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The paradox of ‘economic development’ and the reality of violence against women in Latin America and Peru. A special report by Christian Guzmán, Latin America Development Mentor, Misean Cara.

During the last 6-8 years, Latin America has been pointed as being one of the regions with the highest economic growth. In fact, before the current phase of economic slowdown linked to cases of mega corruption in the region and the fall of the commodities prices in the international market, some countries such as Peru, Brazil or Chile were praised by international banks for having achieved sustained macroeconomic growth figures.

However, in this context of apparent bonanza, physical and sexual violence against young girls, adolescents and adult women in Latin America is one of the greatest challenges for the development of our nations and for the realisation of the full potential for at least half of our entire population. It represents one of the largest systematic violations of human rights for women and is, alongside chronic malnutrition, one of the main obstacles to obtaining good educational results among children and adolescents according to studies produced by the international Project Young Lives[1] and GRADE[2].

Approximately one out of every two urban women in Lima has suffered some form of physical and/or sexual violence throughout their life

The prevalence of violence against women in our countries can be so overwhelming that, for example, in Peru, the WHO[3] estimates that approximately one out of every two urban women in Lima has suffered some form of physical and/or sexual violence throughout their life. This same organisation points out that this figure in rural settings can be as high as two out of three women. Some investigations in specific localities have allowed us to estimate that the gap between prevalence and reporting can be as brutal as only 2% of cases reported to the police[4].

The Ministry of Women itself has estimated that around 90% of complaints of sexual violence go unpunished

There are multiple factors intervening at the same time, producing a highly complex and severe situation. In this report, we highlight only two: On the one hand, a weak institutional framework that favours the inefficiency of the intervention system against violence, generating a profound sense of distrust on the part of the victims, based on concrete situations of impunity of the aggressors in the midst of processes in which the victims often fail to obtain justice. In fact, the Ministry of Women itself has estimated that around 90% of complaints of sexual violence go unpunished. And on the other hand, a cultural problem linked to a notion of masculinity centred on the ability to exercise power over women. And a socio-cultural environment which teaches boys, since their earliest ages, to see women as objects.

The following report contains details some readers may find distressing.

The tragedy of Juliana as an expression of the failure of our system

An unfortunate and recent case in Peru depicts all the above in a very concrete and deeply sad way. Last week an 11-year-old girl, whom we will call Juliana, had participated in a craft workshop inside a police station in San Juan de Lurigancho (an enormous district on the periphery of Lima, with approximately 1 million inhabitants). On her way home she was abducted from outside the front of the police station. Her abductor was a neighbour who worked cleaning cars on that street. That evening, the girl’s family reported in the media that Juliana had been missing since the morning and the police were not working to find her. The next morning a taxi driver reported a suspicious fire a few blocks from the same police station where Juliana was last seen, in an abandoned space used for garbage. The fire came from Juliana’s body.

Juliana’s family states[5] that the autopsy performed on her body found biological traces from three different men. Juliana had been abducted, raped, murdered and incinerated within a radius of less than 1 kilometre from the police station. We now know that the rapist was following her for several blocks on a bicycle before abducting her. And we know this because Juliana’s own family, facing the police’s inaction, had to watch security videos from private cameras located in the homes of different neighbours in the area. They had to gather the material by themselves and identify, in the midst of their pain, how their little relative had been the victim of a predator. If the police would have done their work on time and started a diligent search and investigation, they would have seen these videos, and the police officers themselves would have immediately recognised the aggressor, as they saw him daily in front of the police station. This terrible outcome might have been prevented. In addition, we now also know that Juliana’s rapist has a criminal record with two other complaints of rape remaining unpunished. Actually, that rapist was very kind to this particular police station and to some of the police officers who work there because he was a key informant in some police investigations.

A very necessary beam of hope from our partners

The previous case clearly portrays the complex scenarios in which some of Misean Cara’s partners in Peru, who intervene in one way or another in relation to this issue, are currently working.

This is the case of the Columban Fathers and the Saint Bernadette organisation, located in peri-urban areas from northern Lima. They have 30 years of experience working to combat violence and child sexual abuse in the community. They have a shelter for girls, boys and adolescent victims of rape and sexual abuse at home. In addition, they conduct a remedial school for children with learning difficulties, and a community house for children and adolescents providing multiple services for community outreach. Also, based on their experience, they have been developing prevention activities to build capacities within community organisations (schools, police stations, sports clubs, etc.) so they, in turn, generate and implement clear child safeguarding protocols to prevent more stories like Juliana’s. Their experience and impact are widely recognised, not only by the direct beneficiaries of their programs and services, but also by the wider community and organisations working against gender-based violence.

Given the social context they have to face, it is easily understandable why for some of the direct beneficiaries of their services, finding Saint Bernadette is seen as a sort of ‘miracle’. Especially having in mind they are people who have to cope with the unveiling of sexual violence or abuse situation within their own families, and at the same time have to deal with a legal system which is often inefficient and utterly unfair. Thus, the role of the Columban Fathers is quite fundamental and brings a very high value to society, hardly calculable in purely quantitative terms. As in the case of the efforts undertaken in the projects implemented by the Christian Brothers / Edmund Rice Development and the De La Salle Brothers within schools of the Faith & Joy consortium in peri-urban and rural Lima, Cusco and Andahuaylas.

In all cases, these projects aim to strengthen the duty bearers’ ability to protect the safety of children within their schools and the community, through a comprehensive strategy that includes intensive workshops with students to strengthen key social skills that enable them to prevent, respond and take care of each other in the face of violence and abuse. There is also intensive work with teachers, parents and community organisations to implement concrete child safeguarding policies and protocols of action for the prevention and intervention in cases of violence and abuse against girls and boys who are part of their educational communities.

Special report by Christian Guzmán, Latin America Development Mentor, Misean Cara.

[1] http://repositorio.iep.org.pe/bitstream/IEP/726/2/escobal_quiensequedaatras.pdf

[2] http://biblioteca.clacso.edu.ar/Peru/grade/20161013054437/Di82.pdf

[3] http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/43310/1/9241593512_eng.pdf

[4] http://promsex.org/images/docs/Publicaciones/EstudioMazanViolencia.pdf

[5] http://larepublica.pe/sociedad/1180174-padre-de-nina-de-sjl-mi-hija-fue-violada-por-tres-personas-video