By Kiyanna Stewart
Women’s rights activist Maria Lucrecia Vicente Franco revealed the harsh realities of women living in Guatemala to a group of Women’s & Gender Studies students on March 25 as part of Rutgers University’s celebration of Women’s History Month.
Vicente Franco is a psychologist and an active member of the Guatemalan women’s rights organization, Nuestra Voz (Our Voice). She presented a screening of the acclaimed documentary, “Killer’s Paradise,” released in 2006, which reveals the socially normalized violence against women in Guatemala, as well as the unresponsive government, which takes no initiative to find or prosecute murderers.
“Killer’s Paradise” documents the story of Claudina Isabel Velasquez, a 19-year-old law student murdered in the summer of 2005, as her family urges the authorities to investigate who killed her. Velasuez is one of more than 6,000 women who have been murdered in Guatemala since 1999. According to Franco, 665 women on average are killed every year.
Last year, of the six-hundred women killed, not one case was solved by Guatemalan authorities. In 2005 alone, 640 women, nearly two a day, were killed at the hands of domestic violence, gang violence and largely, “femicide”, which she calls a fairly new term for a historically-prevalent trend. Femicide, is used to characterize the murder of women specifically because the victim is a woman, and is increasing alarmingly in developing countries with high levels of poverty and illiteracy.
Franco described typical cases, in which, women may first be abducted, subjected to severe beatings, rape, sexual mutilation, perverse torture, or dismemberment then killed and subsequently deposited in public areas. “These are young women who don’t fit a traditional mold. They are mothers working to support their children, young girls putting themselves through school and many of them, professional and independent” she told The Raritan Journal, later adding, “Because they assert themselves into public spaces, they’re specifically being targeted.”
Like Velasquez, 17-year-old Andrea Fabiola Contreras was also gruesomely murdered. Her body was found in a dump in Jocotenango, Sacatepequez with the word “vengeance” carved into her right leg with a knife. Her hands were tied in a plastic bag, which had been thrown into a ditch used as a trash dump. Her throat had been cut, she had wounds and cuts on her face and chest and she had been shot in the head at close range. Contreras had been raped, with her sandals, white blouse, and underclothes were found next to her body, recalls Franco.
“It was tough to hear that this is a reality for some young women not only in Guatemala, but in other parts of the world. We leave our houses and dorm rooms never expecting to be murdered by our ex-boyfriend, father or even our current boyfriend,” said Rutgers Junior Natalie Lenxton. Some argue that the way in which these crimes are unacknowledged adds a double layer of oppression.
According to “Killer’s Paradise,” Guatemalan authorities, who do not keep statistical data, are simply not interested in investigating the disappearances. For the most part, they assume that the woman has run off with a boyfriend, and if they happen to find a body, claim that she must have been a prostitute or actively involved in gangs and therefore, not worth opening a case file for.
Nevertheless, Franco feels that by communicating the extent of violence against women to a global audience, she can mitigate geographical, socioeconomic and cultural boundaries, which foster ideas of separatism while comparing violence. She ended by saying, “I am here [at Rutgers], to show a side of domestic and gendered violence that most don’t ever see. Hopefully by spreading a message internationally, and pressuring the Guatemalan government, we can finally put an end to these inhumane acts of violence.”