In commemoration of International Women’s Day, JSCA reiterates its commitment to gender equality and the eradication of violence against women in the justice systems of Latin America and the Caribbean. This year, we have decided to focus on femicide.

World Health Organization data show that mistreatment of women is the social phenomenon that takes the highest number of lives each year, and that this is true in every part of the world [1]. Furthermore, 14 of the 25 countries with the highest femicide rates in the world are in Latin America and the Caribbean. Of these crimes, 98% are not processed as femicides, and they often go unpunished [2].

The prevalence of impunity in cases of femicide in the region has led us to examine criminal justice systems more closely and to study the obstacle course that women who are victims of violence and the families of victims of femicide must go through to try to gain access to justice.

The first point of contact for women and family members of victims of femicide tends to be the police. Often, this is where they first face difficulties when trying to have someone investigate the case. Studies show that in most countries, less than 40% of female victims of violence seek help of any kind. Of these, less than 10% go to the police [3].

This translates into a hidden figure of aggressions that do not enter the system. A reading of the cases reveals problems such as delays in filing charges with the appropriate investigative entities, questioning the victim or her family and stereotyped ideas about the facts. The case of the “psychopath of Alto Hospicio” in Chile is emblematic. Despite the complaints made by the victim’s mother, the police refused to investigate the disappearance of a 13 year-old girl. Her mother was told, “Go home, ma’am. Your daughter is begging on the streets of Iquique.” [4] In fact, she was the victim of one of Chile’s most prolific murderers. [5]

The Mexican police behaved in a similar manner in the Campo Algodonero case, dismissing initial complaints about a woman’s disappearance and refusing to investigate the matter until 72 hours had passed. They said it was likely that the victim had left with a boyfriend, referencing a supposed lack of morality of women who go missing or blaming the victim for her disappearance because of where she worked, her prior behavior, the fact that she was out alone or simply stating that loose women’s disappearances were not important. [6]

If the case passes the first filter, reports of abuse or femicide face similar obstacles in public prosecutor’s offices and other agencies that handle criminal investigations. One of the recurrent problems is the entity’s refusal to classify a femicide as such. UNAM statistics show that only 3.39% of all murders of girls and women were reported as femicides in 2016 [7], and researchers concluded that “the difference in the number of investigation files shows that there is a decision not to investigate violent deaths of women as femicides.” [8].

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights also has identified problemssuch as failing to conduct key tests that would allow the responsible parties to be identified, allowing officials who are either not competent or not impartial to oversee investigations, focusing exclusively on physical evidence and witness testimonies, and refusing to believe the victim’s version of the facts. This translates into a low number of cases in which the investigation is initiated and judicial proceedings are held. [9]

As the prosecution conducts the investigation, the defense is mounted. The defense regularly presents re-victimizing evidence and arguments based on gender stereotypes or myths about sexual violence. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled against the use of irrelevant and stereotyped evidence in the case Veliz Franco et al. vs Guatemala given that the defense had investigated how a teenager dressed, her social life and her religious beliefs.

One of the clearest examples of this sort of behavior was the attempted femicide of Nabila Rifo (Chile). In that case, the defense argued that the crime should be reclassified, stating that, “If you analyze it logically, from the perspective of the sentence, it would have been less expensive to kill her than to let her live.” [10] The defense later conducted an exhaustive examination of the victim’s sex life in order to provide a list of individuals other than the defendant who could have committed the crime [11].

The defense in the case of Lucía Pérez (Argentina) presented a similar set of arguments. Attorneys discussed the victim’s personality and sex life in order to dispute the rape accusation. “Lucía had sex with men she hardly knew, but that happened because she chose it and when she wanted it.” [12] The goal was to discredit a specific hypothesis through the examination of prior conduct unrelated to the case. This argument is frequently used and lacks a gender perspective.

The final stage of the search for justice by women and relatives of femicide victims consists of the judge’s ruling and the role that they play at trial. Judges continue to engage with anachronistic stereotypes and display sexist prejudices.

In Argentina, the sentence issued in the Lucía Pérez case was based on arguments that alluded to the teenager’s sex life. “The chats mentioned clearly show that Lucía had sex with whomever she wanted and whenever she wanted.” The judge also discussed her personality: “Lucía did not act her age and referred to having sex with men as old as 29.” [14].

Despite the fact that numerous protocols stress the importance of judging with a gender perspective, both Superior Courts and first instance courts must reinforce their efforts to eradicate this sort of argument from their sentences.

We encourage justice system stakeholders to address this reality and take the necessary steps to ensure that women and their families have effective access to justice that is free of revictimization, stereotypes and sexist practices.


NOTES

1 https://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2016/11/25/la-violencia-contra-las-mujeres-en-america-latina-el-desolador-panorama/

2 https://news.un.org/es/story/2018/09/1442602

3 https://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/worldswomen.html

4 https://www.eldesconcierto.cl/2018/07/29/alto-hospicio-las-heridas-que-no-cierran/

5 http://www.eleditor.net/mundo-del-crimen/el-psicopata-asesino-de-alto-hospicio/

6 http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_205_esp.pdf

7 http://www.pudh.unam.mx/perseo/diagnostico-de-acceso-a-la-justicia-y-violencia-feminicida-para-coadyuvar-a-disminuir-la-impunidad-en-mexico-principal-obstaculo-que-impide-a-las-mujeres-acceder-a-la-justicia/

8 Ibid.

9 https://www.cidh.oas.org/women/Acceso07/cap2.htm

10 https://www.elmostrador.cl/braga/2017/06/22/por-que-los-dichos-del-abogado-defensor-de-mauricio-ortega-son-tan-graves-y-han-sido-cuestionados-hasta-por-la-presidenta/

11 https://www.eldinamo.com/nacional/2017/03/23/pregunta-sobre-su-vida-sexual-a-nabila-rifo-desato-durisimas-reacciones-sexo-anal-sexo-vaginal/

12 https://www.eldesconcierto.cl/2018/11/27/lucia-tenia-sexo-con-quien-queria-y-otras-frases-para-negar-un-femicidio/

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

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