Amid the chaos of Venezuela, there are certain ignored topics. For some, it’s a matter of urgency and priority, and for others these problems simply don’t exist in our Latin American reality. Let me bring to the table, then, one of those: Violence against women based on discriminatory stereotypes.
The story starts at my favorite bar in Chacao, Caracas, a safe neighborhood compared to the rest of the city. A girl walks down the street at 11:00 p.m. when a squad car stops her, asks some questions and moves on. She then walks to where we are and, in fear and confusion, asks: “Where am I?”
She then walks to where we are and, in fear and confusion, asks: “Where am I?”
We answer, not really understanding what’s going on. She came closer, and I’ve never seen so much pain and terror in a face. We then realized something bad happened: her arms had scratches dripping blood, her legs couldn’t support her because she was shaking so bad, and her face was beat up. No evident wounds could amount to that much blood, and that was even weirder.
We took her inside, tried to comfort her and asked what happened. Between a helpless cry and genuine pain, I could hear two words: “kidnapped” and “raped”. Then she passed out.
A deep silence dawned on the bar. We were still trying to grasp what had just happened: the girl on the floor had just experienced the worst moment of her life. She depended on us for comfort, but how can you, a complete stranger, comfort an 18-year-old who just came back from hell?
We managed to wake her up and calm her as much as possible; she said a black SUV stopped right next to her when she was getting home (in a poor neighborhood west of Caracas), men took her forcefully inside and tried to rape her. She didn’t remember if they actually did it.
She depended on us for comfort, but how can you, a complete stranger, comfort an 18-year-old who just came back from hell?
We called the police and they never arrived, we dialed the local emergency assistance service and by the time they appeared, her family was already here. I can’t describe the sound of that mother crying while knowing, without the specifics, that someone had harmed her child.
How can a human being cause that much suffering to someone else? How can sex justify that?
Derived from this reality (which isn’t new, it has just been ignored), there’s an international commitment to end violence against women in America, the Belen Do Pará Convention. It’s a particular instrument that forces signatory states to prevent and sanction all types of violence against women, approaching situations from a gender perspective. The special vulnerability that women of low income in violent contexts suffer, requires particular measures from the State, including the development of structural solutions to tackle the cultural stereotypes inside discriminatory behaviors.
For example, I was discussing the other day with my grandmother and classmates about discrimination of women in Venezuela. There are recurrent arguments to deny this reality: Mothers are the authority in most families, women are partly to blame in domestic violence cases because they never report it to the authorities, and (this is the worst) there are more important things to solve right now.
Guys, women represent the authority in most families because men always leave. And beyond the infinite arguments that prevent women from reporting violence to the authorities, criminal behavior cannot be blamed on the victim. It’d be like saying that torture is bad, but it’s the people’s fault for protesting.
The special vulnerability that women of low income in violent contexts suffer, requires particular measures from the State.
Governments are obligated to guarantee a life without violence or discrimination for women, and there are certain standards to be respected: First, the complaint made to the police must be enough proof to start a diligent investigation with gender perspective; second, once a vulnerability is known, a legal structure strong enough to answer must be in place. The State must uphold its obligations by guaranteeing prosecution to criminals.
In our case, the government isn’t taking effective measures to prevent discrimination, especially to women in intersectionality (affected by more than one vulnerability factor); the police couldn’t care less about this girl, even after they stopped her and asked questions. No investigation, or protective actions whatsoever, no statements, nothing. I wonder if money (in this case, the victim’s poverty) could have been a factor, but this is how you build impunity.
That girl crying in a bar the day I turned 23 years old wasn’t only a victim of sexual violence. She’s a message from the chavista government for aggressors of all kinds:
As long as you don’t threaten our power, go to town on the people.
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