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Letter from the editor | 320

The trauma of sexual violence

Rape is one of the most violent and abject crimes imaginable. It subjects the victim to such a high degree of stress that it results in well-known deep psychological scars, as well as causing physiological impacts.

These are the findings of a recent study by a UNIFESP team that combines outpatient care for girls and women who have been raped with investigations into the psychological and physiological changes they experience. More than half develop a seemingly specific type of post-traumatic stress disorder, with characteristics particular to sexual assault marked by moderate but lasting inflammation that hardwires their immune systems to respond to potential further aggression.

In addition to trying to understand the nature of the trauma, the group from UNIFESP’s Violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Research and Care Program is also investigating more efficient ways to treat victims, as described in this issue’s cover story. Improving sleep quality, the results suggest, is crucial to reducing psychological suffering and the symptoms of stress. A complementary article explains how the concept of rape and the consequences established in Brazilian legislation have evolved over time.


In 1973, 151 years after Brazil celebrated its independence, historian Fernando Novais defended his doctoral thesis at USP, which would later become the classic Portugal e Brasil na crise do antigo sistema colonial (1777-1808) (Portugal and Brazil in the crisis of the old colonial system [1777–1808]). Novais analyzed the economic and political relations established between Portugal and its South American colony and the crisis of this colonial system that led to Brazil’s independence. In an interview that took place over several meetings with FAPESP’s Politics Editor Fabrício Marques, Novais discussed the very definition of history, which he believes relates to all spheres of existence: “The object of the historian’s discourse is unlimited. It is everything that has happened to humankind.” He suggests that based on the definition of science as the study of a specific object using a strict method designed for that object, “history can never be considered a science.” The thought-provoking interview, which is part of our coverage of Brazil’s 200 years of independence, starts on page 26.

During the pandemic, we published a section titled Research During the Quarantine. In addition to the specific actions taken by science in the fight against COVID-19, we wanted to shine a light on our audience through first-person reports on research activities. The section ended with its 100th testimonial, but we decided to continue publishing a similar type of content through a new section called Research Itineraries, debuting in this issue.

On September 1, there was a change in Pesquisa FAPESP’s scientific leadership: physicist Luiz Nunes de Oliveira took over the position vacated by philosopher Luiz Henrique Lopes dos Santos. Professor LH, as the latter is known in the newsroom, has been involved with the magazine since 2001, when it began being sold on newsstands and its first website was launched. More than two decades later, on behalf of everyone at Pesquisa FAPESP, I would like to thank him for his dedication and guidance over so many years.