Violence against women in Peru: Impunity and Injustice
Alessandra Tapia is a first-year LLB student at King's College London with a keen interest in international law and human rights. In a thought provoking discussion on "Violence against women in Peru", Alessandra explores the historical background of this gender based crisis and advocates for the reformation of the justice system to achieve equality for all.
Peru has one of the highest rates of violence against women in Latin America. The outrageous expression of violence continues despite laws on the matter. This is due to impunity and the ineffective application of such laws.
Image source: https://www.trtworld.com/americas/in-pictures-peruvians-march-to-seek-justice-for-female-victims-of-abuse-19533
Peru is living a gender-based violence crisis. In 2019 alone, the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations recorded 166 femicides, 570 attempted femicides and almost 17,000 cases of sexual violence against women of all ages. At the beginning of 2020, 30 were murdered for being women and more than 1,500 were sexually assaulted. (1) Violence against women in Peru takes on different forms: daily harassment on the streets, domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual harassment and femicide (the gender-motivated killing of women). Nevertheless, these issues have been ignored and normalised by authorities and society alike to a large degree.
Violence against women in Peru originated in a context of impunity based on a patriarchal system of inequality and social exclusion. “Machismo” (macho and patriarchal culture) and socially-dictated roles for women contribute to the problem. As Guerra Romero, member of the Peruvian feminist group Flora Tristan pointed out, “these [patriarchal] attitudes pervade Peruvian society, including government officials tasked with applying the law.” (2)
While Peru has passed various laws in the last two decades such as laws against femicide, sexual violence, sexual harassment in the streets and workplace harassment, as well as Law 30364- in practice there is no actual implementation. According to Flora Tristan, while these laws could be improved, the problem is regarding their correct implementation and the funding assigned to them. There is a lack of awareness surrounding these issues and a systematic lack of training for judicial officials and service providers, who do not always adequately address cases of gender-based violence. (3) Furthermore, Jelke Boesten, Professor in gender and development at King's College London who has spent years researching violence against women and the ramifications for policy in Latin America, points out that the police in practice do not enforce restraining orders against men reported for domestic violence. Moreover, cases of physical abuse are classified as misdemeanours and not criminal offences unless the victim is deemed injured enough to be incapacitated for at least 10 days. (4) Therefore, women can report violence but in most cases, nothing will happen.
Being a woman in Peru and trying to access the judicial system is troubling. This systematic pattern of impunity in Peru is a reflection of the lack of access to justice for women. The subordinate position of women in the Peruvian society, the little value that is given to their sexual integrity, the normalisation of rape culture, victim-blaming and the situation of discrimination and defencelessness in which women can find themselves, are elements which leave them vulnerable to corruption and space for their rights to be compromised.
Unfortunately, violence against women is normalised through impunity. One example of this patriarchal judicial system that leads to impunity and injustice is the judgment by the Ica Collegiate which acquitted Giancarlo Miguel Espinoza Ramos, who was accused of rape because according to its interpretation “the victim was using a type of underwear (lacy red knickers) which gives the impression that she was predisposed to have sexual relations with the accused.” (5) The judges argued that the victim was not shy as she claimed, using her choice of underwear as evidence and implying that women only wear red underwear when intending to have sex. This decision sparked outrage and many protesters show their support for the victim holding placards with messages such as, “listen up, judges. Don't use my underwear to justify rape.” I strongly believe that the Peruvian justice system needs to stop judging women but instead judge rapists. When will Peruvian women feel safe and protected by the law? Why is the justice system waiting to respect Peruvian women’s lives?
Undoubtedly, violence against women is a pre-pandemic reality in Peru, indeed it is a “historical pandemic” but it has intensified with the arrival of Covid-19. Although Peru implemented some of the toughest lockdown measures in the world at the beginning of the pandemic, the figures of violence against women remained strikingly high. This causes to ask; how does a woman disappear even during a lockdown? As in other countries, lockdown measures demonstrate how most violence occurs within a domestic sphere and a known family environment. Eliana Revollar, who heads the women’s right division of the Ombudsman’s office, mentions: "So far this year [January 1st to August 21st 2020] there have been 75 cases of femicide and 35 violent deaths of women, of which 18% were previously reported as missing." (6) The pandemic confirms how unprotected women are in Peru, where victims and their families face less deployment of search operations and the non-prioritization of this form of gender violence.
Peruvian women do not have to endure any level of violence whatsoever. They deserve to be respected, to live without fear of being abused or killed and to feel that they are finally heard and that their cause is not lost. Peruvian authorities – judges, prosecutors, police officers, and state agents in general – should not dismiss women’s accounts and instead respect their most fundamental rights. Peruvian women do not need a corrupt and misogynistic justice system that protects perpetrators but one that guarantees that their rights will be respected. Developing a specialized justice system as a response to violence against women is to guarantee this fundamental right for all.
(1) Ana Bazo Reisman,‘Perú pasa el Día Internacional de la Mujer con más retrocesos que avances en la lucha de género’ (France 24, 09 March 2020) <https://www.france24.com/es/20200308-peru-dia-internacional-mujer-retrocesos-lucha-genero> accessed 16 January 2021
(2) Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, ‘Peru: Domestic violence, including femicide; legislation; state protection and support services available to victims (2014-February 2018) (Refworld, 13 March 2018) <https://www.refworld.org/docid/5ad09d424.html> accessed 16 January 2021
(3) Maria Godoy, ‘The women of Peru are suffering from a shadow pandemic' (NPR,10 September 2020) <https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/09/10/910737751/the-women-of-peru-are-suffering-from-a-shadow-pandemic> accessed 16 January 2021
(4) Jelke Boesten, ‘The State and Violence Against Women in Peru: Intersecting Inequalities and Patriarchal Rule’, Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, Volume 19, Issue 3, Fall 2012, Pages 361–382 <https://doi.org/10.1093/sp/jxs011> accessed 16 January 2021
(5) Charlotte Mitchell, ‘Judges throw out rape case in Peru because alleged victim's red underwear suggested the woman was prepared she was willing to have sex, sparking national outcry’ (Mail Online, 4 November 2020) <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8914001/Peru-judges-rule-rape-case-womans-red-underwear-signalled-willing-sex.html> accessed 16 January 2021
(6) Maria Godoy, ‘The women of Peru are suffering from a shadow pandemic' (NPR,10 September 2020) <https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/09/10/910737751/the-women-of-peru-are-suffering-from-a-shadow-pandemic> accessed 16 January 2021