"" Ribiero notes.

Coordinators like Ribeiro also have the challenge of finding qualified professionals willing to work with abusers. "Many psychologists and social workers don't feel prepared to handle this stuff," says Ricardo Bortoli, a social worker in the southeastern city of Blumenau. "They see these men only as crooks,"

But Bortoli, who founded a group, 13 years ago, for perpetrators of domestic violence, sees the situation differently: He believes that with help, abusers can evolve and thus live as "normal" people.

"It wasn't loaded"

For more insight, Folha spoke with some of the program participants themselves. One of the men, 38-year-old Maciel (not his real name), told us about the argument he had with his wife, six years ago, that landed him in jail and eventually into one of the group sessions.

He was drunk at the time, he says, and decided to interrogate his wife, whom he suspected of cheating on him. "It did not go smoothly at all," Maciel recalls. "I cursed and said a lot of dirty words. I had a gun at home, but it wasn't laoded. It was an old shotgun. I threatened her with it."

The woman ran to the back room. Hours later, while Maciel was sleeping, the police showed up at his house. "The police told me, "If we find the gun, you're going to jail." And I did go," he says.

Maciel was initially held for nine days, then given a longer sentence and a restraining order by the courts. This year he was ordered to attend NAFAVD meetings in Paranoá. He says that after six months, his ideas about violence have changed. "Most people think domestic violence is only when someone hits his wife," he says. "But there are various forms of violence. People think that words don't hurt."

Maciel admits he was resistant at first. "When you arrive, you think you are going to be judged, but it's a support group. I tried to take it seriously and learn some lessons," he says. "I left with another point of view. Not that I was violent before. But if I had that knowledge about violence, I would not have made that mistake."

Greater peace of mind

Joao (not his real name) describes a similar experience — of initial resistance followed by acceptance. When he was first ordered to attend group sessions in Blumenau, Joao was so resentful he even thought about appealing the courts to exempt him.

"At first I regretted not hitting my ex-wife, since here I was, having to go though the legal process regardless. But in the end I accepted the meetings and started to enjoy them," he says.

Joao's meetings take place every two weeks. The men sit in a circle. Their discussions are mediated by coordinators (usually both men and women are present). "I didn't think of myself as a chauvinist, but I realized that in some aspects, I was," says Joao.

A third participant, Gustavo Mendes, 37, found himself in one of the programs after an argument with his ex-girlfriend. "I don't remember what I said, but the argument was very serious," he says. "I told her to get out of the car and I insulted her."

A judge ordered him to attend meetings. "It was a big shock," he says. But now, after 10 sessions, Mendes says that he gets it now — that he shouldn't have allowed himself to get so angry. "I began to see things with a greater peace of mind," he says.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Finally Time For Negotiations? Russia And Ukraine Have The Exact Same Answer

The war in Ukraine appears to have reached a stalemate, with neither side able to make significant progress on the battlefield. A number of Western experts and politicians are now pushing for negotiations. But the irreconcilable positions of both the Russian and Ukrainian sides make such negotiations tricky, if not impossible.

photo of : Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, presents a battle flag to a soldier as he kisses it

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky presents a battle flag to a soldier at the Kyiv Fortress, October 1, 2023.

Ukraine Presidency/Ukrainian Pre/Planet Pix via ZUMA
Yuri Fedorov


The Russian-Ukrainian war appears to have reached a strategic impasse — a veritable stalemate. Neither side is in a position at this point to achieve a fundamental change on the ground in their favor. Inevitably, this has triggered no shortage of analysts and politicians saying it's time for negotiations.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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These conversations especially intensified after the results of the summer-autumn counteroffensive were analyzed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valerii Zaluzhny, with not very optimistic details.

Though there are advances of the Ukrainian army, it is mostly “stuck in minefields under attacks from Russian artillery and drones,” and there is a increasing prospect of trench warfare that “could drag on for years and exhaust the Ukrainian state.”

Zaluzhny concluded: “Russia should not be underestimated. It suffered heavy losses and used up a lot of ammunition, but it will have an advantage in weapons, equipment, missiles and ammunition for a long time," he said. "Our NATO partners are also dramatically increasing their production capacity, but this requires at least a year, and in some cases, such as aircraft and control systems, two years.”

For the Ukrainian army to truly succeed, it needs air superiority, highly effective electronic and counter-battery warfare, new technologies for mining and crossing minefields, and the ability to mobilize and train more reserves.

China and most countries of the so-called global South have expressed their support for negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Meanwhile in the West, certain influential voices are pushing for negotiations, guided by a purely pragmatic principle that if military victory is impossible, it is necessary to move on to diplomacy.

The position of the allies is crucial: Ukraine’s ability to fight a long war of attrition and eventually change the situation at the front in its favor depends on the military, economic and political support of the West. And this support, at least on the scale necessary for victory, is not guaranteed.

Still, the question of negotiations is no less complicated, as the positions of Russia and Ukraine today are so irreconcilable that it is difficult to imagine productive negotiations.

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