When Preta Gil, the singer/actress daughter of Brazilian musical star Gilberto Gil, told her four million Facebook fans “it was the shower tap”, some asked if she was crazy.
Then, one by one, some of Brazil’s most popular female celebrities joined in. “It was the car door”, posted presenter and Carnival muse Sabrina Sato. “It was the edge of the table,” said singer Luiza Possi.
Those who noticed that the celebrities’ Facebook statuses had been edited could trace their changes: “This is what you should always do: when you notice something strange, find out more,” the original message said. “Often a table corner is an aggressive husband and the victim does not have the courage to say.”
The viral campaign, named Curiosity Saves, is the latest strategy to highlight domestic violence in Brazil, where an estimated 13 million women in a country of 200 million have been victims.
A Brazilian woman is killed every two hours, putting the country seventh out of 84 for the worst rate of female murders, according to the World Health Organisation.
Earlier this year, a new law was passed that formally recognised femicide and included tougher punishments for gender-based crimes. The legislation was deemed necessary as a government report suggested that 700,000 women continued to face abuse despite measures set out under the 2006 “Maria da Penha” law to address domestic violence.
In Rio alone, more than 350 women were killed last year, with more than 56,000 cases of wilful injury, according to the Institute of Public Security.
Last week, there were reports of an initiative in Porto Alegre, in the south of Brazil, aimed at teaming women up so they do not have to walk alone after dark and risk assault. The group, called Vamos Juntas? or Let’s Go Together?, has attracted 145,000 members.
The Curiosity Saves campaign, which was launched at the end of August, uses Facebook to reach millions through celebrities to promote the anonymous crime hotline called Disque Denúncia (“denunciation”).
“Every campaign that draws attention and encourages the non-acceptance [of domestic violence] is welcome,” said Carla Batista, a member of the women’s rights group Cladem Brazil.
“This is doing so,” she said, acknowledging that some people might not have completely understood the message and had “just idly join in the post to idolise their favourite celebrities”.
But given time, it could still have a positive result. “Can it produce cultural change?” Ms Batista asked. “In a context of long-lasting actions, which are part of the learning process, yes.”
Through dozens of celebrity Facebook pages, the campaign hopes to reach up to 50 million people, and many fans have been inspired to share their own stories online.
More than 80,000 have commented on the statuses, while the Facebook page of the celebrity chef Bela Gil, Preta’s sister, was inundated with emotional reports of domestic violence and women being encouraged to use the hotline to report their attackers.
“It’s in our nature to be curious,” said Daniel Bensusan, one of the creators of the campaign overseen by the public relations agency Agência3. “In the case of domestic violence, we have to be curious and look at what’s happening. We have to look at what’s being edited in real life.” He added that the agency was planning further campaigns.
Zeca Borges, the co-ordinator of the Disque Denúncia hotline in Rio, told Pubblicità magazine: “People don’t have the courage to complain. It’s the classic husband-and-wife fight: no one gets involved.
“We want to show that anyone can help, and they should. You just have to be interested.”
After the initial Facebook campaign, several celebrities took part in a documentary film to further encourage victims to seek help.
Fabiana Winits, the director, said: “It’s a very important cause. People are afraid to speak out but you have to remember that tomorrow, it could be you.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies