He said the men appeared to work as legitimate van operators, with crime an occasional side venture. Though they apparently were authorized to transport passengers in Niteroi and neighboring Sao Goncalo, the suspects were not allowed to operate the van in Rio, he said.
Authorities presented suspects Wallace Aparecido Souza Silva, Carlos Armando Costa dos Santos and Jonathan Foudakis de Souza to the news media on Tuesday.
The suspects allegedly had rented the van, which seats about a dozen people and has dark tinted windows, from the vehicle’s owner, who police say is not suspected of any involvement in the crime.
Rio’s van services are widely reviled for their precarious safety conditions and reckless driving, as well as their links to organized crime. Some vans are run by militias largely composed of former police and firemen who control large swaths of the city’s slums and run clandestine transportation and other services. In general, tourists avoid the vans and opt for regular buses or taxis.
Sexual assaults remain a problem on public transit. Last year, a woman was raped on a moving bus in broad daylight in a widely publicized case, and the Rio subway has special women-only cars to help prevent such attacks.
Still, Brazilian officials emphasized Rio is not particularly prone to such attacks.
“I think sexual violence is something that can happen anywhere,” said Aparecida Goncalves, Brazil’s national secretary for violence against women. “I don’t think that the city of Rio is more dangerous than others.”
“Now we have more ways of denouncing them,” she said, “of talking about and taking the necessary measures so those responsible are punished and imprisoned.”
Walter Maierovitch, Brazil’s former drug czar and an organized crime expert, said that with crime down overall, one of the city’s main challenges will be making sure visitors remain vigilant and aware of basic safety precautions.
“There has been a lot of improvement in Rio but there is still a lot more to be done in terms of security, mainly more preventive actions, alerting tourists both foreign and domestic of the precautions they should take, neighborhoods to avoid,” he said.
He added that Saturday’s attack “was a setback, but in terms of image and security I don’t think it is a major or long-lasting one that will scare tourists away from Rio.”
Australian visitors Emma Richardson and Jason Sestic said they have been taking extraordinary precautions throughout their weeklong stay in Rio.
“We’ve stayed well away from Copacabana and the beach areas at night because of Lonely Planet,” said Sestic, referring to the famous backpackers’ guidebook. The 35-year-old, who works in construction, added, “I’m a pretty paranoid person in general and I’ve heard enough stories about here to be really paranoid.”