Colombian woman protests sexual violence

Protesters are standing in front of the graffiti and reading

Women have been at the forefront of the wave of anti-government protests

A woman away from the protesting group felt pulling a homemade flag she wore as a cape during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Bogotá early on June 3.

“A group of about eight policemen surrounded me,” said a woman who asked her to withhold her name for security reasons. “One of them said:” This is good for rape. “

“He had a pellet gun and was bringing it closer to me. I told him to do it,” she said rebelliously. “He just wanted to scare me,” she explained, adding that other protesters came to help her shortly after the police threatened her.

The threat of verbal abuse, sexual violence and discrimination has not been an isolated case in the wave of anti-government protests that have spread throughout Colombia since April 28.

At least 113 gender-based violences have occurred, according to reports from the Ombudsman office, a government agency responsible for overseeing the protection of civil rights and human rights.

“They started calling us complaints, whores, and women,” Carla Cardoso said of the abuse that police officers threw at her and other women during an anti-government protest in Medellín on May 20. Told. “They asked us what we were doing at night and threatened to kill us,” says a 25-year-old student.

Protesters wearing gas masks at Medell & # xed; n on June 2, 2021

The 19-year-old protester said she decided to continue the march

And according to Temblores, an NGO that monitors police violence, it’s not necessarily a threat. The NGO said it had received reports from 28 protesters who claimed to have been sexually abused by members of security forces. They include allegations of being forced to be naked, groped, and raped.

Seven allegations of sexual violence by security forces are currently being investigated by the Attorney General’s office. Among them is the case of a 17-year-old girl who was allegedly sexually abused by police in Popayan. The girl committed suicide the day after the abuse.

Linda Cabrera, director of the feminist organization Sisma Mujer, states that the purpose of gender-based violence is to spread fear to women and discourage them from protesting. However, many women are not deterred. They say that violence, if anything, made them more determined to play an important role in the demonstrations.

Some organize vigilance and sit-in, while others march directly in front of the demonstrators. But many say they feel vulnerable to protests, especially when they are alone.

Women raise their arms in Medell's protest on May 18, 2021

Women have been at the forefront of many demonstrations

Allegations of sexual attacks on protesters are nothing new to this latest wave of protests. Temblores states that he received 132 reports of sexual violence committed by police between 2017 and 2021. NGOs say the evidence collected suggests that they were pre-meditation and routinely adjusted by a group of police officers in a closed space.

Catherine Acosta, a 23-year-old student from Medellín, says she was the victim of such an attack in June 2020. She told the BBC that she had been arrested after calling a police officer for spraying an aerosol can on her face of paint during anti-government protests.

“When you enter the station, [the police officer] Touching me everywhere, my chest, my intimate part, he pushed his penis against me. “

Vinegar was sprayed on a woman's face to counteract the effects of tear gas in a protest in Medell on June 2, 2021.

Protesters use vinegar to counteract the effects of tear gas

The BBC has filed a motion of sexual violence by police officers with the Colombian Inspector General, which oversees the behavior of workers in the public sector.

“No matter who the victim or perpetrator is, sexual violence is blamed and violates human rights,” he said.

When asked if sexual violence was a systematic issue within the police, the Inspector General’s office, which is currently in charge of investigating allegations, found studies and quantitative results suggesting such patterns. Said not.

Earlier this month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) sent a team to Colombia to investigate allegations of excessive force use by police during protests.

Prior to its arrival, President Ivan Duque proposes a series of police reforms, including the creation of a human rights bureau led by international experts, a better system for following up on civil complaints, and increased disciplinary standards for officers. did.

Police officer protesting in Medell on May 18, 2021

Rights groups called for dismantling riot police

However, these reforms have not yet been approved by the Council of the District of Columbia, and their passage is uncertain.

Rights groups also point out that police are still under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense, even if the reforms pass, and cases of abuse continue to be judged by military courts and are considered problematic.

Rights groups also believe that more must be done to address Colombia’s immunity level.

Acosta submitted a report to the police, but many victims are hesitant to report cases of sexual violence because very few perpetrators are punished. According to Sisma Mujer, 90% of sexual violence reports submitted in 2020 (including Mr. Acosta’s report) have not progressed beyond the initial investigation phase.

Two women take pictures during protest at Medell & # xed; n on May 19, 2021

Despite the risks, women are not discouraged from protesting

Human rights lawyer Carolina Martínez said many victims are also afraid that there may be retaliation for their remarks and that they may become victims again.

Medellín’s human rights advocates, who asked to withhold her name, told the BBC that she had been sexually assaulted by a doctor while being examined at the Colombian Forensic and Forensic Institute.

She went to a laboratory attached to the Attorney General’s office in Colombia and recorded the injuries she said she had suffered when police used excessive force during the protests she attended.

And security forces are not the only ones accused of sexual violence during protests. In the city of Cali, a group of protesters are being investigated for the sexual assault of female police officers.

Bogotá protesters, who allegedly faced the threat of rape by police officers, said they had been sexually assaulted by fellow male protesters days after their encounter with police.

“Being a woman means being exposed to this. There is a risk of being raped by a police officer or someone actually when you go out to protest.”

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