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
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.
WOMEN EXECUTED AND DISAPPEARED IN CHILE
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
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.
VIOLENCE AS TORTURE
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
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
LEGACIES OF DICTATORSHIP
FOR WOMEN SURVIVORS
OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN CHILE
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.