Last month, 18-year-old Katherine Gómez was murdered by her ex-boyfriend Sergio Tarache after their breakup. Gómez agreed to meet with Tarache in a crowded plaza in Lima, where CCTV footage shows Tarache leaving suddenly to buy gasoline, dousing Gómez with it, and using a lighter to burn her alive. It took five days for a warrant to be issued for his arrest, allowing Tarache to flee Peru before an international manhunt apprehended him in Colombia.
Nine days after Gómez’s murder, an 11-year-old girl was found in Peru’s Ucayali region with two nails in her skull – after her 25-year-old stepbrother had tried to rape her, according to Al-Jazeera. Two days after that, a 32-year-old nurse was found naked and bloodied, with head trauma and mutilated genitalia, after a night out with two (male) coworkers in Puno. The nurse suffered a leg amputation, infection, and 12 days in a coma before finally succumbing to her injuries.
According to Al Jazeera, 6 out of 10 women in Peru have experienced instances of sexual or physical violence, with rates of femicide (defined as intentional murder of women) soaring. The first three months of this year alone saw 51 cases of reported femicides – almost half as many already as the record 137 cases throughout 2022. This string of grisly incidents narrates a vicious story of inequality and death, which Al Jazeera is calling a systematic “crisis” of gender-based violence.
“It’s a vicious circle,” said Diana Portal, of the nation’s ombuds office. “Cases continue to occur, and a negligent state response sends an unfortunate message that in Peru you can rape, disappear or kill a woman without consequence.”
Government officials, women’s rights activists, and victims’ family members alike blame entrenched misogyny, ultra-conservative legislation, and mistrust in the justice system as contributing factors in the rising violence against women in the country. Despite Dina Boluarte’s ascension as Peru’s first female president, legislation that could restrict access to therapeutic abortion, even in cases of rape, has been advanced, and activists say this kind of hostile, victim-blaming stance is common among state institutions. While one representative of the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations admitted that work needs to be done to restore public trust, ministry director Nancy Tolentino said in a statement that women should “choose [whom they go out with] wisely” to avoid becoming victims.
The system “fails to comply with due diligence and does not take reports seriously, which aggravates a situation of daily violence,” Portal says, indicating the lack of trust the Peruvian public has in its judiciary. A recent poll revealed that less than 30% of women who are victims of violence report incidents to authorities, Al Jazeera says, leaving a majority of cases to go undocumented. Even when cases are brought to government attention, activists claim lack of funding forces emergency aid programs to abandon victims. According to Al Jazeera, these activists are calling for “stronger prevention measures, harsher sentencing for aggressors, and meaningful education reforms to address the violence” – a cry taken up by the victims’ parents, as well as N.G.O.s like Mothers Fighting for Justice and Acción Por Igualdad, who have joined the protestors in demanding justice.
Gómez and the other victims’ murders are shining a harsh light on how desperately Peru needs to fix its broken judicial system. It will take hard work and determination to break the vicious circle and put an end to Peru’s plague of femicide.
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