Najila and Neymar; or, The Normalization of Violence against Women in Brazil

You may have heard of Neymar, Brazil’s soccer darling.1 With the speed and skill to rival the all-time greats, he’s been on the international scene for almost a decade, leading his team in two World Cups and clinching an Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. But he’s also faced intense criticism from fans, commentators, and even his own teammates for his bad behavior on and off the pitch. He’s kicked balls at opposing players in anger, and he’s known as a diver—taking melodramatic falls and playacting injuries to coax yellow or red cards out of the referee or to waste time.

And now Neymar has been accused of rape. Last month, 26-year-old Brazilian model Najila Trindade Mendes de Souza reported the soccer star to the police for raping her in a Paris hotel room. The two met over social media, and Neymar flew Najila to Paris—where he plays for the club team Paris St. Germain—and put her up in a hotel. Najila told the police that she was planning to have consensual sex with the soccer player, but when he showed up drunk and without a condom, she said no. According to Najila, Neymar then turned violent and raped her. After the assault, Najila and Neymar continued to exchange messages and met again the next evening, when Najila confronted Neymar about his behavior. She didn’t, however, report the rape in France, waiting until she returned to Brazil before she went to the police in her home city of São Paulo.

Najila Trindade, a white woman with blonde hair pulled up in a pony tail, looks to the side of the frame, a microphone held in her face. She is wearing a gray shirt and is wrapped in a green blanket.
Najila Trindade in an interview. (Reproduction / TV Record)

The case, as with many rape accusations, is complex. Two different defense firms have stopped representing Najila because they said she has not been truthful or handed over all evidence. Najila has given the police contradictory statements about their second encounter. Neymar recently testified to the police in São Paulo, denying that he raped Najila. He said that the two had consensual sex with a condom.

Neymar also posted a video online, along with images and screenshots of his conversation with Najila. In the video, he implies that because she kept in contact with him after the alleged assault, it could not have been rape: “I’m going to disclose the entire conversation I had with the girl [menina], all of our moments [together], which is [sic] intimate, but it’s necessary to bring to light, it’s necessary to disclose in order to prove that nothing out of the ordinary happened… What happened that day was a relationship between a man and a woman, inside four walls. Something that happens between all couples, and the next day nothing else happened.” (Neymar is now being investigated for publicly sharing the nude images without Najila’s consent—a crime in Brazil). In a country where some statistics show that over 14% of women have been sexually assaulted by their intimate partners, Neymar isn’t necessarily wrong.

Victim-blaming is also rampant, and it has played a part in this case. As if on cue, Brazil’s far-right reactionary president Jair Bolsonaro voiced an opinion on the situation. He recently visited Neymar in the hospital, where the player is recuperating from an athletic injury. When asked later what he thought about the situation, Bolsonaro replied that Neymar was innocent: “Wait a minute, if you analyze the context there, what was she doing crossing the Atlantic, right?” His response is perhaps unsurprising, coming from a person who once said a female colleague of his in Brazil’s lower legislative chamber was “too ugly” and didn’t “deserve to be raped.”

Other Brazilians seem to share this sentiment. I randomly picked one newspaper article online about the case, and the first comment that appeared read: “It’s many things…if it was really w/o a condom. Wait nine months…she will want it. Hahaha. It seems it’s becoming [the] case of Bruno plus Elisa [sic].”

Collage of black and white photos featuring Eliza Samudio and her baby.
News story about Eliza Samudio’s mother, who survived her domestic violence experiences, asking for her daughter’s remains to be turned over to her. ( ©Agência Pública)

The commenter’s mention of the “case of Bruno and Elisa [sic]” is in reference to the 2010 murder of Eliza Samudio, the girlfriend of the popular Brazilian goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes de Souza. When Samudio sued Bruno for child support, he ordered her strangled and then had her body fed to his dogs. (A paternity test revealed he was the father of the child). He’s currently serving a 22-year sentence, but in 2017 he was briefly released from prison and allowed to return to professional soccer (although outrage at the decision forced him to turn himself back in). Bruno has his supporters, though, with some chanting “somos todos Bruno” (“we are all Bruno”) outside the soccer club he had signed with. Memes comparing Neymar to Bruno also have appeared. One shows a young Neymar on the phone with the text, “Hello, Bruno? Do you still have those dogs?”

It’s disgusting that anyone would think it appropriate—much less funny—to imply that Neymar should brutally murder Najila to resolve his “dilemma.” But it doesn’t come as surprising. I’ve written about the problem of sexual violence in Brazil before. Statistics from Brazil show that 86% of women have reported experiencing sexual assault or harassment in public spaces, and 90% of women between the age of 16 and 24 express fear of being raped. And the issue, as Eliza Samudio’s tragic murder demonstrates, goes beyond sexual assault. Every day, four women in Brazil are killed. It’s telling that Najila’s lawyer has said that his client’s emotional state is that “of a person who has already died.” Memes that normalize the rape and murder of women feed into this statistic, as does a president who victim-blames and uses the threat of rape as an insult. And the risks are high—really high. Women’s lives are at stake.

Notes

  1. His full name is Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, but he goes by Neymar or Neymar Jr. Return to text.

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