Guatemala slowly confronts widespread rape of women
In Guatemala, drug trafficking, gang violence, and a climate of impunity lead to widespread rape of women. At least 10,000 women were victims of sexual violence last year.
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While drugs and violence are common throughout Latin America, Guatemala's broken judicial system largely allows gangs to rape and kill with impunity. Only 2 percent of crimes are brought to trial, according to the United Nations.Skip to next paragraph
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Violence against women also has deep roots in Guatemalan society. Throughout the conservative society, women have little protection. Under the domestic abuse law, for example, charges can only be brought if a woman's bruises are visible 10 days after the incident.
"Women have never been equal partners in this society," Costantino said. They have always been looked on as property, he added. "This is a culture that has never wanted to confront its legacy of violence against women."
Colombian cocaine passes through Guatemala
Members of Mara Salvatrucha 13 and Mara 18, two of the largest gangs in Central America, use rape as a way to gain a reputation. During territory disputes, such as the one in Marisole's neighborhood, they will often target women as a method of instilling fear by which to control areas.
"By dropping someone off without her blouse on after they'd raped her, they are saying, 'We control this neighborhood and you better not cross us,'" says Harry E. Vanden, a researcher who specializes in Central American gangs and has served as an expert witness in cases against gang members.
Territorial control is of particular importance to gangs these days. Mexico's war on drugs has led cartels to set up operations in Guatemala, through which some 80 percent of Colombian cocaine passes on its way north, US officials have estimated. And gangs are vying for supremacy to win lucrative relationships with drug traffickers.
"They use rape as a way to take vengeance on a family and to keep their neighborhood in line," Dr. Vanden says.
Sexual violence became so acute in recent years that Doctors Without Borders started its only mission in Latin America dedicated to treating sex victims in Guatemala City. And Nov. 25, the United Nations will open its Latin America chapter of its UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign in Guatemala.
"This is a humanitarian crisis," says Patricia Parra, the chief of mission for Doctors Without Borders in Guatemala. "The level of this problem is similar to the levels during the war. We're seeing conflict-level violence against women in what is supposedly a post-conflict country."
Society starts to address rape
But as the problem proliferates there is also the kindling of a solution. Instead of crimes going unreported like so many did before, rapes like Marisole's are now documented. Under the new law, victims can even use evidence collected by the doctors to push for a prosecution.