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Sao Paulo`s reputation for crime precedes it. There is even a popular tune, to which my daughter knows all the moves, Danca do Alarme, constructed around the catchy tones of a car alarm. In some ways this reputation for crime is justified but, as Mark Hillary points out in his book, Reality Check, the reality isn’t quite as bad as the reputation.


When I first arrived in Brazil I held the view that all this talk about how dangerous Brazil was reflected a popular fear of crime rather than high level of crime itself and I resolved to look up the crime statistics to find out. I never did, but thankfully Mark did, and the statistics reveal that, in 2008, Sao Paulo had a state homicide rate of 14.9 per 100,000 people in the population compared to a mere 1.1 homicides per 100,000 in London. At first glance these statistics would seem to speak for themselves until you realise that the national average in Brazil was 26.4 and that the Rio homicide rate per 100,000 was 34. As Mark points out, the same statistic for Washington D. C. of 21.9 is considerably higher than Sao Paulo state though New York is considerably lower at 6.4.

Mark Hillary's new book reveals what it's like to move to Brazil

Mark Hillary’s book contains some interesting statistics regarding crime in Sao Paulo

My perception that crime was all in the mind of the Brazilian had been fuelled by the primetime Crimewatch style programmes Alerta Cidade and Brazil Urgente which air every weekday evening and are the equivalent of Daily Mail TV as the latest crimes caught on CCTV are replayed over an over again while the star of the show, a right wing bigot, adds a commentary of scaremongering slop. However, since then my attitudes have changed somewhat. My epiphany on the road to Damascus was a reasonable sized pebble which passed through the window of the vehicle in which I was travelling and struck me squarely on the forehead.

As I clasped my bleeding head with a palm full of glass I had no idea what was going on but fortunately the driver of the vehicle realised straight away and, rather than stopping, accelerated onto the next police checkpoint. It seems that such events are all too common in Sao Paulo, a criminal throws a rock at a car, the car pulls over, the occupants of the car are robbed. Thanks to the quick thinking of the driver we were not robbed however I needed 12 stitches and bear a scar to prove my story. Since then, on a stretch of road not much further away, I have witnessed two cars being robbed and was fortunate/unfortunate enough to be on a local bus on my way home when it, but not the passengers, was robbed. I am now much less complacent about crime in Sao Paulo. Everyone has a story, my friends boyfriend was murdered, my girlfriend witnessed a robbery, another friend saw a motorcyclist in the aftermath of a shooting.

My house was burgled in London when I left a window open, bags would go missing if left unattended in pubs but the stories of crime in Sao Paulo are both more frequent and more violent in nature. Last year, it seemed the most dangerous occupation in Sao Paulo was that of a dentist. When robbers broke into the practice of Cinthya Magaly Moutinho de Souza who was only able to offer them the equivalent of £19, they set her on fire and the 47 year old later died from her injuries. Bizarrely the incident inspired a copycat killing of a dentist in Sao Jose dos Campos and dentists all over the state simultaneously emptied their bladders and reviewed their security.

The homicide rates which Mark quotes in his book ignore the fact that in 1999 the homicide rate in Sao Paulo was 69.1 per 100,000 way above the national average then of 44.6 so perhaps it’s the memory of violent times which creates the fear of crime, perhaps it’s the personal anecdotes from this period or the particularly violent nature of some crimes, or the aggravating media coverage. Statistics may be falling but Sao Paulo has a long way to go before residents feel safe walking the street at night.