Tip of the Iceberg: Sexual Violence in Mexico

On November 4th, a young woman from Mexico named Renata Sandoval posted a disturbing story on Facebook.

She wrote about being drugged by a classmate from the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara (UAG) in a local bar. The story has gone viral and has helped other victims of sexual violence and assault to talk about their experiences. Here’s a translation of what Renata wrote:

“After a long time, I’ve finally decided to talk about a terrible experience I had. I’ve decided to speak to avoid things like this happening in the future, so we can be wary, and to remind us that nobody is exempt from experiences like this.

It was a Friday and me and some classmates decided to go to a bar and have some drinks. Just a regular casual night with my school friends.

The night started. Everything seemed normal. One of the girls (Mónica Coral Zamudio Astorga) wanted to take some pictures in the restroom mirror and asked us to go with her. No problem, we do this all the time. Aarón Fabián (potential rapist) and another male friend waited for us at our table. Aarón was one of the most benevolent guys I’d ever met. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was the best student of our medicine class. I never felt anything but trust towards him.

The thing is that Aarón had previously talked with Mónica and plotted to distract me so he could pour a drug in my drink. Meanwhile, in the restroom, we took some pictures, chatted for a while and went back.

Mónica insisted on putting a straw in my drink to ‘avoid confusion’. She knew about the drug and didn’t want to accidentally drink from my glass. Aarón started to act very weirdly, urging me to drink and putting my glass in my face.

Within minutes I started to feel extremely hot like never before. My hair felt like fire when it touched my back. I wanted to tear my clothes off. My mind was so numb I could barely tie my hair to ease the heat. I was in despair, so I asked my guardian angel Carolina to call an Uber and escort me home.

As Carolina told the rest of the group we were leaving, Aarón immediately insisted on taking me home but Carolina told him the Uber was on its way. As soon as I stepped out of the bar I was so disoriented. I could barely stand and I wanted to puke.

When the Uber arrived, Aarón stepped into the vehicle insisting he wanted to make sure I would be ok. During the trip, Aarón tried to get close to me and asked Carolina to go to his home instead, as it was closer, but she told him that my parents would be waiting for me. And as we got to my home, he insisted on carry me upstairs to my room, but Carolina dismissed him, took my shoes off and led me to my room.

We thought it was someone working on the bar who had put something my drink, as we never thought one of our classmates would do that to any of us.

Some days later, a friend called me. He said he wanted to tell me something, and that he just found out something very important. He told me about how Aarón and Mónica had plotted to drug me so he could rape me.

I was shocked. It was impossible. Aarón – who I considered my friend – wanted to rape me. I asked my friend to call Aarón and trick him into talking about his plans again so I could hear it. He didn’t sound regretful at all. I also asked my friend to call Mónica and she confessed her part without knowing I was listening.

I was baffled. Disappointed. How on earth could my own friends would do something like that? What would have happened if I was allergic to the drug? What if he overdosed me? What would have happened if Carolina hadn’t been there to help me?

When I finally gathered strength to confront Aarón, he was so casual about it. “It was just a little push, Renata.” He made it clear that he thought there was something between us and the only thing missing was a little spark to light up “our thing”.

Fortunately, I’m safe. He couldn’t abuse me. But things like this happen everyday, and sadly not every victim is as lucky as I am. We always think a rapist is some random dude in a dark alley, not a close person, not a friend.

Lastly, think about this: Aarón will be a doctor someday. What if you take your daughter for a checkup with him? What if someday he is a powerful man? He now walks free, as if nothing happened. #MeToo”

One Twitter user, who has been following the story since the beginning, has been urging other victims to tell their stories and to demand answers. By now, several national media outlets have already covered Renata’s story and tried to contact a representative of the university, but they have remained adamantly silent about it.

All sort of stories have emerged. Teachers blackmailing their female students, systemic harassment towards openly gay students, silencing ‘progressive’ conferences and topics, constant misogynistic ‘hall chat’ with no consequences, and discrimination and silencing of non-catholic students, just to name a few.

It’s been almost a month now, and the university has not only gone completely silent regarding any of the accusations, but they have also locked their social media accounts and blocked anyone who mentions the topic on those platforms.

Students have tried asking for answers personally, but the UAG’s stance has been to protect Aarón – he is one of their most brilliant students. As time passes, up to 150 accusations from different women have been gathered.

Some people have pointed out that misogyny has been present in the UAG since its foundation. This school was founded by Antonio Leaño Alvarez del Castillo in 1935, as the result of religious and political differences within the government’s stance to make all public education socialist and non-religious.

As a renowned ultra-catholic businessman, Álvarez was a prominent figure in Mexico’s politics. It was during Vicente Fox’s presidency when Álvarez’s power and influence skyrocketed. Vicente Fox was a member of Partido Acción Nacional, a right-wing party in Mexico, and during Fox’s presidency Álvarez funded the rebirth of El Yunque (The Anvil) – an extreme right-wing  group that praises Nazi and Cristero ideologies alike.

In 2016, a new branch of El Yunque called National Front for the Family was created to lobby, rally and vote against policies like abortion, reproductive rights, same sex marriage and sexual education in public elementary schools. I believe this is extremely relevant to Renata’s story, as UAG directives share the same repressive ideology as these groups.

Take a look at these examples from the UAG Internal Conduct Code:

  • The use of provocative clothing (transparent or worn-out garments, short skirts or visible or absent underwear) is strictly forbidden, as it goes against moral and good customs and may provoke other students.
  • Male students are forbidden from wearing earrings and/or any effeminate garment, as it goes against the ideal realization of manliness (Article 14 – Appendix 1)

Renata’s story is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sexual violence in Mexico.

The fact that the UAG has opted to remain silent while they wait for people to forget about this issue makes it clear that they aren’t willing to act against the aggressors.

In a country like Mexico, where more than two women are murdered daily, remaining passive against sexual violence can only mean complicity at best. Women are killed and raped because there are no consequences, and because men can get away with actions like Aarón’s – safe in the knowledge that institutions care more about their grades than their abhorrent behavior.

To learn more, you can check out this Change.org petition and #AbusoEnLaUAG.

Real-World Things You Can Do During 16 Days of Activism

November 25th begins 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We now have 16 days to speak up in a world that is readier to listen than ever before.

Gender-based violence has many faces and is experienced in many contexts with varying degrees of severity.

It happens most mornings to a garment worker in Lesotho who is coerced into sex with the security guard in order to pass through the factory gates. It happened to Jyoti Singh Pandey, the South Delhi student raped and tortured on a moving bus in 2012, later dying from her injuries. It is still happening to a 12-year-old in Niger living in fear of a man twice her age to whom she is married against her will.

While many examples are graphic and extreme, gender-based violence can also be subtle and pervasive.

It’s there in the story of the woman choosing a longer walk home from work to avoid the catcaller loitering near her apartment. It haunts the girl who panics after saying “no” to a guy who perceives her refusal as ‘playing hard to get.’ It includes the countless women who have felt forced to compromise their integrity or moral compass to advance their careers, whether on the big screen, in the boardroom, or on Capitol Hill.

As a global community, we are constantly learning about beliefs and behaviors that contribute to gender-based violence. At one point in time, the kind of behavior that would trigger the response ‘boys will be boys’ was considered acceptable; now, it is a societal norm we are unwilling to tolerate.

16 Days of Activism started as an initiative of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University and has grown into a global movement. Iconic buildings including the Parliament in Bangladesh, the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, Table Mountain in Cape Town, and the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai will all be illuminated in orange to express their solidarity.

You can share the 16 Days of Activism campaign with your digital community through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But we need more than hashtags. Outside of the digital sphere, here are real-world things you can do to make a difference during 16 Days of Activism 2018:

Update your wardrobe. Clothes that are no longer needed in your life could make a huge difference in someone else’s. Several organizations exist to support women in achieving economic independence, break the cycle of poverty, and strengthen communities. Dress for Success has drop-off locations across the world, or you could search for a local organization accepting donations.

Support migrant women affected by the border crisis. Thousands of immigrants are deeply impacted by the border crisis exacerbated so cruelly by American officials. Organizations providing hospitality to new immigrants, asylum seekers and reunited families that have been separated in recent months welcome your support. Annunciation House, a trusted long time shelter in El Paso, Texas, is specifically requesting donations that will enable them to purchase feminine hygiene products for the hundreds of girls and women lucky enough to rest briefly and find human kindness there.

If you’re in the USA, call your members of Congress. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 is set to run out of funding again, on December 7th. There was a major debate in Congress over the last reauthorization in 2013 – primarily over a provision to extend the law’s coverage to Native American women, immigrants, and LGBTQ women. It was ultimately given new life and signed by President Obama, but 138 Republican members of Congress voted against the reauthorization. Call your Representative and urge them to fight for a stronger VAWA.

Donate. There are literally thousands of organizations, locally, nationally, and globally, that are doing vital work to help stop gender-based violence. For example, WomenStrong International works with its partner in Kenya to support Community Action Groups against gender-based violence. In the US, the National Network to End Domestic Violence has served as a voice for millions of women, men, and children who have endured abuse for more than 25 years. All of these organizations depend on the support of people like you and me to keep their doors open.

Make time to make the difference. Giving your time is one of the most meaningful ways to impact the world. You can receive training to support someone in crisis with programs such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline. You can support safe reproductive health services by volunteering for Planned Parenthood, or you could get involved in the movement to end street harassment by getting involved with your local Hollaback chapter.

WomenStrong learns from local Community Action Group in Kisumu, Kenya

Speaking Out Against Violence…Today & Every Day

25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and marks the first day of the annual 16 Days of Activism campaign.

Gender-based violence (GBV) remains one of the most pervasive and persistent violations of human rights in the world. It reaches into every country, every community and every corner of our planet, rearing its ugly head in an ever-shifting range of guises.

The focus of the 2017 #16Days campaign is to ‘Leave No One Behind’. It’s an opportunity to raise greater awareness of GBV and its impact, but also a chance for us to reinforce the global commitment to creating a world free from violence for all, reaching the most marginalized – including refugees, migrants, minorities, indigenous peoples, and populations affected by conflict and natural disasters – as our first priority.

For each of the #16DaysofActivism, Girls’ Globe will be publishing opinions, ideas and stories from within our global community.

The voices of the individuals and groups with the Girls’ Globe network highlight some of the most pressing issues related to GBV in the world today, as well as some of the most inspiring examples of advocacy and activism.

But it’s not just during #16Days that Girls’ Globe provides a platform to speak out against violence and injustice. We do so all year round, because violence – or the pervasive threat of violence – continues to hold girls and women back, every single day, and so we’ll also be crowdfunding the $20,000 we need to keep girlsglobe.org raising voices in 2018.

To kick off the 2017 16 Days of Activism, we’ve rounded up the year’s 16 most-read GBV blogs on girlsglobe.org. We hope you enjoy reading or re-reading your way through the list, and stay tuned for brand new content published each day until 10 December. Together, we can end violence against women and girls. Together, we can #orangetheworld.

  1. How Martial Arts Helped me Get Back on my Feet

    by Miia Yliaho

    “Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that, like many martial arts, is just as much a way of life as a way to get fit. To succeed in taekwondo, there is only one opponent you have to beat: yourself. You need to accept your limits and turn them into advantages. You need to accept failure and see it as learning: another step towards your goal.You need to accept pain (in a healthy and controlled way), and you will learn that you can endure more than you think.”

  2. Healing from Sexual Trauma: a Therapist’s Perspective

    by Farah Mohammed

    “Victims of assault can have counter-intuitive reactions, which can in turn exacerbate their trauma and cripple recovery efforts. When we broached the question of maladaptive reactions, Wasil was unsurprised, having worked with clients who turn to chemical painkillers like drugs and alcohol, as well as those who develop internal ones, like sexual addiction or gambling. She says that trauma can do more than alter a person’s behavior, it can also decimate their emotional capacity.”

  3. The FGM Conversation has to Change

    by Lorna Andisi

    “It’s been roughly 100 days since 2017 began. Reflecting on the past year’s campaigns against FGM and early marriages, it is true that all who are involved have come a long way. There have been moments where the campaign may have faltered and made missteps – but we’ve also seen some significant progress.”

  4. Why She Stays: Behind the Doors of Domestic Abuse

    by Patti J

    “It seems easy to question some other random person. Yet, it’s more often not some other random person, it’s your co-worker, your neighbor, your friend, your sister. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you don’t know it is. Maybe you think someone else’s situation is worse and so you justify to yourself that yours isn’t that bad, so it couldn’t be considered abuse.”

  5. A Letter to Assault Survivors

    by Girls’ Globe Guest Blogger

    “Smart, strong, reasonable women who have been victimized by sexual assault can still be vulnerable to abusive relationships, sexual situations they don’t know how to control, and unsure how or when to say ‘no’.”

  6. Sugar Daddies are Definitely NOT Sweet

    by Help Lesotho

    “In Lesotho (southern Africa), sugar daddies are called ‘blessers’. As girls’ bodies start to change in early adolescence, older men take notice. The girls, often orphans with no emotional support, crave the attention and feel that it is cool to have an older man show interest in them. A mother from Lesotho explains, ‘we find that for some girls who have grown up without a father, these sugar daddies provide something like a ‘fatherly love’, but really they are exploiting them.'”

  7. Documentary Shatters Stigma on Sexual Violence

    by Peace is Loud

    “Rape is a crime that feeds on silence, and it takes a rupture in the status quo to affect change. After the success of the Akayesu case, local Rwandan tribunals ruled that rape was a “category one” crime, in the same grouping as murder. This was a tremendous step forward, setting a lasting precedent for the severity of sexual assault.”

  8. If They Kill Me

    by Bita Aranda

    “I had to ask a group of women if I should write this at all. If this is how I want to show Mexico to Girls’ Globe’s readers; but they asked me, how could I not? How could I not use this platform to tell the rest of the world what they are doing to us? How could I not write about the gender based violence we live amongst every day? How could I not use this privilege as a way to give those women and girls their voices back – the voices that were ripped out of their chests?”

  9. Always a Survivor

    by Zahra Wakilzada for Free Women Writers

    “When he saw her again, he asked:
    ‘You have a bad reputation now, right?
    Nobody married you, right?
    I warned you.'”

  10. Enjoy Sexual Assault for it to be a Crime

    by Mariana Lizarraga

    “Cases of rape and sexual assault are always shocking. But that perpetrators would be spared from their actions due to how much economic or social power they possess makes it twice as infuriating.”

  11. Art Exhibit Shows Scale of Female Gendercide

    by Gendercide Awareness Project

    “We believe that educating girls is the best long-term strategy for ending gendercide. In a beautiful arc of giving, the at-risk women who made the baby booties are, knowingly or unknowingly, helping the next generation of girls so that they don’t have to be at risk.”

  12. In Conversation with Brisa De Angulo

    by Shakira Choonara

    “When I went to bed that night, I could not fall asleep thinking of Brisa’s story. I reached for the conference app (yes, thank goodness for technology) and requested a meeting, to which she agreed enthusiastically. I could not believe it. I knew that this story absolutely had to be told and shared with the world to bring to light exactly what violence against women means, but also as an example of what it will take to tackle violence head on.”

  13. Yes, Child Marriage is a Problem in Latin America

    by Maria Rendo

    “The rates of child marriage in the region are alarming. According to UNICEF, in five countries (Nicaragua, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Honduras) at least 30 percent of girls marry before the age of 18. In more than 11 countries, among them Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, and Panama, between 20 and 30 percent of girls marry before they turn 18.”

  14. #MeToo: We’re All in this Together

    by Preeti Shakya

    “I think the worst part of being harassed or assaulted is that it makes you forget to be kind to yourself. It makes you question your own existence and forget how to accept yourself. For me, it has taken years of ignorance, silence, self-blame, and internalization, as well as thousands of conversations with friends and family, to feel ‘worthy’ again.”

  15. United We Shall Stand in South Africa

    by Mia du Toit

    “Women and girls are crying out for help. Becoming aware of abuse taking place around us can drive us to make a change and offer a helping hand to those who need one. We each have resources that others may not have, so let’s use our individual privileges to shed some light. To the girls in South Africa who need a safe haven: this country and the authorities might let you downbut I never will.”

  16. How You Can Help End Violence Against Women

    by CARE

    “In emergency contexts where social networks are lost or strained, women and girls too often become targets of violence and abuse – like sexual violence as a weapon of war, exploitation and harassment as refugees, domestic violence and abuse,  and child marriage in the upheaval of displacement.  And when it comes to the assistance that impacts them, they are frequently kept out of the decision-making process.”

How You Can Help End Violence Against Women

Anyone who’s been watching the news lately is finding it impossible to ignore a very painful, destructive reality: one in three women worldwide face gender-based violence at some point in their lives.

Based on what CARE has seen over almost 75 years working with women and girls in the world’s most vulnerable communities, we know that in some contexts – especially humanitarian crises – that staggering number is even higher.

In emergency contexts where social networks are lost or strained, women and girls too often become targets of violence and abuse – like sexual violence as a weapon of war, exploitation and harassment as refugees, domestic violence and abuse,  and child marriage in the upheaval of displacement.  And when it comes to the assistance that impacts them, they are frequently kept out of the decision-making process.

But we also know that’s not the end of the story. While women and girls disproportionately face violence, they also are often the key to their families’ survival. We’ve seen over and over that in emergencies, women embody strength,  perseverance, and resilience. Faced with the horrors of war or the devastation of natural disaster, women hold families and communities together, carrying children to safety and keeping them fed, and rebuilding shattered lives as refugees in a new land if they are unable to return home.

Women are also their own best advocates. Women and girls everywhere are fighting for safety, opportunity, and a say in their futures. This year, in preparation for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, CARE Action (CARE’s advocacy arm) is standing with the women and girls who are championing their own rights and keeping their communities together in the face of terrible atrocities, and calling special attention to gender-based violence in emergencies.

From November 25th (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to December 10th (Human Rights Day), CARE Action will be taking part in this global campaign that brings together people across hundreds of organizations and nearly every country in the world, all with one mission – to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence everywhere. We’re working together, stepping up advocacy efforts and promoting policies to eradicate pervasive and rampant violence against women including domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual assault, trafficking, psychological abuse, honor killings, child and forced marriage and pervasive gender-based harassment.

The statistics surrounding GBV are staggering and we’ll be highlighting them throughout the 16 Days:

  • At least one in three women and one in five men worldwide will experience GBV
  • As many as 35 percent of women have experienced intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lives
  • At least one in three women will be beaten, raped or otherwise abused and in most cases, the abuser is part of her family
  • 15 million girls will be married before the age of 18 every year

CARE will also be amplifying stories of the grit and resilience of women like Gambo and Hadja, who fled extreme violence in Northern Nigeria and took refuge in Niger with nothing but the clothes on their backs. With a few blankets, some netting and basic supplies, they’re making a life for themselves and their children. Or women like Stépha Rouichi, Advocacy Manager for CARE DRC who wrote about the under-staffed health centers in the DRC’s Kasai province, where a recent survey indicates that more than 1,400 survivors of sexual violence – mostly between the ages of 12 and 17 years old – have accessed services in the past year.

Finally, we’ll be urging action through the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), recently introduced in the U.S. Senate. This legislation would strengthen U.S. leadership and empower women and girls in the fight against gender-based violence. There’s so much we all can do to help stop the injustice. Supporting IVAWA is one of them.

To join us in our campaign and lend your voice…

  1. Follow CARE Action on Facebook and Twitter
  2. Check out careaction.org
  3. If you’re in the US, sign our petition and share using the hashtag #16Days…
  4. …and tag your Members of Congress on Facebook and Twitter and urge them to support and pass IVAWA

The scourge of gender-based violence is global problem that we all can and must help to solve. 16 Days of Activism is an opportunity to educate yourself, educate your communities, and take meaningful action. Join us!