Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto
On May 20th, around 6:30 a.m., Melissa Arcila Ruiz, 38, got to her apartment at Los Jardines del Valle, Southern Caracas. She was coming back from dropping her children off at their school bus stop, and she had to get ready for work, as a manicurist, in a beauty salon downtown.
As soon as she got the key on the door, she realized José Gregorio Pérez was waiting for her, and she knew what it meant. Until late 2018, when he finally left the house, Melissa had been through 15 years of abuse. That day the father of her children was fast: before she could make it into the apartment, he stabbed her 12 times on the back, at her doorstep. Melissa’s screams made the neighbors come out and take her to the nearest hospital. She was dead on arrival.
Pérez escaped. He popped up soon after at his aunt’s apartment, nearby, and said “I killed her,” to his family, right there in the living room. He then jumped out the window, on the 14th floor.
Similar things happened to at least ten other Venezuelan women in 2018, according to the platform Monitor de Víctimas. Among them was María Isabel León, attacked by the man she just broke up with, and Maribel del Carmen Cornieles, who was at the drugstore when her partner appeared, shot her in the head, murdered the salesman and shot himself.
Population Goes Down, Femicides Go Up
In 2019, despite the mass migration and even the drop in certain violent crimes, the number of femicides in Venezuela, instead of dropping, has increased.
That day the father of her children was fast: before she could make it into the apartment, he stabbed her 12 times on the back.
The last time the Prosecutor’s Office released data about this type of homicide was in their annual report of 2015, identifying 253 cases that year. Four years later, NGO Avesa (Venezuelan Association for Alternative Sex-Ed) says that in seven months, from January to July, 2019, 262 women have been murdered. That’s nine more than 2015’s official figure.
On that same period, Monitor de Víctimas registered at least 15 women murdered in the capital, by their partners or ex-partners, with minors also dying at the hands of stepfathers. Ten of these cases happened in Caracas’ Libertador municipality, the most populated in the nation, where most of the public offices are headquartered and where there’s a female mayor, PSUV’s Erika Farías. In 2018, Monitor de Víctimas registered ten crimes in the area, meaning that just on 2019’s first semester, that figure has been surpassed by 50%.
Douglas Rico, director of the CICPC detectives, recognized an increase in femicides on August 26th, saying that so far this year, they’ve registered 1,180 cases of sexual abuse. Experts like lawyer Reina Alejandra Baiz, devoted to studying femicides in Venezuela, explain that social and economic devastation has been a multiplier: As the complex humanitarian emergency intensifies, hyperinflation, unemployment, migration and shortages directly impact violence in families and couples.
In Venezuela, Article 15 of the Law for Women’s Right to a Life without Violence defines femicide in similar terms as those of the UN: An “extreme form of gender violence, caused by hate or despise to the female condition, that ends in death, produced both in the public and private sectors.” Baiz says it’s never an isolated fact: “In a patriarchal system, violence is a mechanism to hold on to control and the man needs to attack his partner to feel dominant, to not feel like he’s drowning because he has no money in his bank account.” These are men who can’t accept a woman’s decision to leave them. Violence is how they establish dominance on what they believe is theirs.
These are men who can’t accept a woman’s decision to leave them. Violence is how they establish dominance on what they believe is theirs.
Researcher Marcela Lagarde explains that femicides happen mostly when authorities exert institutional violence on women, by obstructing their access to justice, one of the key factors behind historical impunity. Lawyer Dorennis Angulo, director of NGO Éxodo, says that the State usually ignores victims of intrafamilial abuse or gender violence, despite 2007’s Law for Women’s Right to a Life without Violence.
José Gregorio Pérez, for example, attacked Melissa many times. He fractured her nose twice. She went to the Prosecutor’s Office repeatedly, but officers told her once that her file was missing—and another day that they had no paper to print a report.
“Melissa’s death was avoidable,” her mother and her sisters declare. They preferred not to reveal their names when claiming the body at the Bello Monte Morgue.