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.
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.
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.”