Guatemala…. Doña Ernestina begs; pleading with all her heart that her daughter is returned to her. She holds up a poster against her face with a photo of Lucecita on it, so that the suspected kidnappers might see this on the tv and return her darling daughter to her.
Maitte Marrero Canda
The young girl of just 20 years old ‘disappeared’ five months ago, when she left work just after 10pm to make her way home. Until now authorities have only found the motorcycle she was riding home on and her ID on the bank of a river.
Many people may think that it was very late for a young girl to be going home alone in a country where danger shows its face daily, but similar cases happen in broad daylight as attested by the Guatemalan TV channel TN23, where stories are always told with a morbid leaning. Sadly, Lucecita wasn’t the exception in 2017. She joins the list of at least 500 women killed by the end of the year, a figure which also includes many cases of young girl and teenage pregnancies; the majority of which are a result of sexual abuse.
In 2016 there were 1,161 reported cases of femicide, an increase in the figures from 2014 and 2015 by 876 and 867 respectively, according to official data.
Between January and October 2017, the Public Ministry received 10’963 reports of sexual abuse against women, teenagers and young girls; a figure that reached approximately 13’634 the year before.
The National Register of People reported that from January to September 54’114 young girls and teenagers between the ages of 10-19 fell pregnant. 1’826 of those were between the ages of 10-14.
According to the United Nations, the number of cases being reported is going up because more women are deciding to break their silence about abuse despite pressure from family and spouses.
The National Institute of Forensic Science claimed that, on their part, of the 718 forensic examinations undertaken up until September, 38% were for sexual abuse and 36% for continued rape.
Of the reports filed by the Public Ministry, the highest figures correspond to violence (91%), rape (83), sexual assault (75), threats (59) and child abuse (55).
Sources from the Attorney’s Office of Human Rights warn that the phenomenon is a concern not only due to the misogynistic characteristics it presents, but also because the number of victims has remained at a very high level since 2013.
In 2016 65% of violent deaths of women were committed with a firearm and 61% of the women were aged between 13-29.
Guatemala registered 48% of of victims, followed by Chiquimula, Retalhuleu, San Marcos and Petén, a trend that continues today.
Attorney General Thelma Aldana, who has contributed to the establishment of a special network of courts throughout the country to deal specifically with cases of femicide, argues that the difference in Guatemala between the murder of a man and of a woman tends to be that women are made to suffer before their death; they are raped, mutilated and beaten.
Road of injustice
The phenomenon is highly complex because it depends on people reporting the crimes for them to be visible.
Moreover, this is still a rather backwards culture that maintains a machista society, in which women are destined for more servile roles.
It also affects the long stretch of the chain of justice that intervenes in a process of violence against women, all the way from reporting the crime up to sentencing.
Generally, a case can be ongoing for months and in some instances, for years; from joining the waiting list maintained by the judiciary to assign a capture order hearing, a competent judge, and then waiting for a date for the oral public hearing.
According to figures from the Prosecutor’s Office for Childhood and Adolescence, in October 180 cases for crimes related to children and adolescents were awaiting a hearing in the Criminal Court of First Instance for Crimes of Femicide and other forms of Violence Against Women, Sexual Violence, Exploitation and Human Trafficking.
According to Norma Ramírez Andrade, Deputy Section Prosecutor of that unit, these unilateral hearings are mainly to request arrest warrants, search warrants, and first statement citations for people involved in any report. This court alone deals with all of the reports made from the central region (capital) and the municipalities of the department of Guatemala,
The problem, according to the prosecutor, is that if one of the processes goes on for more than three or four months, the victim that made the report has to go back to the prosecutor and testify all over again and repeat the process. (PL)
(Translated by Eleanor Gooch)