Amidst the wave of sexual abuse allegations in social media through the #YoTeCreo hashtag, we published Alexandra Hidalgo’s testimony in Cinco8. We had noticed that the conversation regarding the claims wasn’t only controversial but also focused on the “inappropriate” nature of these testimonies, which many claimed were matters that should be limited to the justice system and shouldn’t go through the social media tribunal, a space where allegations couldn’t be fairly investigated according to the Rule of Law.
So, we wanted to explore this idea to understand it all better:
how’s the legal process behind a sexual violence allegation? Are Venezuelan laws and institutions equipped to handle sexual and gender-based violence cases? Do victims and survivors find justice? Searching for someone who could help us understand this process, we found Alexandra Hidalgo.
Alexandra’s case was relevant for many reasons: she had reported her ex-husband for organizing a gang rape against her (which included four other people) after they signed their divorce. Her ex-husband was an Army colonel, who grew more violent as he advanced his military career over the course of 14 years. After the rape, he was a fugitive for eight years, until he was found and arrested. The judicial process was subject to many irregularities and procedural delays, likely a consequence of his influence as an Army officer. For 17 years, Alexandra fought for justice.
Magaly Vásquez, an expert lawyer on women’s rights who helped draft the Law on Violence against Women and Family, explains that “there’s little information and many weaknesses in the process of filing complaints, especially at the police level, where we find resistance from officials to receive them. Many women don’t have the support of state institutions when making a report, and this is due to a fundamentally social problem. Unfortunately, most women suffer a double victimization process: they are victims of the crime and victims of the system.”
The fourth trial for Alexandra’s case began in May and it was a good opportunity to look at her case, listen to her testimony and her family’s experience. Alexandra was particularly interested in highlighting her current legal situation. She was tired of the media covering the gory details of her husband’s crime against her, and wanted to focus on the other type of aggressions she was experiencing: the judicial violence that had revictimized her over the course of 17 years, that had exposed her and her family to humiliations and risks, and had affected her social life, her career and her mental health.
This week, Alexandra’s case was closed: her aggressor was absolved of the crimes of rape and kidnapping, and the court ordered a new investigation regarding this case… against Alexandra. Why is this relevant? Because today, she’s no longer a revictimized plaintiff, but a state-persecuted survivor.
In the original Cinco8 piece, we listed the many irregularities of her case, many of which were common for anyone with an ongoing legal case in Venezuelan courts: the procedural delays due to the lockdown or power blackouts, hearings cancelled because witnesses, prosecutors, or even judges were declared absent by the court.
Magaly Vásquez talks about the process and waiting times required by law in cases of rape and gender-based violence: “There’s no legal reason for Alexandra’s case to have lasted as long as it has.” Vásquez also points out the lack of official data on how many complaints of gender violence and sexual abuse take place in the country, how many achieve an effective conviction and how many do not. This is one of the fundamental flaws in creating relevant public policies.
But this fourth case that ended up pardoning Alexandra’s ex-husband had some other irregularities that are worth mentioning: she wasn’t allowed to present the case as a plaintiff, and was forced to testify as a witness. This meant she had no right to a defense attorney or any other right as a victim whatsoever, and her lawyers would only be with her as companions. It also meant the weight of her testimony was diluted with the other testimonies, most of them from his colleagues in the Armed Forces. The legal representatives of the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality didn’t show up to any of the hearings, as is their duty to guarantee Alexandra’s trial was being held with a gender perspective and that her rights as a victim were being respected throughout the process.
It’s not the first time Alexandra has had to fight the legal measures against her. Alexandra’s ex-husband’s defense has systematically tried to intimidate her through a total of four criminal proceedings (all of them currently archived) in different instances (Lopna, the National Assembly, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
This time, however, the court’s ruling to investigate Alexandra adds a new layer of difficulties to her case. This decision doesn’t only force her to continue an already long legal battle (and the expensive legal fees that go with it), it also exposes her to arrest and imprisonment. It isolates her from the press and her social media activism as this ruling forbids her to continue publicly discussing the irregularities of her case, which is why we couldn’t get a comment from Alexandra or her defense.
In May, Alexandra was happy to find another opportunity to achieve a conviction against her ex-husband. She kept fighting for a conviction not only because of the cruelty of the crime committed against her, but because of the many death threats against herself and her family, lawyers, and friends. In May she said: “If I tell other women to report abuse, they can easily tell me that it doesn’t work, that I haven’t achieved anything. But at least I know that this man is in prison. And I also know that my case will eventually end, that my wounds will heal. I’m also certain that my case will help prevent this from happening again. We have to set precedents, close our cases. Make them listen.” The problem is, the Venezuelan justice system is not designed for justice.
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