Portuguese Court of Appeal: “The adulterous Woman”

In October 2017, the Porto Court of Appeals (Tribunal da Relação do Porto) upheld the year-long suspended sentence of two men convicted of assaulting a woman in 2015. The woman’s former partner and her former husband kidnapped her and beat her with a nail-spiked bat. The judges justified their light sentencing by saying that the behaviour of the men was most likely caused by the adultery of the victim, referring to religious beliefs and gender stereotypes to emphasis the gravity of her crime (adultery), stating that “the adultery of the woman was a very serious attack on the honour and dignity of a man.” This decision is shockingly sexist and represents a serious setback on recent women’s rights achievements.

The language used throughout the judicial decision is biased, the assumptions on women’s roles in the society flawed, reinforcing pernicious gender stereotypes. Throughout the decision it is possible to note the repeated use of expressions such as, the “adulterous women”. Also, “A woman who commits adultery is a false, hypocritical, dishonest, disloyal, futile, immoral person,” he said at the time. “In short, a person who lacks moral credibility.” It is interesting to note that it is not the first time Judge Neto de Moura demonstrated a sexist approach to resolving domestic violence cases. In a previous case of domestic violence, the judge overturned a sentence of two years in prison in an assault case, questioning the “reliability” of the female victim’s testimony.

The Portuguese legislative framework on women’s rights and the promotion of gender equality has evolved immensely in the past few years. For instance, in 2007 Portugal adopted a Resolution of the Council of Ministers No. 83/2007 approving the III National Plan against Domestic Violence that clearly points towards a consolidation of a policy of prevention and fight against domestic violence. Also, in the same year, the crime of domestic violence was included in the Criminal Code as an autonomous crime, detached from physical abuse.

Moreover, until 2019, violence was one of the key elements of the crime of rape. Hence, the existence of violence would mean that the victim was coerced and truly had no other possibility but to endure the rape. It seems very clear to me that, not only this requirement does not comply with Article 36 of the Istanbul Convention (ratified by Portugal in 2012) that states that authorities shall take all necessary measures to ensure that engaging in non-consensual sex is always treated as a crime, but also, it seems evident that crimes of sexual nature and rape should solely be based on the lack of consent.

Portugal still has a long way to go to ensure a fair treatment of sexual crimes in the judicial system. There is a need to improve people’s understanding of these types of crimes, especially those involved in the criminal proceedings, like police officers, prosecutors, and judges. Although Portuguese legislative framework on women’s rights and the promotion of gender equality has evolved, the changes in law do not reflect a shift in mentalities. Portuguese society is still deeply patriarchal, and it is still very affected by the culture of machismo. Religion, traditions and culture are still valid excuses to perpetuate the normalization of violence.

Domestic Violence is hardly frowned upon and is the Crime Against People (“Crimes contra as pessoas”) that causes the highest number of deaths in Portugal. According to APAV (Associação Portuguesa de Apoio a Vítima), in 2018 86,3% of victims of domestic violence were women. In 2018, 96% of the crimes represents “crimes contra as pessoas.” 77, 5% are domestic violence crimes. Between 2013 and 2018 there were 3636 victims of sexual crimes and an increase of 130% of the numbers. Not long ago, Portugal lived in a dictatorship. Democracy finally instituted in 1974. Some remaining features of the dictatorial regime have remained until now. There is still much to be done concerning gender equality.

Amnesty International Portugal stated correctly that by citing the Old Testament in a judicial decision, the judges are clearly violating the Portuguese Constitution (Constituição da República Portuguesa). Portugal is a secular state, hence it is inacceptable to quote the bible in a court of law in an effort to partially shift the blame onto a victim of domestic violence.

Several Portuguese feminist organizations manifested their opposition to the aforementioned decision. For instance, the Women’s Union for Alternative and Response (UMAR) said, “Evoking the Bible does not combine with the rule of law in our country and discredits the judicial norms and hence this decision perpetuated “the ideology of victim-blaming”. In october 2017, for the first time in Portuguese society, women from 12 different cities across the country gathered to march against the sexist court decision. Also, on the 8th of  March of 2019, International Women`s Day, women from all over the country marched to protest against the patriarchy and sexist decisions of Judge Neto de Moura. You could see several banners reading: “Girls just wanna have fun……damental rights!” The march showed that society is becoming aware of the dreadful inequalities that still persist in Portuguese society.

Written by Mariana Cunha: