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Civil Police Chief Fernando Veloso, left, and head of the civil police unit on crimes against children and adolescents Cristiana Bento attend a news conference on the investigations on the gang rape of a teenage girl after a video of the assault circulated widely on social media in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Monday.

SERGIO MORAES/REUTERS

Police in Rio have arrested two men and have issued warrants for four more, in the case of a teenaged girl who was gang-raped and whose attackers spread selfies and videos of the assault on social media.

The victim, a 16-year-old high school student from a low-income family, is now in protective custody after receiving threats on her life, the state department of human rights said, and she may be moved out of the state.

Controversy over the case, and the police handling of it, continues to dominate the news and public debate here. This rape case has laid bare Brazilians' underlying conservative attitude to sexuality, and also served to illustrate the ways in which class and gender issues shape the administration of justice.

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The original investigator on the case has been removed after complaints that he made clear he believed there was no crime. The new investigator spoke out Monday to criticize public speculation the girl wasn't "really raped."

"It's proved: not by the forensic report but by other proof," Cristiana Bento, who heads the civil police unit on crimes against children and adolescents, said in an impassioned address to reporters at police headquarters on Monday. "Which proof? The video. The video proves sexual abuse, as does the victim's deposition. … This girl was the victim of sexual violence, of the dissemination of the images, and she's also a victim of the people who are judging her because of what she is or isn't. This girl needs protection – she needs taking care of – these are the facts."

Ms. Bento said her primary task at this point is to identify how many men – in addition to those who posed for pictures with the girl's genitalia, or recorded video, or shared it – were involved in the assault. "Was it five? Ten? Thirty?"

Police have a forensic report, the results of which are sealed, but the medical examiner noted on Monday that the exam was done days after the assault, which limits what evidence can be collected.

On Sunday, the original investigator on the case, Alessandro Thiers, was removed from the case after complaints from the victim's lawyer, Eloisa Samy, and outcry from activists on issues of gender violence. The victim, in a television interview on Sunday night, said Mr. Thiers opened his initial statement-taking with her by laying out images from the attack on the table and saying bluntly: "So? Talk."

Ms. Samy said the officer repeatedly asked the victim if she is in the habit of having group sex and uses drugs. The newspaper Extra reported that in leaked WhatsApp messages, Mr. Thiers wrote, apparently to colleagues, "[She] knows that we have strong evidence saying there wasn't any rape" and "Many people, including the teenager herself, confirmed that she went to the [favelas] often, with direct and intimate contact with drug dealers in the area."

Maira Zapater, a professor of criminal law at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo with an expertise in human rights, said Brazilian society, and the police, are assessing this case through several lenses. "Class matters, and race matters, but the most important thing is whether she is a sexually active person or not," she said. Unsourced media reports say the victim attended baile funk, sexually charged favela dance parties, and that she was planning to spend the night with her boyfriend when the attack happened – those make people disposed to think she's lying, Prof. Zapater said.

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The victim is from a low-income area in the west of Rio and at 16 is the mother of a three-year-old – in Ms. Samy's words, evidence that "she was already a rape victim."

Ms. Bento was at times visibly frustrated with Brazilian reporters at Monday's press conference, who asked if the victim had visible bruises, why she waited days to go to the police and why police did not have a toxicology report about her drug or alcohol intake. But the chief of police, Fernando Veloso, sitting next to the lead investigator, referred to the crime in the conditional, his skepticism audible. At one point, Ms. Bento animatedly laid out her intent to take a series of charges to prosecutors, and the chief made a patting gesture toward her and said "calma, calma" – calm down.

The gang-rape case has riveted Brazilians (providing momentary diversion from the slow-motion political and economic tumult of the past many months) since it became public on May 25. The victim said in her police statement that on May 20, she went to visit her boyfriend in a favela in the west of the city, and remembers falling asleep in his house just after midnight. She awoke more than a day later in another house in the same favela, she says, surrounded by "more than 30" armed men.

Two days later, she learned of the tweets and WhatsApp posts that were circulating. These included video of her naked, bleeding and unconscious body, posted by men with captions such as "pounded the girl" and "we opened a new tunnel for the high-speed train."

There was a wave of public revulsion at the tweets and video, and more than 800 calls to a Ministry of Justice hotline to report the crime. But by the next day, speculation had begun on her sex life and drug use. Many posters on social media charged "she's no innocent."

Speaking to reporters, Ms. Bento took on a popular argument being used to discredit the victim, the idea that in favelas controlled by traficantes, or drug gangs, there is a strict authoritarian justice and no sexual assault.

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"That there couldn't be rape, because drug dealers don't allow it – that's a lie," she said. "Drug dealers rape, yes. They don't allow other people to do it, but they do it themselves. So don't give me this, that drug dealers don't do it. They do it. And the girls don't talk about it. Girls are sexually abused in these communities and they don't talk. They don't reveal the abuse out of fear of the drug dealer. This girl might be a victim of these drug dealers and she only came [to police] because the images came to light – or she wouldn't have come."

She said the victim is not co-operating with the investigation at this point. "She's afraid to talk." Ms. Bento also said she intends to investigate the gang leader in charge of the favela where the rape took place for having a sort of oversight responsibility for the crime.

While a much-heralded community policing initiative has brought many favelas in Rio under state control in the past eight years, at least half the favela population still lives in areas controlled by gangs. Rio will host the Summer Olympics in slightly more than two months.

Mr. Thiers had several of the men who are now eluding police in the station for questioning but did not detain them – or, keep their cellphones which might have contained other images, police said Monday.

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