No manejamos ese tipo de información

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You have no idea what I had to go through to get this photo…

by Erin Fletcher

We’re not quite seated, but I’ve already launched into my well-rehearsed spiel. For perhaps the fifth time that day, I say I’m an economics professor from the U.S., and I’m looking for data on domestic violence and gender-based violence in Venezuela. I want statistics, raw data, information about programs, confirmation that there really was no women’s shelter in the whole country, basically anything she could give me.

Milta Armas starts telling me about how many women experience violence, but she refuses to look me in the eye. As she talks, Armas, a curvy 40-something, keeps her hands in her lap, fingering a copy of the new domestic violence law, which I’m sure she’s going to hand to me later. The hype on legal reform, I expect, but not the details she’s rattling off, barely audible over the din of the INAMUJER lobby. I start jotting down her words and numbers, thinking “wow, this was easy”. It only took me two ministries to start to get information. I just had to show up.

Then she pauses.

“These are, of course, what happens in the world, not in Venezuela. We don’t have these statistics for Venezuela.”

Suddenly, I remember. “This,” I think to myself, “is why my expectations for this trip were low.”

I press her a little more. If those aren’t Venezuela statistics, what does she have? What data are even collected? What do we really know?

“Well,” she says without the slightest hint of embarrassment, “no manejamos ese tipo de informacion.”

Oh brother.

It’s not just that the National Institute for Women, a program that houses a domestic abuse helpline and runs workshops for women living in slums on how to recognize and combat domestic violence in their homes and communities, doesn’t seem to have any information on the things they spend all day dealing with, it’s that the language she used was all too familiar. Her words echoed exactly those of a representative of the Ministry for the Popular Power of Women, which is where I’d wasted the previous day. It was the same language I would hear later in the week as I talked to the National Police (CICPC) and again when I tried to make an appointment with the National Defender of Women’s Rights.

No manejamos este tipo de informacion. And no one could tell me who does. My task, wasn’t just daunting, it was impossible. If there were no national statistics on domestic violence at the highest levels of government, I wasn’t sure to find much else.

In reality, of course, (and reality is always shady in Venezuela), there are statistics; it’s just a question of whether you know the right person to get a hold of them.

A source, who asked not to be named to make sure she keeps getting data, showed me a leaked booklet outlining statistics on the national 24/7 helpline 0-800-MUJERES, maintained and run by INAMUJER. They keep a tally of who is calling, why, what kind of abuse they are experiencing, whether they’ve called before, who the aggressor is, their mental state and more. It’s all very run-of-the-mill information that is collected on hotline calls in other places, certainly in the US. It also probably represents that best guess they have as to changes in levels of domestic violence over time, but it was not information they were willing to give to me, or even acknowledge that they had. I snuck a quick photo of a key data table – which you can see above.

I can understand why they might not trust me. Caracas’ violence problems are world-renowned and a source of embarrassment for the government and citizens; I see why they might not want a foreigner to publicize another ugly aspect of it.

Milta Armas told me that one time, there was some information, and they had put it on the website, only that as soon as they got it up, “there was an attack by the opposition to try to make the government look bad.”

“That is not a serious answer,” Ofelia Álvarez told me when I related the story. Ofelia runs Fundamujer, a nonprofit dedicated to studying and eradicating violence against women, out of her home and mostly on her own.

As one of the most visible and prominent advocates for women in Venezuela—nearly everyone I talked to sent me back to her—she has spent decades fighting the same fight I fought in just a few weeks. The issue is politically awkward: no one wants to fund studies, no one wants to support discussions. A pilot study she coauthored was abruptly defunded before it was rolled out to a representative survey group. No one handles that kind of information because there’s no desire to, she told me.

It’s not that we can’t; it’s that we don’t.

1 COMMENT

  1. Great comment ! Do we know whether any domestic abuse shelters actually exist in Venezuela? After all, having a possible refuge from violence has helped reduce murders, as well as other violence. If it’s a big problem, (and it is) how far have the government gone with this partial solution?

    • Jeffry–Armas told me that “there is one, but it’s being renovated,” which I throw in with “not a serious answer.” Some others indicated to me that there are community-run shelters, but I didn’t get a good sense of how many or where they are. I’d previously been told there are none. –Erin

    • Edward – sorry but your comment makes me think on something like “another reason why an addict should run the country”.
      To understand and to find solutions to the issues it’s not a matter of gender. It’s a matter of education.

  2. Surely, just the very tip of the iceberg. How many women in Venezuela know of the existence of this service? (I didn’t, and I read everything). And, worse yet, how many women will risk calling a Government telephone, assuming they have to identify themselves by giving their Cedula National Identification Number?

    • agree. After the failed rocket launch of el Banco de la Mujer, and in the increasingly polarized/violent environment that Chávez has constructed, from early on, it’s unlikely that any help program against violence would ever meet with sucess.

      If a new administration (Capriles) does take over, it’ll be interesting to see if, in a few years, these truncated baby steps can turn into something viable, and ultimately positive for society-at-large, as well as for future generations.

    • Reach is probably very limited. In 2005, there was a media campaign for the hotline (posters in the Metro), and it was featured on an episode of the telenovela “Vieja, ¿yo?”, but without a household survey, it’s impossible to know whether people are aware of its existence. And it’s supposed to be anonymous. –Erin

  3. F. T.: O. T. :It might be worth your featuring “El Universal’s” Sunday, Sept. 9, Supplement, by “Romain Migus”: 52 Pages (vs. Classifieds 20 pp.), “El Programa De La Mud”, “Independencia Colonial”, Front page with HCR as Uncle Sam wearing a “Crimen Justicia” t-shirt, Back Page with the “damning” (sic) criticism sub-titled “Days of Aluvion(=flood/heavy rain/etc.)”:83 references to de-centralization; 37 references to autonomy for Governmental entities normally controlled by “political power”; and 103 references to the “necessary participation of the private sector in all aspects of socio-economic life.” Caracha, mijo, who needs such efficiency and effectiveness when we still can live off oil/heavy additional debt for a few months longer!!??? And, I’m sure that this very costly Supplement was paid for by “el dinero de todo el pueblo”!

  4. You could probably insert the name of just about any problem over the last 14 years in Venezuela in place of the lack of stats on domestic violence and the way the Chavernment deals with it and you’d have a pretty close description of the Chavernment itself.

    No public admission because that shows weakeness, no solutions because that would be admitting there is a problem to begin with. Easier to sweep it under the rug and throw some money at the pendejos en la calle.

  5. There are many different kinds of abuse.One type of abuse is judicial.There is simply no justice in a court of law for women who want to leave their husbands.Maybe there is on paper, but not in reality.Talk to lawyers for that information.

    What will statistics tell you? Very little.A lot of what goes on in Venezuela is not documented.Even murders go unreported….what kind of statistic could possibly paint a reliable picture of this?Where would the telling subtleties be in numbers? It is a country that one has to get to know from the inside out.Most countries are like that, but Venezuela much more so.

    “No one handles that kind of information because there’s no desire to, she told me.”

    This is precisely the crux of the problem.The problem of violence against women is underrepresented because not even the women take it seriously enough .Once the women are on board, things will change.

    …and it is the same passivity we see in fighting Chavismo.An apathy, a strong denial.

    • …and it is the same passivity we see in fighting Chavismo.An apathy, a strong denial.
      you almost had me with your blanket observations, until that statement, which comes across as phony, in its attempt to appear as inside knowledge. Or do 3,000,000 votes for then pre-candidate Capriles not mean anything to you? Oh, I know, you think that Venezuelans are naïve (in comparison to you, the all-knowing) and a host of other condescending judgements.

      • syd, will you just give your ridiculous assessments of people who you don’t even know a break? You accuse FP of being “you, the all-knowing”, when, in fact, you come across as pretending to be even MORE all-knowing than she does!!! Why can’t you acknowledge that what she says/thinks is very much aligned with what you say/believe, but, somehow, she beat you to it. WTF? It’s not HER fault that she got there first!

        • The Cat: When I have to wade through someone’s fantasies about their 1,000 family members, living mostly in barrios, and a host of blanket comments that are so out of touch with the majority of Venezuelans, such as “Venezuelans are naïve,” you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll respond. Try zeroing in a little better on your litter box. End of discussion.

          • You can always choose to NOT read her posts, right? I agree with your suggestion, applied equally to “posts” such as yours. Sorry, FT, just couldn’t help it.

  6. The issue of domestic violence lies below the vast, above-water iceberg of limited or shrinking economic opportunities for all; a lack of a diversified and less regulated marketplace that would contribute those opportunities; women as objects to serve the principle needs of men; forces which “keep ’em dumb and on the farm”, so to speak; etc., etc., etc.

    • It’s all about education.
      Most of educated women will have the tools to walk away from an abusive relationship, and I’m not talking only about poorer women. I’m also taking about trophy wives with fake boobs.

      • Generally, yes. But if the educated woman grew up in an abusive home (recurring life pattern), finds little support among her family members, encounters limited economic options in a country with a diminished marketplace, lives in a rural area, fears “el qué dirán” of townsfolk and/or family, doesn’t want to give up her economic status — for her own sake and/or that of her children, doesn’t want to lose her children (is pater postestad still ‘vigente’?) … I would wager that no matter how educated, she might want to continue to put up with an indeterminate amount of domestic abuse.

        • I don’t know what the stats or trends are but it happens to well educated women in first world countries. Having a safe place to go helps. Raising public awareness helps, so that people are educated on the problem and the stigma attaching to the victims (they are stupid, it is their fault, they must be vampires and sluts etc) is reduced. If there are no women’s shelters, then the “shelter” is the street for a lot of people. Same goes with kids. I’d bet your contributor would get a similar reaction from the authorities looking for that information.

          • I agree, the shelters and help lines are a great way to educate people. When I say “educated” not necessarily mean with an university degree.
            Then there is also self-esteem problems that Syd mentions that need to be addressed by professionals, and the only way to look for professional help is through education and awareness. That is what I mean with “proper tools”.

            Another issue that is also out there, much more common of what we could think, it’s men being abused by their wives, physically, verbally and emotionally. I have seen it first hand. It’s very difficult to track because most macho men won’t admit that their wife hits them but it’s as bad as the other way around.

          • agree. it’s difficult to witness abuse of any kind, often through the rage of one adult to another or to a child, or simply by way of psychologically abusive language.

            Shelters and hotlines are a very good thing to introduce to the general population, as well as the awareness that these services exist. Though I don’t know if that awareness would curtail the abuse. Sometimes abusiveness is an ingrained pattern that only shock can stop (i.e., the marital partner walks out on the abuser, or simply says F-U in the loudest voice possible).

            This is a subject of many complex layers. I would hope that social workers would discuss this topic, in depth, when they are in training. What I’d hate to see, instead, are churchy folk who sidestep the issue and say: “you have to forgive him/her (the abuser).”

            Personally I think abusers have mental issues that are normally difficult to perceive by victims in the vortex of abuse. But I suspect that it’s getting easier to at least label problematic abusers. And the reason for that, as crazy as it sounds, is Chávez. Because of his umpteen years of broadcasted harangues, and our knowledge that he may be suffering from mental illness, we’re more capable of seeing similar patterns in our abusers.

          • A common myth about domestic violence is that it doesn’t affect educated or affluent women. It’s just not true. Studies show that violence is widespread across socio-economic strata and leaving a violent relationship is incredibly difficult–psychologically and financially–and also dangerous. Women who leave are much more likely to be murdered by their abusers. I think part of the answer is to create a culture where beating one’s partner is unacceptable (conciencia). Blaming victims lets abusers off the hook (low self-esteem is a product of abuse as much as bruises and broken bones are). But there also must be services to catch those brave enough to leave–shelters, hotlines, a working judicial system, financial support to move, therapists to talk to victims and kids, police who will enforce protective orders. If you know Venezuela, you know how complicated these things are.

          • “If you know Venezuela, you know how complicated these things are.”
            Agree, 100%. I think that the toughest aspect is the inability to: (a) reach out to all (*) relevant parties so that full-on discussions can take place; (b) sticking to a timeline during the period of preparations; and (c) commiting to carrying things through.

            (*) relevant parties: social workers, ‘comunicadores sociales’, police, financiers/contributors of shelters and hotline(s), ad agencies (and a contest for best ‘afiche’ and TV spot). And yes, once all the pieces of the puzzle are put together, then mention should be made in a telenovela. There’s no sense in mentioning something without having all the support mechanism in place, or without seeing repetition of the idea in subway ads, etc.

  7. This story reminds me of the days when I would try to get statistical data from public agencies in Venezuela… It was exhausting and frustrating. And to think that in the U.S. any type of information is available online.

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