Female members of a cell of Brazil’s violent PCC prison gang ordered and carried out the killing of another woman, challenging the assumption that women only occupy the gang’s lowest rungs.
Eighteen people, including 13 members of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), were arrested in the September 3 killing of Érica Rodrigues Ribeiro. Among the captured during the October 31 operation targeting the group in the region of Cascalheira in the western state of Mato Grosso were eight women, some of whom were considered senior figures in the gang.
The kidnapping and then murder of Rodrigues, who was stabbed 40 times, was motivated by the fact that she had allegedly photographed herself sexually abusing an eight-year-old girl, and then sent the pictures to her husband, who was jailed for drug trafficking, according to police official Roberto Guimarães. The killing was orchestrated and executed by the PCC, he said.
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The arrested gang members are also accused of involvement in the murder of Daniela Pereira, a 17-year-old girl who was killed by the PCC cell because she was an associate of the rival Red Command (Comando Vermelho - CV) prison gang.
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The outsize role female leaders played in this murder shows how women can exercise positions of power within the PCC and participate in gang justice -- usually meted out by men.
Many female gang members throughout Mato Grasso state, including those in positions of power, took part in what was described as a criminal court, a quasi-trial by video conference that ultimately led to the decision to kill Rodriguez, according to investigators.
While authorities did not provide many details about the people arrested in the killing, some of the women who were arrested had previously been accused of drug trafficking and murder.
According to investigators, the female leaders in this PCC cell direct criminal activities at the state level, instruct lower-ranking members in conduct, and provide information to gang leadership.
Traditionally, many women in Brazilian gangs like the PCC are believed to have have little authority, being most often connected to other members through close relationships, whether that be a brother or boyfriend -- for whom they perform domestic duties, secret messages in and out of jails, or even act as drug mules and street-level dealers. Yet women have been increasingly involved in the planning and execution of crimes.
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The phenomenon is not limited to Brazil. In the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, street gangs have come to rely on women to run extortion rings and collect payments, since men are easily targeted by authorities. In Guatemala, nearly 800 women were in prison for extortion crimes in 2017, representing about a third of the female prison population.
The eight women involved in the stabbing death of Rodrigues also reveals that women can ascend to leadership roles and are willing to participate in violent acts.
Antonio Jesus Silva, a professor of anthropology at the Universidad Estacio de Sá, in Río de Janeiro, said that these acts debunk stereotypes about women and gangs. He told El Pais that women “can be as fierce as men, and as fascinated with power, arms and violence”