By Suzana Singer
The press made a big fuss over the results of a survey about violence against women, corrected the day before yesterday by the Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea), a federal agency.
The numbers were impressive: 65% of Brazilians agreed that “women who wear clothing which show their bodies deserve to be attacked” and 58% that “if women knew how to behave there would be fewer rapes.”
At least 10 columns were published about the survey by major news organizations, all of them indignant over the well of machismo in which the country is diving.
“No pride in being Brazilian,” “it’s our dark side,” “it makes the soul shiver,” “it (the survey) is nothing that I didn’t already know,” and “those who have orgasms over direct democracy should listen more often to the aberrations that people support” were some of the conclusions by analysts.
Even President Dilma Rousseff wrote on Twitter: “Brazilian society still has a long way to go to fight violence against women.” And after that she lent her support to the journalist who created the virtual campaign #nãomereçoserestrupada (I don’t deserve to be raped).
The Ipea survey even showed up on the nightly soap opera “In the Family”: the husband reads to Helena the “absurd” news in “Globo.” “It is a macho and retrograde society,” the protagonist said.
The press could not have guessed that there was such a big mistake in the survey – it is 26% (and not 65%) who agree that women who wear sexy clothing deserve to be attacked – but it should have been suspicious of such extravagant results.
“The first thing that an engineer does when he sees an absurd measurement is to question the thermometer,” wrote a reader who found Ipea’s data somewhat strange.
Some criticism of the survey arose on the Internet, asking above all how the questions were formulated and giving clues that there was something wrong with the sample.
The interviews were made at home, during business hours, when there are fewer people with jobs at home. There was an overdose of older women, retirees, people with little education, and residents outside metropolitan areas. The sample had 66% women (in Brazil, among those over age 16 they are 52%), 19% retirees (it should be 15%), 5% with university diplomas (instead of 11%) and 29% were residents of metropolitan areas (who are 41%).
The institute could have pondered the results, giving, for example, greater weight to responses from those with more education, but it did not. With these variables it makes a big difference in opinion surveys; there is no way to extrapolate any results to the entire Brazilian population, but Ipea did not admit this.
Instead of having doubts about the size of the disaster, the press reproduced the data without any hesitation. Journalists, always doubtful of politicians, are easily seduced by what is packaged in numbers and with the seal of approval by an institute.
Three Folha reporters spent three weeks monitoring the departures of those convicted in the “monthly allowance” scandal who are held in semi-open detention. They confirmed that Valdemar Costa Neto, former president of the Republic Party, received visits where he worked by members of Congress and that he once went to McDonald’s. Jacinto Lamas, also formerly of the Republic Party, prayed for 10 minutes in a parish where he met once with his wife.
The report, which occupied a whole page, is an example of the sterile exposé that is criticized in the press. With so much investigation that could be going on, so what if one ate a Big Mac and another one prayed to Our Lady of Guadalupe?
Translated by John Wright
This column was originally published in Folha on 06 April 2014.