“I could barely stand to walk. They did me a lot of damage. I started bleeding that ran like a river, because of all the violations I suffered by all those people from Xococ.” This and others were part of the testimonies narrated for the first time before a court 40 years later by a group of Achí women, in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, victims of those abuses.
Four decades must have passed until, on Monday, January 24, the High Risk Court A handed down a sentence of 30 years in prison against five former military patrolmen, when they were found guilty of sexual assaults against Achí women during 1981 to 1983 in various towns of Rabinal , during the Internal Armed Conflict.
The hugs and tears after learning of the ruling were even more symbolic. “I feel calm because the judge heard our testimony that we have suffered. We started the fight in 2011, we have been fighting for 10 years and we have to keep looking for justice. It is an obligation that we return everything past. That the relatives do not continue to threaten us,” said one of the victims.
Finding justice, even if it is a long time later, is just one example of impunity in general in the country, but in particular in which thousands of women in Guatemala do not suffer the same fate.
Sexual violence constitutes a historical, social and cultural problem of great dimensions that mainly affects women and children. Every year, the institutions document thousands of cases, every year the number of victims increases.
The data, those cold numbers that weigh so much, show us a reality that hits the sector that is the majority in a country where machismo continues to prevail.
In this sense, three institutions provided the following statistics, from January to December 2021.
The Public Ministry (MP) recorded a total of 9,469 aggrieved women last year. The departments with the highest incidence were: Guatemala (2,119 cases), Huehuetenango (911) and Alta Verapaz (894).
In the same period, the INACIF report on medical evaluations for sexual crimes records 7,983 cases, of which 91% are women. In children between 0 and 14 years of age (boys and girls) it represented 52% of the diagnoses made. That is, 11.36 daily violations.
The Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons (SVET) registered a total of 11,185 complaints of sexual violence.
On average, the INACIF reports 22 rapes daily, 91% of the cases are women, 52% correspond to children between 0 and 14 years of age.
As for sentences, the SVET reported a total of 4,083 complaints of this type filed with the Judicial Body during 2021, but only 1,149 sentences were achieved, which is equivalent to 28.1%. However, it does not mean that it corresponds to the total number of complaints, because many trials may come from previous years.
MP statistics show a smaller gap in the case of suspected assault, registering a total of 795 people detained, of which the majority were in Guatemala, San Marcos and Alta Verapaz. While the sentences for rape were 562 cases, less than half reported by the SVET. The departments with the highest records were: Guatemala, Quetzaltenango and Suchitepéquez.
SEXUAL VIOLENCE MAP
Sexual violence mainly affects women and children, in the range of 0 to 14 years. The perpetrators of these acts are mostly men (96%); young people between 15 and 19 years old.
The increase in this type of complaints can be observed in the last five years, according to the annual reports of Inacif. In 2017, more than 8 thousand complaints represented an incidence of 22 daily cases; the following year they increased to 8,157 cases; continued to rise in 2019.
The number of complaints was reduced in 2020, due to confinement, but it was reputed throughout 2021 with an average of 21.8 cases per day, which is equivalent to 1.1 women being victims of rape in the country.
There is a tendency to increase complaints during the last decade, as well as cases handled in the justice and health sectors.
The departments with the highest incidence of cases in 2021 are Guatemala, Huehuetenango and Alta Verapaz, with 52% of the victims being of Ladino origin. The educational, socioeconomic or employment status of the women victims does not register relevant differences, details the study Diagnosis of the problem of sexual violence in Guatemala, by Alina Ramírez Martínez, prepared by a program of the European Union (2018).
The magnitude of this problem can be partially measured by the National Maternal and Child Health Survey 2014-2015, with the exception that it does not record sexual violence in children under 15 years of age, nor does it define modalities. However, it reports that 8.6% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 reported being victims of sexual violence at some point in their lives. This represents 347,811 of the total number of women in that age range, according to the study by Ramírez Martínez.
PERPETRATORS AND POWER
The patriarchal culture normalizes this violence as a mechanism of subjugation of the body and will of women. In addition, situations of social disadvantage are part of the determinants of this violence, explains the expert.
This disadvantage may exist in power relations between victim and aggressor, which occurs due to various factors, such as superiority in age or physical strength of the person who attacks; because of their economic or political power; the use of weapons, for belonging to a group, or for representing an authority figure for the victim.
“Most of the time this power is expressed in the form of coercion, that is, in the form of pressure or threat of violence, to force behavior or a change of will. This pressure can be tacit or explicit and the application of direct physical force is not always required to impose power,” according to the blog of the Venezuelan Association for Alternative Sex Education.
In Guatemala, during the Internal Armed Conflict, sexual violence was used as a weapon and strategy of war; It is estimated that some 30,000 women were affected, especially indigenous women. The cases of Sepur Zarco and the recent case of the Achí women give an account of this crime in which “many victims were dominated by silence, impunity and social stigma,” according to Ramírez Martínez.
NO MEANS NO
Another case that exemplifies the condition of impunity is that of a US citizen who was the victim of rape by the former mayor of Aguacatán, Huehuetenango, Selvin Omar Villatoro Recinos. The crime occurred in 2018, when the victim was 23 years old and she came to collaborate as a volunteer for an international organization in that municipality.
“So I saw him as the highest authority,” said the victim. The rape occurred after a party in which both ended up drunk, but Villatoro Recinos took advantage of this situation and in the midst of the confusion and the young woman’s repeated no, it was impossible against the force of the perpetrator.
The case classified as rape with aggravated sentence, did not achieve a conviction, but rather the provisional closure of the process by the Femicide Court of said department. The trial lawyers consider that despite the evidence presented, political ties have hindered the conviction against Villatoro.
Julia María Arias is a lawyer specializing in sexual and reproductive rights at the Observatory of Sexual and Reproductive Health (OSAR), based in Huehuetenango, and knows the case of the young American. “Nothing justifies. I can be in bed with my boyfriend, but if I don’t want to anymore, it’s no. It doesn’t matter if she’s drunk or sober. Everything would change if only this was respected, ”she affirms. So this is one of the reasons why the system cannot cope with so many victims.
In addition, it clarifies that the sentences issued during 2021 correspond to cases from previous years, not to the complaints filed that year, since on average the process takes around two years.
Decree Law 9-2009 Law Against Sexual Violence, Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons creates the legal framework for crimes of sexual violence. This imposes penalties for rape from 8 to 12 years. In contrast, the crime of sexual assault imposes sentences of 5 to 8 years.
In the last decade, progress has been made on this problem, such as the creation of a specialized legal framework since 2008, with the approval of the Femicide Law (Decree 22-2008), specialized courts, as well as a series of institutions that have made it possible to make the magnitude of the problem visible and address it; although the gaps in prevention and repair are still pending.
On the other hand, there is the gap between the number of complaints and sentences issued, which denotes the impunity of these crimes, Ramírez Martínez emphasizes.
Victoria Maldonado is a project director at OSAR and a survivor of sexual violence. She has a 13-year history as a social worker, accompanying victims with comprehensive support, both in the search for justice and for a dignified mental healing.
“Reparation goes beyond economics, but rather in mental health, it is the most difficult thing to overcome. The girls must regain their confidence, continue their life project”, she exposes. “Therapy helps you heal your heart, improve attitudes and behaviors, but not the subconscious. Sleep disturbance is a constant,” he says.
He considers that the greatest weakness in achieving convictions is attributed to the MP, in the collection of evidence and investigation of the case. Therefore, it is important that the different actors in these cases respond; work on prevention and education in schools and universities; family and community support is strengthened and especially to dispel myths that have not been overcome.
In a lost farm in Alta Verapaz, a 13-year-old girl gave birth to twins. Despite the complaint, the attacker was not arrested. When they finally arrest him, they release him due to lack of evidence. She little understands why her stomach grew or legal proceedings. She now fears for her life and that of her family. She is one of the 2,041 mothers between the ages of 10 and 14 who were victims of rape in 2021.
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22 daily violations are estimated; justice only reaches 28%