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Network under fire for portraying trans prisoner who raped, murdered child as victim

Brazil’s biggest TV channel and one of the country’s most famous physicians are under fire from citizens after airing a prime-time segment about “the daily life of trans-women in prisons” in which inmate “Susy” was portrayed as a victim – but without informing viewers the reason Susy’s conviction was the rape and murder of a nine-year-old boy.

President Jair Bolsonaro is among the multitude of people who expressed outrage towards the show.

Globo Network aired the 13-minute segment  in question in its traditional Sunday night news and entertainment show “Fantástico” earlier this month.  The presenter set the tone by explaining that those trans-women “were born in a man’s body but are women, confined in male prisons, an incarcerated population that deals with prejudice, abandon, and violence”.

Physician Drauzio Varella, a voice Brazilian media frequently includes in commentary was the narrator in the segment. With the authority of a man who has worked in jails for 30 years, Varella was there to make the audience sympathise with the transgender inmates. “There’s a pressure to have the trans-person regarded as a marginal, all the time”, he said.

Some four or five of those inmates talked about their lives in prison. Globo was mostly careful not to explain why the interviewees were serving time, alluding instead, here and there, to a previous “life of hardships”,

While the crimes were absent, the examples of trans-women overcoming prejudices were abundant in the reportage. One plays football with male prisoners. Another teaches fellow inmates how to bake cakes. Another one even found love in that arid environment (the camera shows them kissing behind bars). Despite all difficulties, the general feeling of the interviewees was that of life getting better, as opposed to the old days when, as doctor Varella notes, some had to resort to prostitution for food and other goods. At this point we were introduced to Susy.

30-year-old Susy is shown as a victim from start to finish: saying that trans prisoners have prostitute themselves for soap and food, and that prejudice is a big thing in prison. We’re told Susy has Aids and suffered from TB once with footage of medical examinations.

We see Susy working in the prison’s forge (with a close-up of sweat being wiped from the face and neck). Later on, in a dramatic peak: the transgender prisoner says that no-one has visited in eight years, and remains silent for a while, apparently on the brink of tears. “Loneliness eh, my darling?”, Varella asks. “Too much, too much”, Susy replies. We see them exchanging a tender embrace.

At no point is there any hint as to why Susy was put in jail. It seemed the prisoner just happened to end up there, to endure tough situations, face problems of various types, and be all alone, working hard in the forge while craving a helping hand, friendship, maybe romantic love.

Only a week after the show, did Brazilians come to know what it was that Susy did, and why nobody, not even his family, visits in prison.


In 2010, Rafael Tadeu de Oliveira dos Santos, or “Susy”, lived in São Paulo beside a family with a 9 year-old-son. One day, knowing that the child was alone, Susy asked him to help carrying a computer into his place, which the child did. Susy then proceeded to orally and anally rape the boy, killing him by strangulation afterwards and leaving his body to rot in the room for nearly two days.

After that, he took the corpse, carried it to the entrance of the boy’s house and warned the mother that there was a body there. “Susy” confessed the crime to authorities. He is serving a 30-year sentence, the longest allowed in Brazilian law.

The information was first revealed by federal representative Douglas Garcia and later by the website O Antagonista, which accessed the trial’s records in the Tribunal of Justice of São Paulo. An aunt of Susy’s testified against him in the case, but she also testified that the accused had allegedly attempted sexual violence against other children, including a 3-year-old toddler of the neighbourhood and even another relative around that age.

The revelations made Brazilians erupt in rage through social media against Drauzio Varella and Globo. The backlash was so intense that they had to respond within hours. Varella response – that he is “a physician, not a judge” – only served to infuriate people further.

On last Sunday’s edition of Fantástico, the presenters read a statement that said:

“Dr Drauzio Varella’s segment was about a situation the Brazilian State must face: trans-women serve time for the crimes they committed in the midst of male inmates, which brings about all kinds of problems. The crimes of the interviewees weren’t mentioned because this wasn’t the goal of the reportage”. The presenters added that the show “supports in its entirety” the statement by Varella.

Conservatives in Brazil see the Globo Network as a left-leaning platform, and claim the media conglomerate produces soap operas, talk shows, and journalism where staples of the politically correct world vision are always present.

President Jair Bolsonaro wrote in his Twitter:

“While Globo treated a criminal as a victim, it omitted the crimes committed by him: rape and murder of a child. Thanks to the free internet, the people are not hostage to manipulations anymore. Unfortunately, the Constitution does not allow for life sentences for such cruel crimes.”


Jair Bolsonaro’s Tweet:

Article with links to the trial records:


Dr. Drauzio Varella’s statement:


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