‘The rapist is you’: Inside the women-led protest against sexual assault in Chile

As the country is rocked by weeks of anti-government protests, thousands have taken to the streets to call out violence against women

Naomi Larsson
Santiago
Sunday 08 December 2019 13:00 GMT
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‘The rapist is you’ song has gone viral amid the weeks-long demonstrations in Chile
‘The rapist is you’ song has gone viral amid the weeks-long demonstrations in Chile (AFP via Getty)

Blindfolded and dressed in black, thousands of women descend on the Chilean capital and chant what has now become their rallying cry: “El violador eres tu (The rapist is you).”

As Chile enters its seventh week of unrest, which has paralysed much of the country, these women are speaking out against the sexual violence against them that is rife in the country.

“The fault was not mine, not where I was, nor what I wore. The rapist is you,” the group of almost 10,000 chant together outside Santiago’s National Stadium on Wednesday – a notorious detention and torture centre during Chile’s 17-year military dictatorship.

“This song is to show the violence that women experience in their lives: the institutional violence, the violence in homes, the political violence, the sexual violence that women have lived in Chile,” former doctor Maria Isabel Matamala Vivaldi, 79, tells The Independent.

Like the thousands around her, she wears red lipstick and a red scarf around her neck to symbolise the sexual nature of the assaults.

Sexual violence is widespread, with the Chilean Network against Violence towards Women recording 32 femicides this year, yet only about 8 per cent of rape cases in Chile end in a conviction.

“This performance reflects all of our rage for all that has happened. We take this victimisation and we have transformed it into force, into a fight, and into a conviction to create a society without violence,” Matamala Vivaldi says.

Created by feminist collective Las Tesis from the port city of Valparaiso, the chant “El Violador en tu Camino”, or “A Rapist in Your Way”, was performed for the Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November, during another day of nationwide protests in Chile.

Throughout history women in Chile have been fighting. We were part of the fight during the dictatorship, looking for the disappeared, rejecting the dictator

Wilma Roja, protester

The song instantly resonated with women in Chile, amid numerous reports of police violence against woman protesters. Similar performances of the song have also taken place in London, Paris and Mexico City.

Its lyrics are clear: “It is the cops, the judges, the state, the president.”

“There are young women who are now fighting and have experienced sexual violence in police detention, or in the street when they have been protesting. We’re fighting against this now,” says Matamala Vivaldi.

The uprising in Chile began on 18 October after Santiago’s metro price was increased by 30 pesos, making it the most expensive transport system in Latin America. What began as a student protest quickly erupted into widespread demonstrations and often violent unrest about decades of social and economic inequality.

Chileans of all ages and classes have taken to the streets against the almost complete privatisation of public services including education, pensions, healthcare and water. But the daily demonstrations in Santiago, and in many other cities and towns across the country, have been met with repression from state forces.

So far at least 23 people have been killed and thousands injured. The national human rights institute, the INDH, has filed 106 sexual violence cases against state forces, including rape and being forced to strip naked in detention.

Part of the choreography for the Las Tesis song involves squatting, referring to allegations that women and children have been forced to squat naked while in police detention. Police protocols explicitly ban that practice, without any exceptions, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report on Chile, which called for urgent police reform following grave human rights abuses.

At the demonstration on Wednesday, one of the biggest feminist marches since the protests began, the group called for the resignation of President Sebastian Pinera, and for a new constitutional assembly to replace Chile’s current constitution written under Augusto Pinochet.

“We are here because we support the movement. As women, we support the fight and what Chileans are calling for – for better pensions, the minimum wage. We feel that every day the Chilean people are going out on the streets and we have a government that isn’t listening,” 60-year-old Wilma Roja says.

“Throughout history women in Chile have been fighting. We were part of the fight during the dictatorship, looking for the disappeared, rejecting the dictator,” adds Roja.

“This fight has feeling because all of these people have picked up the flags of protest and are going to change Chilean society,” Matamala Vivaldi continues. “I have a lot of hope.”

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