Graça Pizá de Menezes has created the Clinic Against Violence, the first civil society organization in Brazil to offer specialized psychological treatment to children and support to relatives of victims of sexual abuse, social discriminations and all forms of violence.
The New Idea
Graça Pizá de Menezes has developed a comprehensive mechanism to identify and treat the victims of domestic violence, while at the same time strengthening efforts to prevent the recurrence of the violence and abuse in society. Driven by the belief that psychological support is fundamental for the recovery of young victims of violence, Graça created a model clinic where psychological counseling and legal advice provide the focus for the treatment and support for sufferers of abuse. Breaking through the wall of silence that shrouds cases of domestic violence and abuse in Brazil, Graça is reaching out to relevant strata of society - schools, hospitals, police, courts, and community organizations - to bring the issue of violence in the home into the public sphere and change the way services are provided for victims of domestic and family abuse. Graça is training teachers, judges, lawyers and social workers how to recognize and deal with family and community violence, what types of intervention are appropriate, and what referral structures are available. This combination of specialized treatment and public consciousness-raising is unprecedented in Brazil, and has already enabled Graça to forge key strategic alliances with state and private entities and afforded her with great influence on public thinking on the issue of domestic violence. Her efforts have already led to an important juridical reform, which makes admissible the court testimony of psychologists who have treated victims of violence or abuse. She is working to break down the taboos surrounding domestic and social violence, while building a juridical framework and a network of institutions that can more capably respond to a problem which reaches epidemic proportions in Brazil.
Graça's experiences of work with young victims of violence quickly convinced her that, while direct and specialized psychological attention was indispensable to her patients' recovery, she would also have to address the legal and institutional dimensions of family violence. She decided that this could best be accomplished by coalition-building among public and community organizations involved in youth work, and as her ideas for a clinic/reference center evolved, she initially thought to launch her response through the health ministry, in order to achieve maximum coverage and impact. But when the bureaucracy and politics of a such a move deterred her, Graça decided instead in 1996 to rent a house and start the initiative herself. She then convinced 8 other psychologists to join her in treating victims of violence. As their caseload mounted, she saw the need to train more specialists from different fields about the issue, and proceeded to negotiate partnerships with the juvenile court, municipal health secretariat, Brazilian bar association and a regional council on psychology to offer workshops on identification and treatment of domestic violence.Using the clinic as a base, and drawing on the positive response she elicited with her training, Graça built a coalition of over 25 organizations, including lawyers, human rights groups, judges, regional hospitals, community groups, schools and social workers. While her immediate objective was to establish a network to identify and refer cases to the Clinic, she ultimately sought to create a movement which could together propose procedures and structures to take advantage of the 1989 constitutional opening. As word spread about her efforts, Graça was invited to give a course in the training program for judges about the needs and available resources for dealing with young victims of violence. She also negotiated with the Municipal Education Secretariat in Rio de Janeiro and the Regional Educational Council to train first and second grade teachers to recognize abuse and violence cases. The Clinic against Violence has established partnerships with public institutions such as the State University of Rio de Janeiro, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the Psychological Council of Rio de Janeiro, the State Civil Cabinet, and the State Council on Education. Legal partners include the Public Prosecutor's Office, Rio de Janeiro Childhood Judgeship, Niteroi Childhood Judgeship, Brazilian Lawyers Association, State Councils and Tutelary Councils of Rio de Janeiro city.Graça has thus far made the Clinic self-sustaining by renting space out to other groups in the evening, by soliciting donations from those patients and their families who can afford to help, through receipt of court-mandated payments from the abusers (who also receive treatment in the Clinic), and through the pro bono generosity of volunteers. Her challenge now is to replicate the model in poor communities and other cities across Brazil. This Graça plans to do by building referral networks, recruiting and training professionals, forming multi-disciplinary teams, and eventually accessing government resources - the Rio de Janeiro state government has already invited her to share her experience and help them systematize the resources which are currently available. Rather than "cloning" the Clinic elsewhere, she foresees a "franchising" strategy wherein she shares her methodology with government agencies and community coalitions, then advises them on how best to adapt her experience to their own circumstances. Graça's work promoting public education on the issue and seeking out potential multiplier agents and network builders is crucial to the spreading of her idea across Brazil. Her efforts to establish a national telephone hotline for violence victims are also integral to this objective.
The daughter of a union leader who was exiled from Spain, Graça has a family history of involvement in community work and human rights defense. During college, she studied clinical psychology and worked with the National Foundation for Child Welfare (FUNABEM). Through her exposure there to marginalized youth, Graça discovered that violence and abuse were daily characteristics of these children's lives. While preparing her thesis, she observed the degree to which violence pervaded the lives of young people exposed to judicial processes. Hence forward, Graça decided to dedicate her life to struggle against violence against children. Despite her rigorous scholarly formation, Graça rejects a strict academic approach to the issue of domestic and family violence. She is convinced that psychological attention should not be the exclusive privilege of the wealthy, and seeks ways to "take it to the streets," and to design systems that make it accessible to those who need it most, regardless of their income level.