'Lack of shame': Robinho affair highlights Brazil's rape crisis

Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A public debate over sexual violence and rape culture has erupted in Brazil after one of its leading football clubs tried to recruit a convicted rapist to lead its attack.

Santos Futebol Clube – which has produced sporting legends including Pelé and Neymar – announced the highly controversial signing of the former Manchester City striker Robinho on 10 October.

The decision to bring the 36-year-old back to the club where he began his top-flight career was taken despite his being found guilty in 2017 of involvement in a gang rape that took place in Italy in 2013. Robinho, who is appealing against the conviction, was given a nine-year sentence in absentia which was suspended until the appeals process is complete.

Amid a wave of public anger, Santos’s president, Orlando Rollo, defended Robinho, claiming he was the victim of an inhumane “moral stoning”. “Everyone’s judging Robinho but nobody has even read the sentence.”

As Rollo spoke, however, a Brazilian journalist in Milan was busy unearthing the 2017 ruling by an Italian judge over the nightclub assault, details of which had not previously been published.

The judgment included transcripts considered by the court of a series of shocking exchanges captured by police investigators who were monitoring Robinho’s phone and car.

Related: Santos eventually see sense and drop Robinho – but only to please sponsors

When excerpts of those intercepted messages were published by the Globo Esporte website on Friday morning they painted a damning picture of Robinho’s behaviour.

In one message to a friend Robinho refers to the assault, which took place in January 2013, saying: “I’m laughing because I couldn’t care less, the woman was completely drunk, she has no idea what happened.”

In another chat Robinho, who played for AC Milan at the time, insisted he did not have sex with the victim, an Albanian woman then in her early 20s.

“I saw you when you put your penis inside her mouth,” his friend replied, to which the footballer responded: “That doesn’t mean having sex.”

The messages caused further outrage in Brazil and apparently made Robinho’s return to Santos unsustainable after sponsors rebelled.

Later on Friday the striker announced his contract’s suspension and claimed he was being persecuted by the “demonic” press like Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.

“Look at what they did to Bolsonaro … saying Bolsonaro was this and that, that he was a racist, a fascist, a killer – and the more they went for Bolsonaro the more popular he became,” Robinho said.

In an interview with the Brazilian outlet UOL he insisted he was “totally innocent” and suggested some of the messages had been mistranslated or taken out of context.

Robinho, who claims his “contact” was consensual, also blamed feminists for his predicament, telling an interviewer: “Unfortunately there’s this feminist movement … lots of women who aren’t even women.”

Indignation over Robinho’s actions – and what many saw as Santos’s attempts to downplay his crime – came as new figures underlined the scale of Brazil’s sexual violence crisis.

The Brazilian Forum on Public Security said 66,123 rapes were reported last year – one every eight minutes. Nearly 86% of victims were female and 60% under-14.

Ana Paula Araújo, the author of a new book called Abuse: Rape culture in Brazil, said those shocking figures were only the tip of the iceberg because 90% of crimes went unreported.

Related: Outrage after Brazil football team signs goalkeeper convicted of killing girlfriend

“This is a veritable plague and a silent one because quite often women normalize this [abuse], as do men. Society thinks this is the way things are … That sexual abuse often isn’t all that serious. And that’s why we continue to live in this culture which allows all these different kinds of abuses to be practised against us all, every day.”

Araújo, a television journalist, called Santos’s decision to hire Robinho “disgusting”.

“What struck me most about this case was the complete lack of shame this big Brazilian club … showed in signing a man who has been convicted of rape. He’s not only been charged. He’s already been convicted – and his signing was celebrated with pomp and circumstance.”

Araújo said Robinho’s intercepted messages captured perfectly the need to speak out against the “poisonous” culture of rape. “He doesn’t see himself as a criminal – and this is a very common mindset here in Brazil.”