On the basis that it is recognised that there is a close link between the powerful and children subjected to sexual exploitation, the justice system in Uruguay is trying to prevent it being normalised by prosecuting a network of high-profile abusers.
Even though this behaviour was always kind of like an open secret, when the discovery of the body of a missing teenager was investigated, it was discovered that in November 2019 he had reported a former juvenile judge as an exploiter, but nothing happened with his case at that time.
However, this was the driving force that pushed the prosecutor Darviña Viera to get to the bottom of such corruption, and to carry out, with the police, Operation Océano in which a number of unsuspected names came up.
There were arrests, people were accused and charged, among them, in addition to the former judge mentioned above, affluent businessmen, successful well-off professionals, former senior state officials, and active members of the National and Colorado parties, members of the right-wing coalition government.
The total reached 20 but the prosecutor assured that there are more men under investigation and indicated a total of 30 that will be called in for questioning.
This shows the magnitude of the situation, the unravelling of the thread through Operation Océano.
According to a secret summary which has come to light, there was a series of dating arrangements in apartments in Punta del Este and Montevideo through complicit mistresses, web pages and WhatsApp with disguised offers and seized mobile phones and details of gifts and prices.
One of the messages, under the name ‘clientele’, read: “I have a confirmed teenager. And I have information that there could be more teenagers” to sexually exploit. Investigations carried out by the Department of Cyber Crime relating to Organised Crime revealed that one victim was having conversations with a number of adults.
Within these conversations there were chats with the 20 people already charged with paying or intending to pay a teenager to carry out sexual or erotic acts.
A recent expert report showed that this type of sexual violence demonstrates a relationship of power, subjugation and a serious violation of human rights, particularly given that the victims are generally women, girls, boys and teenagers.
Different types of remuneration were described, not only cash but also in kind; food, shelter, yacht trips, the use of images in pornographic material, public or private sex shows or parties, forced couples and marriages and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
In Uruguay, on average, 350 reports of child sexual exploitation are made each year. However, the organisations responsible for combating this problem explain that this is under-recorded due to the inability of many people to report such exploitation and the power that the exploiters have over their victims.
According to the director of the NGO El Paso, Andrea Tuana, this entire system is underpinned by what she calls a “culture of violence”.
In this regard, focussing on the messages and photos on WhatsApp, the sexualisation of minors, the legitimacy of violent conduct against them, the gender-based violence which translates into victim blaming for what they had on, for where they were walking or mentioning it to their families.
The latest arrests included a prominent member of the National Party, images were shared on networks in which he appeared with many other prominent figures, standing out amongst them, the current president Luis Lacalle Pou.
Earlier photos of one of the accused rich businessmen that were shared on social media show him meeting up socially with the current chancellor Ernesto Talvi and the current candidate of the right-wing coalition at the Montevideo City Hall, Laura Raffo.
Another is linked to a web of artistic show producers who was mentioned in a separate plot of government telephone tapping which forced the vice president, Beatriz Argimón, to give explanations to the public, as requested by the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) parliamentary bench.
Under-age people, in accordance with Law 17.815 currently in force in Uruguay, are not able to consent to sexual relations with older people. This constitutes exploitation.
UNICEF mentions that another factor which prevents the reporting of child sexual exploitation is that the exploiters are usually in positions of power and use fear and violence to silence their victims. (PL)
(Translated by Corrine Harries – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Pixabay