Sexual abuse in proceedings of gender-based violence in the Brazilian judicial system


  • Lúcia Gonçalves de Freitas Univsidade Estadual de Goiás
  • Liliana Cabral Bastos Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro



language, gender, sexual violence, maria da penha law, narrative, entextualisation, Brazil


Based on a feminist approach to law, we analyse dimensions of the performance of the Brazilian judiciary in three judgements of domestic and family violence against women that encompass sexual abuse. We show how gender-based violence is constructed in agreed decisions, on lawsuits under the Maria da Penha law, which is considered a landmark in Brazilian legislation on gender. Using a narrative approach and the concept of entextualisation, the analysis focuses firstly on the judicial acts as legal trajectories and the presentation of the episode of sexual violence that led to the judicial process. A second focus is on constructions of these same episodes in different instances of the judicial acts. We found that agents of the penal system, in applying the Maria da Penha law, reaffirm dominant structures of subjectivity, allowing a pre-established set of values against which the law sought precisely to break. Different judges provide divergent understandings in a single trial and may reveal more or less involvement with the political perspectives of the law. The findings have implications for discussions of women’s rights through criminal law.

Author Biographies

Lúcia Gonçalves de Freitas, Univsidade Estadual de Goiás

Lucia Gonçalves de Freitas received her PhD in linguistics from the University of Brasília (UnB), Brazil. She was a fellow of the PhD Internship Program (CAPES), and was a visiting researcher at the Centre for Advanced Research in English (CARE), University of Birmingham, England. She is currently a professor at the Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Program in Education, Language and Technology at the State University of Goiás (UEG). She is presently involved with critical studies of legal discourse in decisions involving gender justice and violence against women.

Liliana Cabral Bastos, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro

Liliana Cabral Bastos received her PhD in linguistics from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she is currently associate professor in the Letters Department. She has been a research fellow at Georgetown University, during her doctoral studies, and at Harvard University, as a postdoctoral student. Her research interests include the study of interaction in institutional contexts, identity/ gender construction and narrative analysis. She is presently involved with narrative studies, focusing on the construction of violence, identity/gender, exclusion and stigma in different social movements and urban contexts, such as hospitals, prisons, schools

and police departments.


Anderson, I. and Doherty, K. (2008) Accounting for Rape: Psychology, Feminism and Discourse Analysis in the Study of Sexual Violence. Hove: Routledge.

Araújo, M. F. (2002) Violência e abuso sexual na família. Psicologia em Estudo 7(2): 3–11.

Bakhtin, M. (1981) Forms of time and of the Chronotope in the novel. In M. Holquist (ed.) The dialogic imagination 84–258. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Bastos, L. C. and Biar, L. de A. (2015) Análise de narrativa e práticas de entendimento da vida social. DELTA 31: 4.

Bauman, R. and Briggs, C. L. (1990) Poetics and performance as critical perspectives on language and social life. Annual Review of Anthropology 19: 59–88.

Blommaert, J. (2008) Contexto é/como crítica. In I. Signorini (ed.) Situar a Linguagem 91–115. São Paulo: Parábola.

Bortoluzzi, V. I. (2010) The agreed decision genre and the recontextualization of social actors. Linguagem em (Dis)curso 10(3): 511–33.

Brazil (2006) Lei no. 11,340, de 07/08/2006 (Lei Maria da Penha). Retrieved from

Bucholtz, M. (2009) Captured on tape: professional hearing and competing entextualizations in the criminal justice system. Text 29(5): 503–23.

Campos, C. H. (2011) Razão e sensibilidade: teoria feminista do direito e Lei Maria da Penha. In C. H. Campos (ed.) Lei Maria da Penha Comentada em uma Perspectiva Jurídico-feminista 1–12. Rio de Janeiro: Lumen Juris.

Casique, L. C. and Furegato, A. R. F. (2006) Violence against women: theoretical reflections. Rev Latino-am Enfermagem 14(6): 950–60.

Catunda, E. and Soares, M. E. (2007) Uma análise da organização retórica do acórdão jurídico. In M. M. Cavalcante, M. H. A. Costa, V. M. F. Jaguaribe and V. Custódio Filho (eds) Texto e Discurso sob Múltiplos Olhares: Gêneros e Sequências Textuais 113–40. Rio de Janeiro: Lucerna.

Coates, L., Bavelas, J. B. and Gibson, J. (1994) Anomalous language in sexual assault trial judgments. Discourse and Society 5: 191–205.

De Fina, A. (2017) Afterword. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice 10(3): 391–6.

Ehrlich, S. (1988) Real Rape. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ehrlich, S. (2001) Representing Rape: Language and Sexual Consent. London: Routledge.

Ehrlich, S. (2007) Legal discourse and the cultural intelligibility of gendered meanings. Journal of Sociolinguistics 11(4): 452–77.

Ehrlich, S. (2014) Language, gender and sexual violence: legal perspectives. In S. S. Ehrlich, M. Meyerhoff and J. Holmes (eds) The Handbook of Language, Gender, and Sexuality, 2nd edition 452–70. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons.

Facio, A. (2006) A partir do feminismo vê-se um outro direito. Outras Vozes 15. Retrieved from

Figueiredo, D. C. (2002) Discipline and punishment in the discourse of legal decisions on rape trials. In. J. Cotterill (ed.) Language in the Legal Process 260–74. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Freitas, L. G. (2014) Argumentation and discourse on the Maria da Penha Act in decisions of the Brazilian Superior Court of Justice. Bakhtiniana: Revista de Estudos do Discurso 9(1): 71–89.

Freitas, L. and Pinheiro, V. (2013) Violência de gênero, linguagem e direito: análise de discurso crítica em processos na Lei Maria da Penha. Jundiaí: Paco Editorial.

Gavey, N. (2005) Just Sex? The Cultural Scaffolding of Rape. Hove: Routledge.

Labov, W. (1972) Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Marques, D. and Bastos, L. C. (2014) A construção do self e do outro nas narrativas de um suspeito em um interrogatório policial da delegacia da mulher. Revista Virtual de Estudos da Linguagem 12: 7–27.

Narvaz, M. G. and Koller, S. H. (2005) Reflexões sobre o atendimento de mulheres e de meninas vítimas de violência. Novas Abordagens em Direitos Humanos 1(1): 34–42.

Nucci, G. S. (2014) Individualização da Pena. Rio de Janeiro: Forense.

Ostermann, A. C. (2003) Communities of practice at work: gender, facework and the power of habitus at an all-female police station and a feminist crisis intervention center in Brazil. Discourse and Society 14(4): 473–505.

Park, J. S. and Bucholtz, M. (2009) Public transcripts: entextualization and linguistic representation in institutional contexts. Text & Talk 29(5): 485–502.

Pasinato, W. (2016) The Maria da Penha law: 10 years on. SUR 24 13(2): 155–163.

Pimentel, S. (2009) A superação da cegueira de gênero: mais do que um desafio, um imperativo. Revista Direitos Humanos 2: 27–30.

Riessman, C. (1993) Narrative Analysis. Newbury Park, PA: Sage.

Saffioti, H. I. B. (1997) No fio da navalha: violência contra crianças e adolescentes no Brasil atual. In F. R. Madeira (ed.) Quem Mandou Nascer Mulher? 56–64. São Paulo: Editora Rosa dos Tempos.

Scott, J. W. (1986) Gender: a useful category of historical analysis. The American Historical Review 91(5): 1053–75.

Tapia, S. T. (2016) Violence against women, criminalisation, and women’s access to justice in Ecuador and Latin America. In K. Lalor, E. Mills, A. S. García and P. Haste (eds) Gender, Sexuality and Social Justice: What’s Law Got to Do with it? 50–57. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.



How to Cite

Freitas, L., & Bastos, L. (2019). Sexual abuse in proceedings of gender-based violence in the Brazilian judicial system. Gender and Language, 13(2), 153–173.