By Johanna Pieper
TW: This article deals with issues such as sexual assaults and gender-based violence.
Don’t walk alone at night; change sides of the street regularly so no one can follow you; don’t get distracted by looking at your phone; walk with a group of friends; don’t get alone into a taxi by yourself; open the windows as soon as you get into the taxi (you don’t want to get intoxicated, do you?); ALWAYS share your location. “Are you getting into the bus dressed like this?” This one was said to me the last time I was in Peru on vacation. It was summer and I was wearing a nice little white dress. But of course, what was I thinking going out like this in a country of rapists?
On October 18th, 2020, a 21-year-old girl went out in Lima, the capital of Peru. She may have done everything “right” by keeping her parents updated and just having a few drinks with her friends. Nevertheless, she became a victim of sexual violence, being raped by five of her male friends. The next day she reported the rape and the results of a toxicology screen proved that she was sedated and therefore, unable to defend herself. This case has been getting much attention in Peru – but why? It is definitely not an exception: in 2017 Lima ranked 5th among the world’s most dangerous megacities for women in a poll conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Also, since the lockdown in March, the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations registered at least 900 cases of rape in the country.
Lawyer Paul Muñoz, who represents one of the rapists, defended their actions by stating: “this girl is a person who likes the social life, I could not say more.” This statement confirms that Peru’s society has been – and still is – a “machista” one, by insinuating that it was the victim’s fault: she deserved it. Since then, the hashtags #MeGustalaVidaSocial (I love the social life) and #PerúPaísdeVioladores (Peru country of rapists) have been trending on Twitter and reposted on Instagram and Facebook. The majority of people posting and condemning this crime are, unfortunately, mainly women, who demand to go out whenever, wherever and with whomever they want, without being sexually assaulted by anyone. If one is brave enough to go through the comments, it is possible to see how Peruvians still justify the actions of the five rapists:
“(…) Stop victimizing yourselves, have them investigated and punished if they are guilty, parties involving 5 men and 1 woman almost always end in the bedroom, it’s another thing to be ashamed about it and then report it as rape.”
“Nobody says you can’t do it [having a social life], you can do it and be aware of crime at the same time, real life is like that my dear, we live with crime, it will always be scary to go out at night, because we can be robbed, killed or raped, being responsible is not limiting, it is what gives us value.”
“Let’s see, I am also a woman, a daughter and in the future perhaps a mother, but to ask for respect, whether you are a man or a woman, you must have respect for others and even more so at this time when there is a virus that is taking away vulnerable lives and that girl who is paying for her irresponsibility in perhaps the cruelest way.”
The Peruvian president, Martín Vizcarra, condemned the acts perpetrated by the five men and strongly criticized Paul Muñoz’s comment. Furthermore, a few days later, a court issued a nine-month preventive detention for the five men. However, a deeper change is needed in order to make the country safer for women and girls. An article published by ReliefWeb in May 2020 discusses the rise in gender-biased violence in Latin America since Covid-19. It emphasizes that “Latin America already has the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, with Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, El Salvador and Bolivia representing 81% of global cases”. Regarding Peru, Human Rights Watch World Report 2020 indicates that violence against women is a great problem and that in 2019, “149 women were victims of femicides”.
In an article published in the Peruvian newspaper La República, Maria Galve recognizes the importance of a deeper cultural change in Peru in order to tackle sexual violence and to fight sexism effectively. She stresses the necessity to implement “real comprehensive sex education” to achieve cultural change. Indeed, sexual education is still considered a taboo topic in Peruvian society. In 2018, a report by the Cayetano Heredia University and the Guttmacher Institute showed that only 8% of teachers were qualified to teach comprehensive sex education in schools and a 2019 survey indicated that 60% of parents considered talking about sexuality to their children a taboo.
50 years ago, the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa started one of his best-selling books, Conversation in the Cathedral, with the following question: “At what precise moment had Peru f***** itself up?” In this book, he discussed deep-rooted problems in Peruvian society, such as corruption and sexism amongst many others. However, these problems are still present nowadays and will probably continue to be in the near future. So next time I find myself in Peru, I will most likely not walk alone at night; will continue changing sides of the street so no one can follow me; won’t get distracted by my phone; won’t get into a taxi alone but if I am in one, I will open the windows; always share my location and probably won’t wear that nice little white dress I like on the streets.