Archive for the sexual violence Category

22 de enero: Historias cruzadas

Posted in Bolivia, sexual violence on January 22, 2013 by eugeniadealtura

Today, the United States-based feminist blog Jezebel–in addition to a number of other international news sources–reported on the horrific case of the alleged rape of a woman on the floor of the Bolivian parliament meeting room. The purported rape, which was captured on video, was allegedly perpetrated by Bolivian congressman Domingo Alcibia Rivera after a holiday lunch meeting late last year in which the woman in question, ostensibly a janitor, passed out after drinking heavily.  For readers of English, see the Jezebel blog here; for readers of Spanish, see one editorial by Bolivian feminist activist Maria Galindo.

Even if you (understandably) prefer not to view the video of the attack, which has been broadcast on youtube and elsewhere, it is important to look this reality in the face.  I have noted in other posts the distressingly high rates of sexual violence that plague Bolivia.  What this story points to, however, is how normalized the phenomenon may be.  If a Bolivian lawmaker feels compelled–even drunk–to rape an employee of his own workplace at his workplace, which happens to be the seat of government, where the man must know all activities are videotaped, then how much can we reasonably assume he fears retribution or legal consequence?  How much can we even expect that he regrets what he did, or recognizes the monstrosity of his actions?  In Bolivia, where only about a quarter of complaints of sexual violence end in conviction, perhaps Alcibia has little to fear.  Unfortunately, women have a lot to be afraid of.

Postscript: In other news, today marks the 40th anniversary of the supreme court decision that legalized abortion in the United States, Roe vs. Wade.  Congratulations to U.S. women for 40 years of struggle!

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15 de Junio: Cuando la “promiscuidad” forzada deja indefensos a los más vulnerables

Posted in Bolivia, sexual violence with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2011 by eugeniadealtura

Readers… if you still exist… I apologize for the long hiatus.  Work responsibilities have not allowed me to post to the blog as frequently as I would like, and time limitations will continue to prevent me from commenting in much detail on the posts that I am able to make to the blog.  So, today I write to you humbly with this brief reflection.

Some years ago, when working on a research project on Bolivia’s 1952 national revolution, my interest was piqued by the revolutionary party’s constant complaints of the “promiscuity” of the nation’s rural indigenous populations.  And no, I do not mean sexual promiscuity–although I think the deliberate choice of the word “promiscuous” to describe traditional one-room living quarters was indeed designed to raise concerns about children’s unwitting exposure to their parents’ “marital relations.”  In political pamphlets of the 1950s and early ’60s, journalists and commentators of the nation’s ruling Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) party would frequently denounce the deplorable “promiscuous” living conditions of the poor rural majority, in which parents and children lived in one-room homes in which kitchen and bedroom were one and the same.  In part, revolutionary-era authors complaining of promiscuity revealed sincere humanitarian concern over the  poverty of rural dwellers; at the same time, however, MNRistas often used these complaints to highlight the party’s role in “saving” indigenous populations from their poverty, denying the agency of Indians themselves.

Today, the issue of “residential promiscuity” has come back to haunt us.  Readers in the U.S. and Europe may be shocked to discover that in most of Bolivia’s prisons, the state forces prisoners to live in “the most deplorable promiscuity” with one another–and also allows the live-in presence of inmates’ wives & children.  Institutions such as La Paz’s San Pedro prison and Santa Cruz’s Palmasola prison constitute virtual “prison cities,” where wealthier inmates are able to lease comfortable cells & where less fortunate inmates sleep in the halls of the jail.  Inmates, who may have “jobs” inside the jail–making and peddling food or providing other services–circulate with relative freedom inside these prison cities.  Children and their mothers often leave the prison gates in the morning to attend school or go to work, only to return in the afternoon or evening.  Although sixty years ago members of Bolivia’s ruling party denounced the “promiscuity” of non-criminal rural peoples, now the state allows women and children to live in close quarters with convicted criminals.  Sure, some of those guys are innocent, and some of them were convicted of tax fraud.  But some of them were convicted of rape.

Palmasola Prison, Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  Courtesy of Infosur Hoy.

Case in point (for readers of Spanish).  This week, Cochabamba’s Los Tiempos newspaper reports on the case of 63-year-old Sabino Paredes Condori, an inmate of Santa Cruz’s Palmasola prison who was lynched last Monday night by his fellow inmates.  Paredes allegedly sparked the fury of a mob of inmates after gloating over photos he’d recorded on his cell phone of two naked female children and of unspecified sexual acts.  The two children were daughters of a fellow inmate.  Paredes was in the process of serving a 25-year sentence for rape.  Once inmates were able to steal his cellphone and examine the images, they subjected Paredes to an hours-long ordeal culminating in his hanging.

Despite his heinous crimes, Paredes’ lynching is, of course, horrible.  What concerns me more, however, is the unchecked “promiscuity” of Bolivia’s prisons, in which adolescent girls and boys and their mothers rub elbows in the “city streets” of Palmasola and San Pedro.  Although Los Tiempos alleges that this case has “reopened the old debate of the voluntary presence of inmates’ wives and children in [Bolivian] prisons,” it’s unclear what, if anything, will change.  And funny, that–I thought that “promiscuity” was high on the state’s list of concerns.

9 de Julio: Visita a Womanist Musings

Posted in blogging, sexual violence with tags , , on July 9, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

This week at Womanist Musings, I’ve written a guest post on my obsession with the World Cup–and on the sexual violence that I have learned takes place every day in South Africa.  To combat rape, one doctor has invented a device that is inserted vaginally that may help “trap” rapists.  Join the debate at Womanist Musings!

8 de Mayo: No tiene que ver con el agua

Posted in Bolivia, sexual violence with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

This week, two brief but terrible stories about sexual violence in El Alto, Bolivia.  First, “a thirteen-year-old boy has been accused of attempting to rape a seven-year-old girl” in an El Alto school building.  A week later, police arrested a 24-year-old man for allegedly raping and impregnating a 15-year-old girl who he claims was his “girlfriend.”  Evidently, “the mother of the minor realized that her daughter was pregnant” and reported the crime.

ENOUGH with violence against women.

There is so much to unpack in these two brief notes that it is difficult to know where to begin. First, there is the disturbing prevalence of sexual violence against women in Bolivia. Reproductive rights organization IPAS reports that “four of ten Bolivian women have suffered some form of sexual violence.”  Often, women suffer sexual violence at the hands of their lovers and husbands, upon whom they and their children may be financially dependent, and so do not report the crimes.  Other women who are raped by strangers or acquaintances also may fail to report the attacks due to fears that police or family members may blame them, rather than their aggressors. This means that actual rates of sexual violence may be much higher.  IPAS director Eliana Del Pozo also notes that few rape cases that women do report actually make it to the courts, much less result in convictions.

Why do so many men sexually assault women in Bolivia?  The guarantee of impunity alone cannot explain it.  In Bolivia–where until recently a married woman had to obtain the signature of her husband in order to undergo a tubal ligation–machismo dictates that women’s bodies belong to men.  Sexism permeates much home life in Bolivia, so that young boys learn from an early age that they enjoy privileges that their sisters and mothers do not.  Although we do not know much about the background of the thirteen-year-old who nearly raped a child in an El Alto school, the culture of machismo alone in Bolivian (and Latin American) society makes these incidents more common here than in many other countries.

An advertisement for a church-led seminar on violence in families.

In the case of the 15-year-old rape survivor, fear also seem to have played a role in delaying the aggressor’s arrest.  As the article notes, the girl’s attacker threatened her family with violence if she ever revealed the rape.  Only six months later (most likely when she was no longer able to hide her pregnancy) did the girl’s mother discover that her daughter was pregnant and file the report for the crime.

Even in cases where an attacker does not threaten his victim’s family, young women in Bolivia often fear to tell their parents that they have been raped since so many are blamed for provoking men’s advances.  If an adolescent girl becomes pregnant in Bolivia, whether through rape or consensual sex, her parents often hold her accountable for the pregnancy and excuse the man involved.  Many women I have spoken with who became pregnant at an early age report that they waited months before telling their parents, since parents are often very concerned with the que dirán de la gente, or, of what people will say.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with several members of the community police force in Bolivia, a special division of the police that engages with average folks through personal interventions and community orientations on a variety of topics.  According to these six men, rising rape rates in the busy, La Paz market district of Max Paredes are due to an increase in adolescent drinking.  Although alcohol abuse doubtless exacerbates many social problems, I find adolescent drinking a poor explanation for the high prevalence of rape in Bolivia.  The truth is, if a man would not rape a women sober, he would not rape a woman drunk.  If when sober, a man does not believe that a woman owes him something, or that her body is his property, he is unlikely to develop these beliefs after five or six cervezas. Let’s face it–the propensity to rape is not something that’s in the water, or in any other beverage.  It’s something that’s in the machismo.

29 de Abril: Ojo–la ley no te protegerá

Posted in abortion, Bolivia, sexual violence with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

A couple of recent events have revealed the fragility of women’s right to choose in Latin America and in the United States, despite laws guaranteeing abortion access in those countries (or at least, under certain circumstances).

A few weeks ago, in a piece for Womanist Musings, I commented on the case of a nine-year-old-girl in Brazil who, after much difficulty, succeeded in securing a legal abortion when a rape left her pregnant with twins.  In that case, the Brazilian Archbishop ex-communicated the entire medical team that performed the procedure, along with the girl’s mother.  Now, RH Reality Check brings us the story of another young girl, raped and impregnated by her step-father in Quintana Roo, Mexico.  According to the local reproductive rights group, GIRE (Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida), the pregnant girl and her mother “received biased information from authorities about their rights and access to abortion.”

As in Bolivia and in many other areas of Latin America, women in Mexico who become pregnant as a result of rape are legally permitted to have an abortion.  However, in practice, the bureaucratic processes necessary to secure a legal abortion, as well as the tendency of anti-abortion authorities to pressure women against the procedure, make cases of legal abortion fairly rare.  This is not, as many have pointed out, because rape is rare: Marcy Bloom, of GIRE, notes that in 2009 alone, 881 women in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo “became pregnant as a result of rape.”

After some deliberation, this young Mexican girl and her family have decided to continue the pregnancy and keep the child.  Still, anti-choice activists in the country have used the case as an opportunity to attack pro-choice groups like GIRE, arguing that the organization attempted to pressure the girl to get an abortion.  In fact, women who become pregnant as a result of rape in Mexico are much more likely to be pressured by anti-choice elements to give up their legal right to abortion (see the RH article for a number of examples).

In case you are tempted to believe that legal abortion is so difficult to secure in Latin America because of the restrictions surrounding the procedure, think again: this week, abortion access suffered a major blow in the U.S. state of Oklahoma, where Roe v. Wade ostensibly extended abortion rights to women over 30 years ago.  Thanks to the Oklahoma Legislature, women seeking abortion in that state will now have to view ultrasound images and “listen to a detailed description of the fetus.”  Like the 24-hour wait law and other obstacles to abortion access, the Oklahoma measures display the profoundly condescending notion that unless forced, women will not think deeply about their decisions to have an abortion.  That, unless the state imposes its own definitions of “thoughtfulness” and “consideration” onto women’s abortion decisions, then women will approach these decisions with frivolity and disdain.

The photographs in today’s posting were provided by a guest photographer.

When women were granted the vote, we were supposedly recognized by the state as “adults” capable of making independent decisions and of running for office.  Restrictions to abortion access, however, return women to the realm of childhood, where we are deemed wards of the state who cannot be trusted with decisions impacting our own bodies and reproductive lives.  These three stories reveal a painful truth–that we cannot trust the law.  Laws alone will not protect us.  Access to legal abortion–and “permission” to act as capable adults–are still a long way off.

13 de Febrero: Mejor no hablemos de excusas

Posted in Bolivia, Press, sexual violence, violence against women with tags , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

Back in November 2009, my first-ever post to this blog reflected on the problem of violence against women in Bolivia.  For the past few years, feminist activists in Bolivia have been pressuring lawmakers to incorporate the term feminicidio into legal codes, to prevent men who kill their wives, girlfriends, exes, sisters, cousins, etc., from getting off with “crime of passion” defenses.  A crime of passion defense usually reads like this: “Your honor, I was just so angry and heartbroken when I heard that Fulana was [insert actual or suspected infidelity here], that I just couldn’t control myself, and I [insert violent crime here].”  At last year’s march commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, one of the slogans we shouted until hoarse was, “No es crimen pasional–es asesinato.” (It’s not a crime of passion–it’s murder.)

For those of us who believe that men and women are indeed equal and that both have the unalienable right to live without violence, these crime of passion defenses seem laughable–or they would, if they weren’t so dangerous.  Then, why do they work?  Who or what contributes to the legitimacy of this type of defense in Bolivian society?

One culprit is undoubtedly machismo and the double standards that it engenders–ie., he cheats with impunity, but she can’t even have male friends; he has a job and a social life, while she is confined to the home and to the production of offspring.  As I’ve mentioned several times before, machismo in Bolivia is fierce, and seemingly endemic to both home and professional life in the country.

So, in part, we have everyday interactions between Bolivian men and women to thank for crime of passion defenses.  But perhaps more perilously, we also have the press.  This week, the La-Paz daily La Razón covered the story of one man’s brutal murder of a sex worker in an El Alto motel room. (As always, all translations are my own.)  Evidently, when the young woman Zulma Apaza refused to have sex with her would-be client, he strangled her and used a broken bottle to cut her vagina.  In a statement to police, the murderer Óscar Condori Vargas said, “The señorita turned up dead, I got up and I don’t know, I don’t know anything, I didn’t see anything; I don’t know in what moment they did [killed] her; I had fallen asleep, I was drunk.”

My first reaction after reading Condori’s statement was to ask, “Well, which was it??” But no–it’s better to not talk about excuses.  Because the fact is, there is no excuse for murder. That is why we call a person’s “reason” for committing murder a motive, not an excuse that absolves the murderer of responsibility for the crime. And yet, this article traffics in excuses, rather than motives, offering them up like sacrifices.  In the Condori case, the reporter informs us that the excuse was the sex worker’s refusal to seal the deal.  (Violence against sex workers is a pervasive and troubling phenomenon that I cannot cover in detail in this post, but see here for recent treatment of this problem in the U.S.)

In its closing paragraphs, the La Razón article reviews other crimes that were recently perpetrated in El Alto motels, offering an excuse for each.  Last Christmas Eve, one man decapitated his girlfriend with a kitchen knife before attempting to escape, carrying her head with him inside a cardboard box.  “The motives of the crime were passionate, according to the [local police],” assures the reporter.  “In two other cases [of murder in El Alto motel rooms],” the article continues, “the victim unleashed her lover’s jealousy by calling him by the wrong name.”  Are these “motives”?  Explanations that we can add to a case file before locking the bastards away for 25-years-to-life?  No–these are excuses. In this article, La Razón is, perhaps unwittingly, justifying the crime of passion defense and ultimately excusing the absence of just prison sentences for male perpetrators of feminicide in Bolivia.  So please–no more “passionate” excuses.  Just give us cold hard motive, evidence, trial, and finally–justice.

7 de Febrero: Cuál es la noticia aquí?

Posted in Bolivia, children, Press, sexual violence, women with tags , , , , , , on February 7, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

I just discovered an article that was published last week in La Paz’s La Razón newspaper, entitled, “A Taxi Driver Rapes a Young Girl in the Valley.” (All translations here are my own.)  Apparently, on the evening of January 25 in Valle de Sajta, Bolivia, a considerably sloshed couple got in a taxi along with their nine-year-old daughter and, when they arrived at their destination, inadvertently left the girl behind.  The taxi driver, realizing the couple’s mistake, drove off with the young girl and was caught soon later in the act of raping her.

Clearly, no matter how this “story” is written up in the paper, it is absolutely terrible.  A young girl was raped.  And her parents made a horrible, perhaps inexcusable, mistake.  But what should bother us more–that these drunk parents left their kid in the car, or that this taxi driver saw that fact as an opportunity to RAPE the kid?

And yet, if we read the article carefully, the “news story” that this reporter seems to find most relevant is the parents’ negligence.  The full title of the article, with the subtitle, reads, “A Taxi Driver Rapes a Young Girl in the Valley: CARELESSNESS-Inebriated Parents Forget Their Daughter in a Taxi Cab in the Tropics.”  A paragraph later, the article states, “…last Monday night, the drunk parents of the victim got out of a taxi without their daughter, and the driver, taking advantage of their state of inebriation, drove away with the child to sexually abuse her.”  This reads disturbingly like an implicit validation of the driver’s decision–as if anyone in a similar situation, facing a similar “opportunity,” would naturally take advantage, were it not for the watchful eye of the parent (or, perhaps, of the husband, boyfriend, or other protective father figure).

The article closes with a matter-of-fact review of the statistics of child rape in the region of Cochabamba, where this crime occurred.  (At least the reporter has the decency to call these stats “alarming.”)  In 2009, there were 400 reported cases of child rape in Cochabamba.  (How many, I wonder, unreported?)  The final sentence of the piece informs us dryly, “Of these cases, only 1% of [these victims’ rapists] were sent to prison.”