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Brazilian Woman Arrested for Murder After "Burning Dad Alive"
Should It Matter If a Perpetrator Was Once a Victim?
If you read as much true crime as I do, you find out pretty quickly that a lot of blogs, books and podcasts cover the same cases. There’s a reason for this; while all cases are heartbreaking, some are more interesting. I’m sure I’ll cover some of these as well.
But I also want to talk about very recent crime stories. There are obvious pluses and minuses to this. On the positive side of the balance sheet, a lot of the information will be brand new. Drawbacks include a) there will things we don’t know and b) it’s possible that early information is wrong. So the psychology I’ll talk about in these cases are the issues as they relate to what we know so far. In other words, take them - and the news stories themselves - with a grain of salt.
This disturbing story, published on September 13, 2021, comes to us from Sao Paolo, Brazil. It is not for the feint of heart. After two months on the lam, forty-one year old Claudia Campos Veiga was arrested on September 4th for the murder of her sixty-five year old father, Omar. According to various news sources, on July 9th, she invited her father on a hike, where she tied him to a tree, doused him with gasoline, and set him on fire. She burned him alive.
Ms. Veiga says that her motive was to pay him back for sexually abusing her for years. Veiga’s ex-boyfriend backs this up; he told local law enforcement that she had been wanting revenge for “over a thirty year period.” This seems unlikely, given that she would have been eleven years old back in 1991 and the alleged sexual abuse began in her teens. But what does seem clear is that Ms. Veiga fantasized about killing her father for months - maybe even years - before she did it. This was no crime of passion.
It is unclear how just how much premeditation was involved. Ms. Veiga says she called and talked to her brother about her plan a few days beforehand. Some of the news articles suggest that the only reason she began visiting her father, who had lived for the past five years in a rehabilitation center for the homeless, was to gain his trust before sending him to his grave. Staff at the rehab center said she had visited him a total of three times and had acted like a loving daughter, even asking him to come live with her during their second visit.
Let’s assume that Ms. Veiga’s allegations are true; given how rare false accusations of incest are, it’s a pretty safe bet. It’s common for someone who has been traumatized by someone else to fantasize about turning the tables. This is especially true when the perpetrator was someone in a position of trust. I think there are few greater betrayals that a parent who forces his child to be his sex partner.
It’s not just the acts themselves that are devastating. It also depends on what happens after the abuse. Abuse victims who are believed and supported by other members of their families, who get professional help as needed, and who see their abuser face consequences for their actions often see their fantasies fading as they heal. They are, after all, a poor substitute for genuine justice and a restored sense of self-control. In Veiga’s case, not only did her father’s deeds go unpunished, for decades they were unspoken. She told police that it was only in the last few years that she disclosed the abuse to the rest of her family. No one has publicly talked about what kind of response she got.
There’s a long road between desiring revenge and taking it. Why murder her father now, after all these years? What happened to finally push Veiga from rage to retribution? It wasn’t proximity; Veiga lived a four-hour plane ride away from her dad and could easily have had zero contact with him. He clearly wasn’t spending his golden years living the good life.
We don’t yet know what circumstances actually set her plan into motion. But, according to Ms. Veiga, a movie inspired her to put aside any fear of consequences or punishment. It was the 1978 film, I Spit on Your Grave, a 1978 film in which a raped and brutalized young woman seeks violent revenge on her rapist. Ms. Veiga said she watched that movie and hatched her plan.
If you’re tempted to jump on the “media causes violence” bandwagon, please listen before you leap. Ever since moral crusaders (typically mental health professionals and ministers) blamed comic books for their corrupting and violent influence on 1940s teenagers, there have always been people happy to point the finger at the media instead of looking at the root causes of retribution. (Did you know there used to be comic book burnings?) There’s very little evidence to support them.
There’s a big difference between a person on the ledge using a movie to jump off, and a well-adjusted teenager chasing his girlfriend with an axe just because he saw The Shining. As a forensic psychologist, I’ve talked to many murderers. As a crime writer, I’ve researched hundreds more. And I’ve never been tempted to slip antifreeze into my husband’s Gatorade or hire a hitman to take out my sister. And if watching slasher movies turns someone into Freddy Kreuger, you might want to steer clear of me this Halloween.
Ironically, Ms. Veiga’ horrible actions may have finally garnered her the sympathy she so desperately deserved. Headlines like these condemned Veiga’s “monster” dad while others expressed outrage that, under the circumstances, she had still been arrested for murder. But that’s what she committed.
Should her history of incest play a role in her trial? Should she be charged with a lesser crime or given a reduced sentence? These are questions we forensic psychologists are asked to given an opinion about all the time. I’d love to hear what you think.
She should - and will - have to answer for what’s she’s done. We all do. But I also think that, when a victim becomes a perpetrator, we need to take a close look at the path that led her there. The door to revenge tends to open when the doors to justice and repentance are closed.