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Brazil's iconic Copacabana beach taken over in hard-hitting rape culture protest

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Photographs of Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach usually show bright blue surf  and a gorgeous arc of golden sand.

But on Monday, the iconic beach became the setting for a symbolic protest against violence towards women.

As part of a nationwide protest against Brazil’s culture of sexual violence, activists laid out over 400 pairs of lace knickers, in red and stained white, across the sand. Huge posters, showing women with their faces marred by bloody handprints, also appeared on the beach.

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The images that appeared on Copacabana beach were part of a project titled “I Will Never Be Silent” by photographer Marcio Freitas

Over the last few weeks, Brazil has been electrified by protest and debate about the country’s endemic “macho” culture of misogyny and gender-based violence.

The spark occurred in late May, after a 16-year-old girl was allegedly raped by up to 33 men in a Rio favela. The case only came to light because one of the alleged rapists uploaded a 30-second video to Twitter after the attack. In the clip, he and other men mock and manhandle the victim while she lies unconscious, naked and bloodied on a mattress.

The victim later told investigators that the last thing she remembered was visiting her long-term boyfriend’s house – before waking up in an unfamiliar building, surrounded by dozens of men with guns. Police suspect that she had been drugged, and the teenager’s grandmother told local media that the girl’s boyfriend had orchestrated the attack after becoming convinced she had cheated on him. 

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Hundreds of women protest in downtown Rio after the gang-rape of a 16-year-old girl by over 30 men. The banner reads: "We want to grow in a world that does not label our colours, toys and much less our bodies"

The case prompted a huge response across Brazilian social media. At first, many men posted on Twitter that it was the teenager’s fault for wearing a short skirt, getting drunk or using drugs, The Guardian reports.

However, that was soon overwhelmed by widespread fury and condemnation, grouped around the hashtags #EstuproNuncaMais (no more rape) and #EstuproNaoTemJustificativa (rape can never be justified).

Over the last two weeks, demonstrators have been protesting at rallies across Brazil – as well as in Argentina, where a pregnant 14-year-old girl was murdered last year. The sudden outpouring of anger has been compared to the feminist protests in India in 2012, after 23-year-old Jyoti Singh was gang-raped on a Delhi bus and left to die.

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Activists have also been protesting a culture of sexism and sexual violence in Argentina

There were 50,000 rapes officially recorded in Brazil in 2014, but experts believe that the crime goes grossly underreported. In Rio alone, there were 4,725 rapes reported in 2014 – an average of 13 per day.

Amália Fischer of feminist organisation Fundo Social Elas said that gang rape was a hate crime, and that women across Brazil should be mobilised into action by May's events. “Women need to be respected regardless of their race, sexuality or the clothes they wear. I can only hope that this act can bring awareness to women and men about the need for this fight, so the violence against women can end,” she said.

Rio de Paz, the NGO behind the Copacabana beach protest, laid out 420 pairs of women’s underwear because that is the number of women raped every three days in Brazil.

“We can’t tolerate abuse against women,” Rio de Paz posted on Facebook, adding that they were fighting against “a culture of exploitation of human life”.

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A member of the NGO Rio de Paz stands in front of the installation on Copacabana beach

Images: Getty

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