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Brazilian woman victimized for reporting sexual harassment

She is sued and exiled for daring to complain


This account is about power and about its abuse. It is about the unwritten prohibition of stating sexual harassment, spurious allegiances and other power games freely played by some university professors, protected from truth by their violent corporate practices.

Vera Helena Monezi is an administrative worker at the University of Sao Paulo (USP) since 1981. She used to work at the Biology Department, at the Institute of Biosciences and she also had regular political activity in her local Union. In October 19, 1993, she was forced to report sexual harassment at the police department: the head of her department had been insistently harassing her and, in face of her open refusals, he made her life in her workplace unbearable. Finally, he threatened to fire her. Vera had a witness to one of her boss's strikes: a colleague of hers.

What followed her report was an incredible series of attacks. First, they threatened her witness until he denied having seen or heard anything that could impute guilt on their boss. Then they refused to transfer her if she didn't agree to withdraw her denunciation. The agreement where they stated their conditions is properly documented. With no witness and - documents attest it - the interference of influential people in high courts of the country, the charge was filed in March 1994. Vera was transferred this same month to the Center of Marine Biology of the USP, in a littoral town about three hours from Sao Paulo. The director revealed herself a server of the Institute's policy towards Vera's reports: despite the acknowledged competence of this worker (and the director wrote letters stating her position), she was put "in disposability" in June, 1994.

Well, the electoral period in Brazil started in May 1994 and the law is clear about the impossibility of transferring public workers for seven months around the election. Although illegal, the University's official moves couldn't be revoked. The Union's attorneys were powerless against it's strength. Police and judges are condescending and probably intimidated by this University - the most important one in the country, the home of our president, a kind of sacred institution.

In January 1995, VEJA magazine (an important weekly magazine, like Times or Newsweek) went after Vera for a news story about sexual harassment. It was published in March 1995. Supported by powerful and renowned professors of the USP and with obscure political forces interceding in his favor, the head of department sued Vera for "calumny, defamation and perjury" (for mentioning the professor's name in the interview, which she didn't) and also "calumnious denunciation" (for not proving his guilt). The sentence for the first law suit has already been divulged and the second one is also concluded. Although the evidences exhibited during both trials strongly demonstrated Vera's innocence, she was considered guilty in the first case.

The reporter from VEJA declared to the judge that she (the reporter), and she alone, was responsible for publishing the professor's name, which she obtained from legal documents. The prosecutor himself requested Vera's absolution. Despite all this, the judge considered her guilty and produced a sentence which lacks legal foundations (the case does not fit into any calumny and defamation situation described by our laws), logic consistency (he claims Vera must be punished for not having protested against the publication of the professor's name by VEJA) and abounds in prejudice: the statement emphasizes the professor's academic and social position as an argument in his favor. Observers have found the sentence to indicate strong external interference.


WHAT WE ASK:

  1. You can help by stating your objection to that sentence, protesting against the procedures and demanding its correction. The larger the number of organizations that put forward their indignation towards this sort of treatment of sexual harassment, the better for our cause.

  2. You can also help by forwarding this message to all the organizations and people you know that might add to this campaign. If anyone has an e-mail list of organizations concerned with sexual harassment and violence against women in general, please send it to mcoutinho@originet.com.br

  3. Finally, you can help by keeping in touch and not leaving us alone.

WHAT TO DO:

  1. First, send a COPY of your protest by fax or snail mail to:

    Vera H. Monezi
    SINTUSP - Sindicato dos Trabalhadores da USP
    Universidade de Sao Paulo
    Travessa J, 374 - Cidade Universitaria
    CEP 05508-900 - Sao Paulo, SP
    Brasil

    Fax: (55-11) 814 57 89

  2. Send letters to Brazilian important newspapers asking them to give the necessary attention to this story:

    A FOLHA DE SAO PAULO: folhaweb@folha.com.br
    O ESTADO DE SAO PAULO: webmaster@estado.com.br
    O GLOBO: oglobo@embratel.net.br
    JORNAL DO BRASIL: jb@ax.apc.org

  3. Send a letter to Amnesty International. The e-mail of our regional office is: szaitune@bra000.canal-vip.onsp.br

  4. Send a letter to the "Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil" (OAB - Order of Brazilian Lawyers), asking them to gather efforts to CHANGE THE LEGISLATION ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT (There is no specific law for that):

    Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil - Seccao Sao Paulo
    Praca da Se 385 - 8o. andar
    CEP: 01001-001 - Sao Paulo, SP
    Brasil

  5. Send a letter to the "Conselho da Condicao Feminina" (Counsel for Feminine Condition):

    Conselho Estadual da Condicao Feminina
    Rua Antonio Godoi 122 - 6o. andar
    CEP: 01034-001
    Sao Paulo, SP
    Brazil

  6. Send a letter to the University of Sao Paulo. The head of this institution is Dr. Flavio Fava de Morais and the e-mail is: mcsilva@spider.usp.br

  7. Send a confirmation of your correspondence to:

    mcoutinho@originet.com.br
    with the subject: "harassment"

THANK YOU!



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