Opening a blind eye to femicide

November 25, 2013

Guatemala City, Guatemala

By Jorge Dan Lopez

Violence and death are always present and tangible in Guatemala. The population seems to accept it as normal, even more so when women are the victims. In many cases, society simply ignores it, sits in silence or turns a blind eye.

Many men treat women as if they have no rights, thinking it unusual that someone should be punished or fined for beating, raping or killing them.

In Guatemala, violence against women generally starts behind the walls of their own homes. The aggressors in most cases are the men closest to them: fathers, brothers, cousins and partners.

There are now laws to protect women but there is little education, information or willingness to report crimes. The male perpetrators themselves often don’t seem to understand why they are being arrested. Prosecutors told me that they often hear from men accused of such crimes: “Why am I being arrested? I only hit my wife.”

The accused normally say they won’t do it again but, according to prosecutors, women who take back abusive partners are often hurt, or even killed, by the same man.

On July 12, 20-year-old Ruth, who worked in a fast-food restaurant, left her house early in the morning. Her dead body was found later on a nearby street. It’s said she was shot by members of the street gang Mara 18. Only a dog came to her defense. It apparently tried to bite the hit-man, who shot the dog in the foot. The animal was treated by a paramedic and now lives in Ruth’s home with her family.

In May 2012, authorities urged the female population not to go out alone, warning them about car thieves who apparently only stole cars from women. By the end of May, it was clear that the car thieves were also raping the women from whom they stole cars. The thieves would also steal the victims’ money and the cars were always found abandoned, some days later.

The men were put on trial in a special court for gender-based crimes and were convicted on 14 counts of rape and an equal number of kidnappings of women between ages 19 and 26. The women were kidnapped in the evenings, raped in the cars and then taken to ATM machines to withdraw money.

During the trial, it was reported that the men had committed more rapes than they were formally being accused of, because women don’t come forward easily. Sometimes they are deeply ashamed or terrified that their assailant will leave jail too soon and take revenge.

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