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By Maria Lopez Conde, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A thirteen-year-old believed to have acted as the fare collector for the public transit van in which two foreign tourists were held hostage and attacked was apprehended by the Child and Adolescent Protection Agency DPCA last Sunday as the city cracks down on illegal vans.

Alleged Van Assailants
The three men were formally charged April 8th, photo Internet recreation.

This is the fourth detention made in connection to the brutal gang rape of a young American woman and the beating of her French boyfriend on March 30th.

Last week, civil police detained Carlos Armando Costa dos Santos, 21, accused of raping the woman. Wallace Aparecido Souza Silva, 22, and van driver Jonathan Foudakis de Souza, 20, were arrested by the Delegacia Especial de Apoio ao Turista (Deat – Special Police Tourist Assistance) on the day of the attack. A fifth suspect remains at large.

Last Monday, the three men were formally charged with rape, lewd acts, racketeering, conspiracy, flash kidnapping and corruption of a minor. The minor, who has only been identified as “F.,” allegedly beat the French national and raped the American woman.

F. confessed to participating in the robbery and beating the man, but not to raping the woman. “I hit the gringo’s head with an iron bar every time he tried to look at his woman,” the minor told the DCPA. He told authorities that the men in custody had a reputation for theft and had gone to Copacabana to “hunt gringos.”

Last week, several other local women revealed they had been sexually assaulted by men who operated vans in Rio. These attacks prompted the French embassy to recommend that foreigners avoid public transportation, especially vans, at night.

Public transit vans are a popular yet precarious alternative to buses and trains in a city known for its inadequate public transportation system. Many of the estimated six thousand vans that operate in Rio de Janeiro have links to organized crime groups.

A van in Rio
There are about 6,000 registered vans in Rio, but many more operate illegally, photo by Eliza Preston.

Government officials have made attempts to regulate the notorious vans in the past, but have been mostly unsuccessful.

In response to the recent wave of crime in vans, the mayor’s office issued a decree forbidding the mini-buses from having tinted windows, an effort to enhance safety in the vehicles. At least thirty-four vans were fined for that and other irregularities on Monday.

Although the fear of violence in Rio has decreased in recent years, the delinquency on mass transit has reignited fears over safety on public transit at a time when the city is preparing an overhaul of the transportation network ahead of the World Cup and the Olympic Games.

Jessica Burley, a British citizen in Rio for an internship, has taken vans since she arrived in February. She rides them every week day and occasionally on weekends. The recent spate of crime has not deterred her from using them during the day.

“I am still using them but would never now take one at night alone and would probably try to avoid taking it in the evening, even with friends,” Burley said. “I would almost always take a taxi before and this incident has reinforced that for me.”

For Burley, staying safe is a matter of being aware and sensitive. “I just feel you need to have your wits about you a lot more [in Rio],” Burley affirmed. “I feel Rio is relatively safe if you are aware, cautious and sensible but things could happen anywhere in the world.”

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5 COMMENTS

  1. The way the world’s press reported this is unbelievable, headlines screaming ‘oh what will happen in the World cup’, really, has crime stopped everywhere else then? such nonsense, as ususual you have a sensible look at the situation. I personally only use licensed taxis in any city an I have never felt threatened in Brazil.

  2. I personally have had many problems with public transportation in Rio. A group tried to assualt and kidnap me on the metro, a taxi tried to take me into a favela and many such incidents. No serious attempt has been made to regulate the taxis…many are still illegal and run by the major drug dealers. I was needed to spend time in Rio, I would never recommend it if you have a choice.

  3. Brazilians, especially Cariocas, do not do Rio any favors by downplaying crime in the streets and public transportation with assertions that other cities also are unsafe and one needs to be careful wherever one travels. Rio has a serious “image” problem worldwide, and gringos are not comforted by Brazilians who downplay the city’s crime problem, or insist that it’s just as bad elsewhere. Tourists are victimized in many popular destinations around the world, but foreign governments warn their citizens only about the most dangerous situations — as the French government has done, in cautioning its citizens about the use of vans in Rio. Brazilians may prefer to ignore or minimize its public-safety problem — but the rest of the world won’t.

  4. Personal safety is a HUGE issue in Copacabana. Please tripadvisor hotel reviews Windsor Atlantica. Six out out 80 delegates ‘assaulted’ in four days! Ipanema felt safe with armed guards at the shopping malls but be very careful everywhere else.

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