Why reports of abuses committed against political prisoners in the region are only now being heard
Why was the sexual violence that was committed principally against women during the Latin American military dictatorships from the 1960s until the 1980s not a topic of debate immediately following the transition to democracy and has only in recent years become the subject of deeper reflection and closer attention? This article intends to organise elements of the response to this question, reflecting on the particular nature of sexual crime, how memories of political violence have taken shape over time and the transformation of the concept of gender violence within international and legal bodies in Latin American countries. It concludes that attention to this type of crime could only be given after a series of social and legal changes had been brought about in equality and gender and argues that, although there has been considerable progress, important advances still need to be made in bringing acts of violence, particularly against women, to light.
I repeat, they have been raping me since the conception of state terrorism.22. Testimony by C.G. apud Claudia Bacci et al., …Y nadie quería saber. Relatos sobre violencia contra las mujeres en el terrorismo de Estado en Argentina (Buenos Aires: Memoria Abierta, 2012), 86.
Brazil, election campaign 2016. A local council candidate for a left wing party, in the city of São Paulo, who had worked as a civil servant for 26 years, tells a columnist at the Folha de São Paulo newspaper that she had heard that she deserved to be raped and tortured. “I was told that Colonel (Carlos Brilhante) Ustra tortured people who deserved it, such as feminists.”33. Mônica Bergamo, “‘Feministas merecem tortura’, ouve candidata à Câmara Municipal em SP.” Folha de S.Paulo, 2 October 2016, accessed 2 October 2016, http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/colunas/monicabergamo/2016/10/1818623-feministas-merecem-tortura-ouve-candidata-a-camara-municipal-em-sp.shtml. Lieutenant Colonel Ustra was head of the Deployment of Information Operations, in one of the principal centres of torture in São Paulo during the military dictatorship. This brutal comment, made naturally during the ordinary course of an election campaign, sums up the components of the discussion this article proposes to investigate: the connection between political torture and sexual crime; rape as a weapon in political combat in its wider sense (used against militants of social causes and gender equality); the idea of putting a woman “in her place” using sexual violence, and the continued existence of representations that reflect the most conservative aspects of the military dictatorships of Latin America from the 1960s until the 1980s, despite progress made by the feminist movement. These elements can be used in attempting to answer the question posed by the authors of the book …y Nadie Quería Saber (… And no-one wanted to know): why did it take so long for the women who suffered during the military dictatorships to have their testimonials heard, in the public sphere?44. Bacci et al., …y nadie quería saber, 16. However, an inversion of terms is proposed. What has changed in recent years for these testimonials to be heard by society?
In the sexual violence55. Sexual violence, for the purposes of this article, is understood to be verbal aggressions of obscene nature, rape, sexual abuse and practices related to the impregnation of women. used during the military dictatorships there was an intersection between, on the one hand, the specific history of political repression against leftist militants who, within the context of the Cold War, proposed a revolutionary solution to the serious problems facing the countries of Latin America, and, on the other, persistent gender inequality. Because of the latter, sexual violence tended to be obscured, particularly in cases such as Guatemala, which experienced armed conflict from 1962 to 1996 and where gender violence combined with another enduring form of violence, racism against indigenous populations. “Racism played a fundamentally important role in the forms adopted for gender violence against Mayan women.”66. Ana González, “Guatemala: violencia de género, genocidio y racismo,” in Violencia de género en contextos de represión politica y conflictos armados, org. María Sonderéguer (Bernal: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, 2012): 55.
In Guatemala the extensive nature of sexual violence as a strategy of repression, as well as testimonies, made it possible to deduce that soldiers had received orders from superiors to violate women. In the Southern Cone, however, it took decades for the notion of the routine practice of sexual violence, principally against women, to be substantiated.
Ieda Akselrud de Seixas, imprisoned and tortured in a repressive centre in Rio de Janeiro, told the Comissão Nacional da Verdade do Brasil (The Brazilian National Commission of Truth):
I suffered sexual abuse in the bathroom. Everyone knows already. I can tell this story because there are lots of testimonies. But I look a long time to realise that that was sexual abuse, do you know why? I played that episode down because, after all it wasn’t the ‘parrot’s perch’, or electric shock or the cadeira de dragão. It’s really crazy! It’s really crazy!77. Comissão Nacional da Verdade, Relatório final da Comissão Nacional da Verdade (Brasília: Presidência da República, 2014): capítulo 10, 418-9.
This ex-prisoner’s discourse demonstrates two important points. Firstly, that at the time, she evaluated the violence that she experienced as secondary, in comparison to other types of violence. Why did she consider it to be secondary? Because gender violence, like domestic violence, is commonplace. In their book …y Nadie Quería Saber, the authors express this trend using a phrase commonly used by Argentinian women who have been in clandestine detention centres: “…and they raped me too”, as a kind of addendum to other violence suffered.88. Bacci et al., …y nadie quería saber, 21.
The second point is understood in the repeated interjection “It’s really crazy!” It is a plausible hypothesis to assume that the element that she had not grasped was not the sexual nature of the abuse, but that this form of violence constituted a separate category. This is one of the changes that should be noted, absent at that time and necessary so that this type of political violence could be heard by society – the recognition of the specific and separate nature of sexual violence as a crime.
While torture was invested with a political meaning which, in spite of everything, afforded the victim some dignity, the boundaries between public and private life were blurred in the case of sexual crime. It does not seem untoward to suppose that the rationale of many of the women affected was that under those circumstances, being men, the repressors “took advantage of the situation” to abuse them, even because as Olívia Rangel Joffily states
In the concrete confrontation with the established body of power, leftist militants came up against deep-rooted dominant representations in inequalities between sexual categories. These were very often reproduced in the discourse and practice of male security officers.99. Olívia Rangel Joffily, A esperança equilibrista. Resistência feminina à ditadura militar no Brasil (Florianópolis: Insular, 2016): 130.
It is certainly not possible to establish a hierarchy between different forms of violence, but it has to be recognised that this type of crime encroaches on the person’s intimacy. Within the context of the social framework sexual abuse has usually been seen subjectively as a private issue and not as a part of state violence, which has isolated political prisoners affected by it, in their suffering.1010. Note on the original Portuguese use of language: I use the feminine plural here as women were the preferred target of sexual violence. In order to not disregard that men were also the target of this type of crime, I include them in a generalised plural. The surprise that Ieda Akselrud de Seixas reveals to us is that she did not realise at the time it was happening that what she was experiencing was of a political nature and not an individual one.
One of the big problems of sexual crime lies in the fact that suspicion also falls on the person affected. If survivors of extreme situations were burdened with guilt for not having met with the same destiny as their dead or disappeared comrades, those who suffered sexual violence found it difficult to remove themselves from a feeling of responsibility for the traumatic experience, which tended to isolate them in a private world of shame. The journalist Miriam Lewin who was held captive in one of the most infamous clandestine detention centres in Argentina, under constant threat of death, relates how social incomprehension about the condition of political prisoners made it difficult to politicise the abuse they had suffered:
The weight of this probable [social] condemnation affected us, the prisoners who had disappeared, and we remained silent for a long time. We could not even talk openly on the subject between ourselves, because we did not understand what had happened, neither afterwards, nor during captivity. We still do not understand what happened so we were not able to explain clearly. We did not understand that in this context there was no possibility of exercising sexual liberty, without conditioning or coercion. Even today we hear an inner and outer voice that tells us there was a choice, that there was a margin for resistance or consent in that situation; that there was an option, that we were not the defenseless prisoners of our captors in an environment of a system of terror, within a society in which power was held by men. And where, moreover, our compatriots, men and women, both in prison and outside, both in the country and in exile would certainly classify us as prostitutes and traitors if we talked.1111. Miriam Lewin and Olga Wornat, Putas y guerrilleras (Buenos Aires, Planeta, 2014): 21-2. Mírian Lewin referring to the condition of sexual slavery that women experienced in the Escola Mecânica Armada (ESMA), under military commanders.
When evoking the incomprehension and probably moral condemnation of her comrades, Lewin casts light on one particular aspect of sexual abuse. It is a type of violence that establishes shame on the part of the person who has been violated, as though the victim had some degree of participation and is in some way contaminated with the ignominy of the act.1212. In Brazil, where, according to official data, a woman is raped every 11 minutes, research carried out by the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada in 2014 showed that 65.1 per cent of those interviewed believed that women who show their bodies “deserve to be attacked”. In 2016, another piece of research, carried out by Datafolha at the request of the Brazilian Forum for Public Safety, stated that 37 per cent of those interviewed, 30 per cent of whom where women – agreed with the statement “A woman who wears provocative clothing cannot complain if she is raped”. Fernanda Mena, “One third of Brazilians blame women when they are raped,” Folha de S.Paulo, 21 September 2016.
The diverse testimonials contained in Nunca más (Never Again), describing practices of sexual violation in front of comrades, parents and children, show moreover that the practice has a shaming and humiliating effect which encompasses the nuclear family, not to mention the terrible effects of an unwanted pregnancy. In Guatemala, “some consequences of sexual violence, recorded in testimonies to the CEH (Commission for Historic Clarification), were: rupture in marital ties; abandonment of women who had been raped, by the community; ‘social isolation and collective shame’, abortions, filicide.”1313. González, “Guatemala”, 59. For these reasons silence and brevity in referring to sexual violence was also due to efforts to protect family members from public knowledge of a dishonourable fact that affected everyone.
In addition to a society which was poorly equipped on the topic of sexual abuse, the democratic transitions, a time of tension and of social reorganisation, led survivors and ex-political prisoners to impose an agenda of denouncing the deaths and disappearances of their comrades. The focus of the first commissions on truth were, therefore, aimed at this group of victims. In Argentina, the famous Trial of the Juntas concentrated on proving the responsibility of the state and the systematic nature of the forced disappearance of thousands of citizens. It was only from 1995, with the Juicios por la Verdad, a response by sectors of civil society to the clemency laws of President Carlos Menem, that survivors started to speak up and relate their personal experiences.
In Peru women denounced what had happened to their comrades and children but not to themselves: “This silence, as can be imagined, was even worse in cases of sexual violence, when shame, the fear of stigma and feelings of guilt complicated the narrative.”1414. Julissa Mantilla Falcón, “La violencia contra las mujeres y la Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación del Perú”, in Violencia de género en contextos de represión politica y conflictos armados, org. María Sonderéguer (Bernal: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, 2012): 65. This attitude originated in the gender position they occupied in Peruvian society and the shared concept of their social role: “Sexual abuse, humiliation and other abuses to which they were exposed in this research were not seen by these women as facts to be denounced, but as the consequence of something they should do, that is to say, as mothers and wives.”1515. Ibid., 66. The adoption of an explicit strategy of incorporation of a gender viewpoint was needed in making it possible to talk about this type of violence, according to the report of the Comisión de Verdad y Reconciliación (Commission of Truth and Reconciliation): “[…] it was fundamental to recognise the effects that political violence had had on the Peruvian men and women, understanding the different way in which their human rights had been affected during the period […]”1616. Comisión de Verdad y Reconciliación, apud Falcón, “La violencia contra las mujeres y la Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación del Perú”, 66.
This is not say that sexual violence had been totally silent. Well known reports such as “Nunca más” (Never again), produced by the official truth commissions in Argentina and Chile or by civil society organisations in Brazil and Uruguay, refer to sexual violence suffered during the dictatorships, without however, attributing it a separate dimension or space that its characteristic of repetition demanded. In addition, there was an obvious under-notification. In the Brazilian report, for example, which covered both fatal victims (dead and disappeared), as well as torture suffered in state installations, sexual violence represented 1 per cent of female denouncements.1717. Mariana Joffily, “Memória, gênero e repressão política no Cone Sul,” Tempo e Argumento 2, no. 1 (jan./jun., 2010): 111-35. The report of the Comisión Nacional Sobre Prisión Política y Tortura do Chile (National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture in Chile), known as the Informe Valech (Valech Report), delivered in December 2004, showed signs of a change of course in the reflections it presents on sexual crime:
Rape is a traumatic experience that principally affects a person’s sexual life. It also has immediate physical and emotional consequences, through a possible pregnancy or even a sexually transmitted disease […] Torture, in all cases, destroys confidence in other human beings, but in the case of sexual torture under these circumstances, the most intimate and closest emotional ties are affected, these being both sexuality itself as well as maternity.1818. Comisión Nacional Sobre Prisión Política y Tortura, Informe (Santiago: Ministerio del Interior de Chile, 2004): 252.
However, the subject was not treated with an individual approach:
The interviews carried out by the Commission did not ask specifically about sexual violence against former female prisoners. Situations that were recorded were mentioned spontaneously by those making statements. It should be noted that for many women it is difficult to speak about sexual violation and they often prefer not to do so.1919. Ibid.
Hillary Hiner believes the breakthrough made between the Informe Rettig (Rettig Report), produced by the Comisión Nacional de Verdad y Reconciliación in 1991, and the Informe Valech, delivered over a decade later, in terms of the incorporation of “some gender analysis”, was due to three factors. Firstly, the Comisión de Verdade y Reconciliación was more conservative. Secondly, there was a great change between 1990 and 2003 in terms of international debate on gender violence – the international conference in Vienna in 1993, and in Beijing in 1995 and the Belem do Para Convention, aimed at giving a term to violence against women, contributed to increased awareness on the subject. And, finally, the incorporation of criticisms of the absences in the Informe Rettig, some formulated by feminist groups.2020. Hillary Hiner, “Voces soterradas, violencias ignoradas. Discurso, violencia política y género en los Informes Rettig y Valech,” Latin American Research Review 44, no. 3 (2009): 65.
In the case of Brazil there was no legalisation of the political transition, as there was in Argentina, nor was an official commission, like the Valech in Chile set up, so that public space for hearing about dictatorial violence against women, until very recently was almost totally limited to Brasil: nunca mais (Brazil: Nevera again). Testimonies of sexual abuse were described in statements, such as those put together in the publication “Luta, substantivo feminino” (“Fight, A Feminine Noun”),2121. This publication is part of the report Direito à memória e à verdade, produced by the Special Secretary for Human Rights in 2007. Tatiana Merlino and Igor Ojeda (orgs.), Luta, substantivo feminino. Mulheres torturadas, desaparecidas e mortas na resistência à ditadura (São Paulo: Editora Caros Amigos, 2010). however, sexual violence did not receive specific attention anywhere.
In the countries quoted, despite many women’s silence regarding sexual abuse suffered during the military dictatorships, because of the difficulty in talking about a subject that is shrouded in taboo, and in attributing a more general social meaning to the suffering of an individual, sexual violence was present in numerous statements. Therefore, rather than absent, it was made invisible through not having been socially identified as a subject which was worthy of particular interest in its specific contours. “…And no-one wanted to know” (…y Nadie Quería Saber), concluded the Argentinian authors.
The last three decades have seen an important transformation in the social perception of sexual violence. In addition to the landmarks cited by Hiner, the re-definition of violence against women and in particular sexual crime in civil law – the fruit of years of struggle by the feminist movement, together with new thinking on the place of women in society, brought to public debate with the development of gender studies – has contributed to the creation of a social space for listening which is able to receive denouncements of abuse suffered during the military dictatorships with a new level of understanding.
In Brazil, in addition to the creation of women’s police stations to assist specifically in cases of violence in this segment, the Maria da Penha Law, a landmark in legislation on this subject states that family, society and public authorities are responsible for the physical and psychological integrity of women.2222. Law no 11.340, de 7 August 2006. In Argentina the specification of sexual crime, which until 1985 was a “crime against honesty”, came to be called “crime against sexual integrity” and more recently a “crime against sexual liberty”, which shows a clear change in the perception of the social role of women.2323. Lewin and Wornat, Putas y guerrilleras, 344. These conquests represent one of the principal areas of concern of the feminist movement, “that which is private and that which is public”, realigning gender violence as a social problem.
On the international arena, the 1990s were crucial in a new understanding of women’s status and the nature of violence directed at them. The Vienna Declaration of 1993, was a landmark in emphasising women’s rights as human rights and demanding those responsible be punished for crimes such as systematic violation of women in situations of conflict.2424. José Augusto Lindgren Alves, “Direitos humanos: o significado político da conferência de Viena,” Lua Nova, no. 32 (São Paulo, abr. 1994): 175. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, by the United Nations in the same year, as well as the Inter-American Convention for the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, in 1994, known as the Belem do Para Convention, not only helped to established new bases for understanding sexual violence, but also created international legislation for dealing with this subject.
Another factor that contributed to the transformation of social perception of sexual crime was the use of sexual violation as a mass weapon of war against dominated populations, in the genocides perpetrated against Muslim women in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992 and against the Tutsi in Ruanda, in 1994. Crime courts for ex-Yugoslavia in 1993 and for Ruanda in 1994, provided a legal response to this type of violence against women, labelling the violation as a crime against humanity, when committed in the context of armed conflict and directed at the civilian population. The Statute of the International Criminal Court, known as the Rome Statute, of 1998, also recognised another group of crimes involving violence against women as crimes against humanity – including sexual aggression, sexual slavery, prostitution, forced pregnancy and forced abortion – subject to judgment by the International Criminal Court.2525. Falcón, “La violencia contra las mujeres y la Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación del Perú”, 73-4. For a deeper investigation of legalities in this area see Florencia Corradi and Julia Nesrpias, “La dimensión sexual del genocidio. Pensando la violencia sexual a partir de la mega causa ESMA,” Tela de juicio 1 (2015): 68-70. Clearly, the decade of the 1990s was crucial in sexual violence ceasing to be treated as “collateral damage” and starting to be viewed as a distinct type, different from other forms of violence.2626. According to the United Nations representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura: “Sexual violence in conflict needs to be treated as the war crime that it is; it can no longer be treated as an unfortunate collateral damage of war”, apud “Background information on sexual violence used as a tool of war,” United Nations, 29 March 2012, accessed October 3, 2016, http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/rwanda/about/bgsexualviolence.shtml.
In Latin America, the dictatorship in Guatemala reached the scale of ethnic genocide, with the widespread use of sexual violence, combining the imposition of a political exclusion project within the framework of the Cold War and a neoliberal project, with secular violence against indigenous populations, in a single equation.
Individual and selective sexual violation were common practice in the contexts of prison and torture and were usually followed by the disappearance or death of the victim. This pattern of repression was seen in both indigenous women and ladinas (non-indigenous women), who were executed by different state-run entities: army, national police, legal police etc. And also by non-state agents, under state protection, such as death squads, paramilitary groups and militia.2727. González, “Guatemala”, 53-4.
The use of mass sexual violence and new international legislation against sexual crimes attracted attention to contexts in which incidents of sexual violence had until then been treated as isolated cases, in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Peru. In these countries efforts were launched to prove the repetitive nature of sexual violence, practised as an instrument of power within repressive entities controlled by the state or by agents of the state, against political opponents, particularly against women.
In the same year that the Valech Report was published, the results of a piece of research carried out in Chile concluded that sexual torture had been practised in the whole country, in practically all police detention centres and by the majority of repressive agents.2828. Joffily, “Memória, gênero e repressão política no Cone Sul”, 123.
It is hard to say whether the systematisation was the result of superior orders or because the context made sexual violence an easy opportunity, given that the political prisoners were isolated, physically and psychologically exhausted, vulnerable and exposed to the power of repressive agents, allied to a policy of the upper echelons of not punishing these practices. The specific conditions may have been the reason in most cases, but there were also situations in which agents were instructed by their superiors to have relations with the prisoners, as happened in ESMA, in Argentina:
In the navy concentration camps, the sexual subjugation of women was a symptom of “recuperation”. Ceasing to want intimacy only with your comrades, with whom you had an ideological affinity, similar values and commitment to political militancy and even armed struggle, to have “relations” or physical sexual contact with officers of the task force meant “recuperation” of western, Christian values.2929. Lewin and Wornat, Putas y guerrilleras, 339.
Whether violation of women is used as a weapon of subjugation of the enemy or as an instrument of “conversion” of the opponent through the establishment of forced relations, sexual crime became a specific strategy of submission, as it humiliated the victim, provoking a highly subjective impact. Sexual crime, particularly when committed in the context of political struggle, encroaches on a person’s soul, seeking to affect the political opponent not in terms of their conviction, but in their intimate, moral centre. In Argentina, awareness about this specific element emerged in the 2000s, when legal proceedings against repressors could once again be opened, after the Full Stop Law and the Law of Due Obedience were judged to be unconstitutional. At the end of the decade, proceedings against repressors started to include gender violence as a separate crime which, in June 2010, led the Federal Oral Tribunal of Mar del Plata to condemn the sub-official, Gregorio Molina for repeated violations committed at the clandestine detention centre, La Cueva which operated at the Mar del Plata Air Base. This made him the first repressor condemned for sexual crimes classified as crime against humanity, in Argentina.
Advances made in the last three decades have opened up the opportunity to redefine the intimate, private and personal nature of the traumatic experience of sexual violence and to include it in the political, collective sphere – be it a military dictatorship, an ethnic war or a regime of racial oppression. These important social changes have made way for a different kind of acceptance, the possibility to rebuild a sense of what happened, politicising sexual abuse perpetrated within repressive entities and political prisons and empowering those who suffered from it, so they may contain what they experienced and denounce sexual violence in the courts and in truth commissions – which increasingly cover gender issues – and reflect on the effects in books and published interviews. More recently a new feminist wave is happening in Latin America, some examples of which are discussion about assault and verbal approaches of a sexual nature in public, allowing for previously accepted male behaviour to be rejected by women, the Slut March and the campaign “Ni una menos” (Not one less), which denounces femicide.
The importance of specific judgment with regards to sexual violence cannot be stressed enough, this being a contributor to the removal of the stigma surrounding the women affected by sexual violence, whether in the context of political conflict, domestic violence or rape or in demonstrating to society the gravity of this type of crime. However, even in Argentina, which is at the forefront in the process of recognising sexual crime as an offence in its own right, there are still a number of obstacles to overcome, among them the resistance of legal practitioners. Talking about the resistance met by the voice of the women who have suffered sexual violence, the same situation experienced by victims of torture, the lawyer Ana Oberlin explains that “It is becoming increasingly clear that the difficulties are far more a question of ideological conception regarding which crimes and practices are particular to women, than of insurmountable technical (legal) issues.”3030. Bacci et al., …y nadie quería saber, 23.
The transformation of international judicial milestones in the area of sexual violence, whilst crucial in a new understanding of crimes of this order, is far from sufficient for this subject to receive effective treatment in all the countries affected. Proof of this lies in the diversity in approaches to the issue of political gender violence in recent Latin American truth commissions, which alternate between implementing a gender-specific approach in all the working groups or individualising the issue by setting up gender-specific working groups.
The recent Brazilian National Truth Commission, for example, whose final report was delivered in 2014, created a working group called “Dictatorship and Gender”. This compiled statements denouncing sexual abuse and sexual crimes. It also held a themed hearing, in conjunction with the São Paulo State Commission of Truth, in March 2013. A chapter of the final report is dedicated to the issue of gender, focussing on statements and analyses regarding violence committed against women with particular discussion on “sexual violence as an instrument of power”, as well as “the prevalence of sexual violence” in the repression of women.3131. Comissão Nacional da Verdade, Relatório final da Comissão Nacional da Verdade (Brasília: Presidência da República, 2014): cap. 10. It is worth mentioning that in a Master’s course at the Post-graduate programme in history at the University of Santa Catarina, Paula Franco, found that of the 24 state commissions/committees on truth – a Brazilian phenomenon – of the five who delivered a final report, four incorporated a discussion on gender in some form (my thanks to Paula Franco for this information).
Peru has made an innovative contribution by “always taking into account the difference in the way that violence was experienced and continued to be experienced by men and women.”3232. Falcón, “La violencia contra las mujeres y la Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación del Perú”, 67. Working from a wider vision of the issue of gender, they installed a member, in charge of introducing this bias in each work section, in the regional headquarters of the commission, in an effort to raise awareness among the Peruvian population that “sexual violence is not collateral damage, or something ‘normal’ during armed conflict, but constitutes a violation of human rights and, as such, should be among the cases to be sent to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.”3333. Ibid., 68.
Violence continues to be a major problem in Latin American societies, above all in countries with high levels of social and economic inequality. This type of violence is long term, however, it is important to recognise that the military dictatorships were a significant chapter of history:
Guatemala is currently suffering a wave of femicides, which are not just criminal actions. There is a clear connotation of gender and considerable lack of protection of women’s rights on the part of the state. Many bodies of women have appeared mutilated and showing signs of horrific torture, reminiscent of the militarised modus operandi of internal armed conflict.3434. González, “Guatemala”, 61.
The comment heard by the local council candidate in Brazil, in the opening paragraph of this article, shows that the concept of gender defended by authoritarian regimes has not been overcome and still inhabits the imagination of conservative sectors.
While recent social transformation has created the conditions for women to become empowered and to report sexual violence they experience and for these testimonials to be properly heard, with judicial consequences to aggressors, there are still sectors which remain detached from listening to the voice of society. For example, the case of women who bore the children of the repressors who violated them, or the men who suffered sexual violence, not in terms of electric shocks or wounds to sexual organs, selected because they are extremely sensitive, but in the sense of actual abuse.
Men who were sexually abused have often been mentioned in recent literature on sexual violence during the military dictatorships, however they still have no voice or social space in which to signify this experience which challenges the male honour which is part of the ideal of the political militant. The Uruguayan documentary “Diga a Mario que não volte”, made by filmmaker Mario Handler in 2007, provides a sensitive example of this. In this film one of the former political prisoners relates that on two separate occasions he was forced to perform oral sex on a repressor. His testimonial in the film is left drifting, like a bottle thrown in the sea In order of urgency it is understandable the attention regarding sexual violence has been focussed on women who were far more affected and who continue to live in societies in which gender equality is a palpable phenomenon. However, we must continue to advance and to investigate other areas in which society is not listening. There is a need to listen more carefully and more sensitively to the silences that want to be heard.