Domestic Violence as a Human Rights Issue Beyond (Criminal) Accountability: A Brazilian Case Study


  • Helena de Oliveira Augusto



The article analyses the domestic implementation of the Maria da Penha Law, a Brazilian federal legal act to combat and prevent domestic and family violence against women. The article first introduces the trajectory of domestic violence from a private matter to a public concern as a human rights violation. Then the article contextualises the Brazilian feminist activism for legal reform and introduces the importance of the 2001 Maria da Penha case in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the enactment of the Maria da Penha Law in 2006. Thereafter, the article presents the Maria da Penha Law’s legal provisions and its success in establishing special legal protection for women in situations of domestic violence, as well as it reflects on the Maria da Penha Law’s ongoing challenges. A critical analysis of the Brazilian reality demonstrates that offender criminal accountability is the most feasible remedy to domestic violence, whereas the fragmentation and fragility of state measures to protect and assist women in situations of violence perpetuates state neglect of women in the context of gender-based violence. Therefore, the Maria da Penha Law case study demonstrates that legal reform alone is insufficient to tackle domestic violence. Women’s effective access to legal protection and integrated and gender-aware public policies is pivotal to eradicating domestic violence against women.