Memory of Women:
Violence in the Nation and in the Home


Pregnant Women Executed and Disappeared in Chile

Sexual Violence as Torture
Corporacion La Morada and Insituto de la Mujer

Legacies of Dictatorship for Women Survivors of
Domestic Violence

Nia Parson

During the present post-dictatorship years in Chile, public awareness has grown regarding the connection between domestic violence and political violence. In March 2004 Amnesty International (AI), whose work has been devoted largely to the denunciation of political violence, launched a campaign against violence to women. AI states:"In the home and in the community, in times of war and times of peacec, women are beaten, raped, mutilated, and killed with complete impunity for their perpetrators." In the United Kingdom and Australia, in some cases, women survivors of domestic violence can seek political asylum when their own governments do not respond to their suffering. In Santiago, a march on International Women's Day March 8, 2004 brought together activists from various womens organizations, human rights organizations for victims of the dictatorship, and workers' rights organizations, culminating with the dedication of a monument to women assassinated by the dictatorship.

See for photos.


Among the hundreds of women imprisoned and tortured during the dictatorship, human rights advocacy organizations have documented the cases of the following nine women who were pregnant at the time of their arrest:
Cecilia Miguelina Bojanic Abad, was arrested with her husband Flavio Oyarzun on October 2, 1974, when she was 5 months pregnant. Witnesses last saw her at Cuatro Alamos.

Jaqueline Paulette Droully Jurick, 24 years old, was arrested October 30, 1974, while 3 months pregnant. She and her husband were last seen when DINA agents took them away from Cuatro Alamos.

Maria Cecilia Labrin Lazo, 25 years old, was a social worker. She was abducted August 1974 and taken to the DINA torture center at 38 Londres Street. A former military officer has testified out of court that she gave birth to a baby girl in March 1975.

Gloria Lagos Nilsson, member of the MIR, a mother of three and 3 months pregnant, was arrested as a hostage to pressure her partner, a member of the MIR. She was last seen at Cuatro Alamos detention and torture center in September 1974.

Nalvia Rosa Mena Alvarado, 20 years old, was abducted together with her husband Luis Emilio Recabarren Gonzalez and her brother-in-law Manuel Guillermo Recabarren Gonzalez on April 29, 1976. She was 3 months pregnant when last seen at Villa Grimaldi.

Michelle Peña Herreros, a 27 year old Socialist Party member and engineering student, was 8 months pregnant. She was arrest June 20, 1975 and taken to Villa Grimaldi, where she was seen for the last time. Her mother learned that Michelle gave birth to a baby boy at the Air Force Hospital.

Reinalda del Carmen Pereira Plaza, 29 years, was 6 months pregnant when arrested December 15, 1976.

Elizabeth de las Mercedes Rekas Urra, 29 years, was 6 months pregnant when arrested on December 15, 1976. Her place of captivity is unknown.

Corporacion La Morada and Fundacion Instituto de la Mujer
March 15, 2004

Women former political prisoners together with womens and human rights organization in Chile call upon all women victims of sexual violence by agents of the State during the military regime, to denounce those crimes as torture before the National Commission on Political Prisoners and Torture headed by Msgr. Valech. For this to take place, social conditions must be created that permit recognition of sexual violence against women as a human rights violation. Chilean society must recognize that the sexual violence against women constituted a specific method of torture used on women.

Appropriate and effective mechanisms must be created to protect women who endured sexual violence exercised as a tool of repression by the dictatorship. The files of their denunciations must incorporate the physical and psychological aggression against them, which constitutes sexual violence.

In order to contribute to reparation, officials must explicitly acknowledge sexual violence as a systematic and common method of torture employed against women. Four months ago (in December 2003) the Valech Commission was created to prepare an in-depth report concerning persons who were imprisoned and tortured during the military dictatorship. To date, the Commission has received only 14,000 denunciations, an extremely low figure, considering that an estimated 300,000 persons were subjected to torture.

A study undertaken in May 2003 jointly by Corporacion La Morada and Fundacion Instituto de la Mujer points to the need to create venues to receive this type of denunciation. The widespread practice of sexual violence in Chilean society, the report indicates, causes women who were prisoners during the dictatorship to disregard sexual aggression as a form of torture.

We call upon the Valech Commission to dedicate a chapter of its final report to the specific case of sexual violence as a method of torture exercised against women. International Law has already incorporated this type of violence in the Statutes of Rome that created the International Criminal Court. Both the Guatemala Truth Report and the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission report include such cases.

Sexual violence was practiced by all branches of the Armed Forces, Carabinero police, Investigations police, conscripts, intelligence agents, prison guards, and civilians who collaborated in repressive activities. Sexual violence was practiced at over a hundred locations throughout Chile during dictatorship. Women political prisoners were subjected to sexual violence at police stations, military bases, concentration camps, stadiums, Naval ships, torture centers such as Villa Grimaldi, Venda Sexy and Londres 38. The underground parking lot below Plaza de la Constitucion, facing the bombed La Moneda Presidential Palace was another place where sexual violence was practiced.

During the period in which the DINA (1974-1977) and the CNI (1978-1989) repressive agencies operated, dogs were used to rape women and mice were introduced in their vaginas. Sexual violence was exercised also against pregnant women. The whereabouts of many those women and their children are unknown to this day. Repressive agents raped girls as young as 14 years old and a grandmother of 68 in the presence of her children.

When former women prisoners describe torture, many exclude acts of sexual violence. They associate "real" torture with the application of electric shocks, hangings, and beatings during interrogation, but fail to recognize sexual violence as another form of torture.
For more information see


Nia Parson, a Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology from Rutgers University (New Jersey), submitted the following article to Memoria y Justicia.

In the healing process for trauma survivors the responses of the survivor's community are of paramount importance. The survivor needs recognition of the trauma suffered and some form of restitution. This is true for women survivors of domestic violence, as it is for survivors of state violence perpetrated by Pinochet's military dictatorship. My doctoral research in anthropology has focused on examining the relationships between state violence, ideologies and policies during the dictatorial era and women's experiences of domestic violence and recovery in the post-dictatorship era. Here I briefly explicate some of the influences of the dictatorship on women survivors' of domestic violence experiences of seeking recognition and restitution through the Chilean justice system. In addition to other ethnographic methods, I interviewed women survivors of domestic violence who had sought help at one of two centers for women survivors of such abuse, one municipality-run and the other an NGO.

Since 1990, and building on women's rights organizing during the dictatorship and the slogan "Democracy in the country and in the home," domestic violence has been publicized and politicized in Chile. There have been numerous changes in state laws designed to help women survivors of such abuse, such as the 1994 Family Violence Law (recently revised) and the installation of treatment centers throughout the country. State policy officially recognizes that domestic violence is not to be treated as it was in the past as a private problem within the family, a sacred and untouchable space, but instead that it has causes and consequences in public spheres and is a problem that must be addressed by the state. However, this official recognition has translated only loosely into real opportunities for women to access public services to escape such situations and to heal from them.

One of the reasons for this is that injustices, related to Pinochet-era violent state policies, ideologies and practices, are deeply embedded in state institutions and perpetuate gender inequality and the violence against women it underlies. This is not to negate the progress that has been made during the post-dictatorship era, but to highlight the important impacts of the dictatorial state and ensuing post-dictatorship difficulties in promoting state policies and practices truly and substantially devoted to protecting women's rights as equal citizens and addressing the crime of domestic violence.

The evidence for the failure of the state to protect women's rights as equal citizens comes from women's testimonies about their experiences in the Chilean justice system, one of the most important state institutions to which women recur for recognition and restitution in cases of domestic violence. Here I explicate how these failures are related to dictatorial policies, ideologies and practices and especially to ideas about the "family" (consisting of a man, a woman and their children), men's and women's gender roles, and authoritarianism. Gender role ideologies and particularly men's and women's roles within the family are related to the dictatorship's intensification of pre-existent gendered policies and ideologies based on an authoritarian family structure. The family was to be based on men's gender roles as patriarchal providers moving in the "public" sphere; and women's gender roles, promoted through military-run Mothers Centers, as selfless mothers maneuvering in the "private" sphere of the household.

The regime espoused ideologies of the Chilean nation as a "family," with Pinochet the authoritarian father-figure who had taken control to put the family in chaos back in order. The family was to be modeled on this notion of the nation, in which an authoritarian father-figure must use violence to discipline its members. Thus, the regime justified men's use of violence for "the good" of the family/nation. Domestic violence during this time was, and to a large extent still is, naturalized/normalized within the society. In a group interview women reported a common saying in Chile: "He who loves you beats you."

The underlying idea here is that women not only need but also want to be disciplined by men in their intimate relationships with them, much as a father would discipline a child, or a dictator would a nation. This saying also communicates the idea that men show affection and love through violence and are doing women "a favor" by abusing them. As such, women should not complain about such treatment, and in fact should be grateful for it, as it corresponds to some "need" they have to be disciplined.

This "need" of course is to arbitrarily assigned and identified by the male, whose dictatorial power within the home is complete and left relatively unquestioned in many cases. The Family Violence Law instituted in 1994 upholds such gender roles and basic conceptualizations of the family by emphasizing reconciliation as the solution in domestic violence cases. The processes of this "reconciliation" are the mandate of the court and do not account for the vast power differential between the abuser and the victim. The court situation is arranged such that the abuser and the victim must defend their original statements to police and make their individual demands for the reconciliation process while in the same room.

The emphasis on reconciliation individualizes and decontextualizes and thereby depoliticizes women's experiences of domestic violence and their attempts at seeking help through powerful institutions entrenched in patriarchal paradigms and dictatorial era mentalities. It also brings to light some important questions about reconciliation: Is reconciliation possible in situations where there is such a vast imbalance of power between the parties entering into the process? Is reconciliation possible when one of those parties is ordered to enter into the process by a court of law? Most of the women I have interviewed reported discriminatory and abusive experiences surrounding their attempts to seek protection from police and make judicial cases against abusive intimate partners.

Women survivors have disclosed that in their experiences the judicial system is not sensitized to the issue, nor are officials adequately trained in how to handle such cases fairly. The courts often take an inordinately long time to hand down verdicts, and the process is overly dependent on the individual judge and court officials with whom one is in contact. Women report that some judges are very machista and are immediately partial to the male abuser. In many cases, when informants did not have proper legal representation and/or institutional support, they were not successful in getting any kind of attention to their cases.

In this way, women in Chile still suffer violence at the level of the state, because of state and institutional on-going neglect for fully ensuring women's rights as equal citizens, which serves to maintain inequality in intimate relationships and in institutions, and to replicate these gender-based inequalities and the legacies of state and domestic violence on which they are founded. This does not imply that the state bears sole responsibility for gender inequality and the causes and consequences thereof; however, the lack of a fully democratic justice system, related to the human rights abuses and violence of Pinochet's dictatorship, dramatically and negatively influences women's experiences of domestic violence and attempts at recovery, and plays an important role in maintaining patriarchal power structures and reproducing the status quo.

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