Úrsula Francisco defines her husband as a good man. Passionate about music, like her, he remembers that he bought her a piano. He also built a pool where he played at night with his son, after arriving from the Military Police barracks in Nova Iguaçu (Rio de Janeiro), where he worked. “Ronaldo played the trombone and I played the trombone and the euphonium; we spent all day playing instruments at home, ”he says. The first 10 years of their marriage passed in relative peace, despite Ronaldo’s jealousy. But when Úrsula got pregnant, that good man turned into a more aggressive one. A simple glass off its site was cause for discussion. And then the screaming and beatings began, a routine of violence that lasted for more than a decade until, in order not to be part of the feminicide statistics, Úrsula defended herself and killed her husband with one shot.
In Brazil, every four minutes a woman “falls in the shower”, “trips on a step” or “slips on the living room rug”. And every two hours, one of them does not survive to make up the next excuse for bruises on the face and body. The figures from the 2020 Atlas of Violence and the 2019 Brazilian Public Safety Yearbook reveal the extent of the epidemic of sexist violence in Brazil. However, there is no official data on the victims who, like Úrsula, acted in legitimate defense to get rid of their executioners. Her story and that of five other women is told in the book They are in legitimate defense (They in self-defense, Darkside Books), by the journalist Sara Stopazzolli, who also shot a documentary on the same subject in 2017. For four years, the reporter closely followed 50 cases that occurred in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, compiling accounts of pain, violence, anguish and guilt.
Úrsula, 50, with expressive eyes and a wide smile, insists that her husband had his good times. “Only, when he was opposed, he became another person. If he got mad at the barracks, for example, he would already come home out of nerves, ”he recalls. She says Ronaldo wanted a child more than she did, but when Ronan was born, the violence was directed at him as well. “At three years old, my son was already suffering attacks on me,” says Úrsula.
Ronaldo, a sergeant in the Military Police, had two firearms at home. More than once he used them to threaten Úrsula, even putting the barrel of one of them in her mouth. When the Maria da Penha law against gender violence came into force, Ronaldo told his wife: “You know that this law doesn’t work for me, right? If I feel like it, I’ll shoot you, tie you inside a bag and throw you into a river. “
On the “day of the event”, as Úrsula calls what happened, the discussion started because the couple was at the piano and she changed the harmony of a song. Ronaldo then said that he was going to kill his son and then commit suicide. That day, Úrsula did not doubt that the threat was real. “I knew that some coffin would come out of that house, the question was which.” It was Shrove Tuesday. She only remembers giving her son – who was nine years old at the time – some money to go to a cyber shop, and running to try to hide in a room in the house. Her husband chased her to the bedroom, where he kept one of the weapons, but Úrsula caught up with her first. “I did not want to kill my husband. It was him or me, ”he says firmly, but with tears in his eyes.
“If it weren’t for the attitude my mother had, we wouldn’t both be here today,” says Ronan, Úrsula’s son who is now 22 years old and the father of a four-year-old boy. After what happened, he and his mother fled and, within a year, they moved home seven times, afraid that other policemen would chase them for revenge. “A Nova Iguaçu commissioner recommended that I remain hidden where I was. ‘Your husband was a policeman, you know, right? They can do something bad to you, ‘he told me, ”says Úrsula, who is no longer afraid. Six years after the “event”, she was acquitted.
Úrsula currently lives with her son, daughter-in-law and grandson in the same house where everything happened. For years, he avoided even entering the street where the house is, but he assures that he no longer feels anything, despite carrying many traumas. Sometimes he still dreams about Ronaldo. “In the first dream he asked me for forgiveness for everything he did to me. I woke up crying, because it was very real, ”she recalls. She says that it took a lot for her to open up to love again – in her own words, she needed to get rid of the “ghosts” – but she found her current boyfriend in 2017. “I would never associate with a man who spoke loudly. He is a calm person, he knows my history and he helps me a lot psychologically ”.
After his acquittal, Úrsula graduated in Social Service and has just enrolled in Law. Her goal in life is to help women who have gone through the same things as her and cannot afford a lawyer to defend themselves. “I didn’t wake up and decide to just kill my husband, you know? He didn’t want her to die. On the contrary, I would like him to be here today, seeing his son for the man he is, meeting my grandson, ”he says.
According to article 25 of the Brazilian penal code, legitimate defense is understood as that exercised by a person who “using moderately the necessary means, repels an unjust and current or imminent aggression, directed against his own rights or those of others. Cristina, when she was 17 years old, when she took a bread knife from her ex-boyfriend with which she was threatening him and stabbed him in the chest. “The normal thing is that it would have happened to me, because it was he who took the knife to kill me; I took him to kill him. ”The tragedy embittered that Christmas, in which she and the couple’s daughter, who was four years old at the time, had gone out to look for the gifts that a councilor from Baixada Fluminense (a suburb from Rio de Janeiro) delivered to the children. Seeing her in line, her ex – they had broken up due to her drug addiction – began to scream, calling her a “bitch” in front of everyone. Then he followed her home, where He pretended to attack her.
“I had already distanced myself from him precisely because he was only threatening to kill me and my daughter,” says Daiane, today a law student who aspires to be a public defender. Like Úrsula, Daiane wants, through her work, to help women who have been victims of domestic violence. She hopes to get a 10 in the final degree project, which will be on legitimate defense, precisely the legal figure that freed her from conviction.
The cases of Úrsula and Daiane are, in a way, an exception, as explained by the author of the book, Sara Stopazzolli. “Most women act after having suffered violence, so their cases do not fit into legitimate defense through current or imminent violence. As the majority of women do not have a strength comparable to that of men, the cases of corporal fight, for example, are exceptional ”. In her study, Sara recorded only one case like that: Doralice (fictitious name), described as a “corpulent and robust” woman, entered into a bodily fight with her drunken husband, who violently attacked her, managed to get away from him and strangled him with the string of her own capoeira fighter clothes.
Most of the women who murder their executioners had never filed a complaint of violence or abuse before. “With which, they end up being charged, initially, with triple aggravated homicide. Some of them are provisionally detained and others are released pending trial, ”explains Stopazzolli. The author emphasizes that only 10% of the cases found in her investigation were immediately acquitted (like Úrsula), without the need to go through a popular jury. In general, this happens when there are eyewitnesses to the crime or the attacks to which the woman was subjected. “One of those cases, the one that moved me the most, was that of the mother-in-law who declared in favor of her daughter-in-law, who killed her son,” says Stopazzolli.
Although the support of the children is unanimous, the same does not happen among the other relatives of these women. The case that Stopazzolli refers to is that of Emília (not her real name), whose husband, a military policeman, continually assaulted and raped her while forcing her to watch videos in which he went out having sex with other women. In 2011, when they were already separated, the man invaded the house where she lived and began punching and raping her. Until she reached for a .40 caliber automatic pistol he was carrying and pulled the trigger. “When I picked up the revolver, I was totally blank. It was a survival instinct. If you start hitting an animal non-stop, there comes a time when it attacks you. She had already tried to report it, but the security agents themselves dissuaded her of the idea, since his ex-partner was a policeman.
The testimony of Marisa (also fictitious name), Emília’s mother-in-law, was essential for her acquittal. She watched closely, for years, the attacks her son committed against her daughter-in-law and still apologizes for what he did. On the day of the funeral, Marisa remained with Emília at the police station until she was released. “I’m going to give up my mother’s pain so as not to leave you here alone,” he said to the astonishment of the policemen.
In her research, Sara Stopazzolli discovered that emotional dependence on the partner (and even on her family) is more common than financial dependence, contradicting common sense. Of the six cases recorded in his book, only two women relied on men’s money. The book also provides data on the panorama of gender violence in the country: 27.4% of Brazilian women over 16 years of age (16 million women) have suffered some kind of violence in the last 12 months, according to the Brazilian Forum of Public Security. Every minute, three of them suffered a beating or an attempted strangulation. In 2018, 4,519 were victims of femicide, 30% of them in their own homes. These are figures that reflect that thousands of women in Brazil live in a permanent state of legitimate defense.