*Trigger Warning – Reference and description of distressing violence against women at the hands of police*
Alison Melendez was 17 when she was sexually abused last week by a group of Colombian policemen. She was captured for allegedly being part of the protest groups in Popayán, a city in the south of my country Colombia, South America. The next day Alison was found dead. The official version states that she committed suicide. In the social networks, there is a video of four policemen carrying Alison to the detention center, each holding one of her extremities. One can hear Alison screaming, “Four were necessary to carry me? Four against one woman? Cowards!” The next day – before she was found dead – she posted on Instagram that she was not part of the protests that night. She was walking to a friend’s house when the police showed up. She started recording their actions, they saw her and went mad, so they captured her. When she resisted, four of them took her to the police station. In the post, Alison mentions how they groped her to the soul.” In the video, one can see how her pants came off while they were carrying her, and the policemen did not care. They just kept walking. The last time we see Alison in the video is inside the station. Then cameras were turned off.
*End Trigger Warning*
Alison is one of the 18 cases of sexual violence reported during the protests that started last April 28 in different cities of Colombia. In addition, there are 87 reports of violence and abusive behavior against women protesting. Alison’s case has been more visible, but it is easy to find several videos of police officers beating, harassing, and capturing women in the protests on social media. We have been witnessing this terrible violence full of indignation and impotence, despite protesting is our legitimate right as citizens.
I have been joining the protests a couple of weeks ago. We are afraid every day of not returning home safe and sound. And we, women in the cities, probably did not calculate the amount of violence and cruelty we were about to face when joining peaceful protests against a government that has proven to be tyrannic for decades. The unnecessarily violent police suit the government they serve, pointing to us as foes and not listening at all. Women in the countryside know better.
Colombia has faced an inner armed conflict for more than sixty years. The conflict has mutated and complexified due to several factors. It includes narco-wars and the U.S. government funding our army since 1999. In the context of the armed conflict, women’s bodies have been used as a weapon or spoils of war. Between 1958 and 2017, we had a total of 15,076 people victims of sexual violence amid war events; 91.6% women. All the sides, guerrillas, paramilitaries, and State (legal) armies sexually abused, tortured and killed women in the rural areas for decades when cameras were not around. Their voices always have been invisible, ignored, or mocked. Racism and classism have been at the center of disregarding, laughing, and even blaming indigenous and farmer women reporting sexual violence and other crimes perpetrated by the Colombian army.
Alvin Gongora, a wonderful Colombian theologian, has presented women’s situation in the protests. Last week in Publica, theology in public life, in the Panel: SOS Colombia, he stated:
The Colombian government has declared that we, the civilians, are their foes. Then, they send their armed force to attack us. But in the broad landscape of the government’s enemies, there is a specific group of women, which have been incommoding a long time because they see themselves as political subjects. When an empowered woman is protesting, she is defying patriarchal masculinity. Alison’s case is the evidence. Those policemen felt so challenged by Alison that they did not care about the cameras around. They are hiding behind the protection of patriarchy, so they are entitled to act with impunity. The violence against women protesting is a way of punishing their disobedience when they broke expected roles for women in a macho society like ours.
Besides, it is horrifying seeing the big broadcasting companies supporting and defending the government, the police, and the anti-riot squads, despite the multiple videos and evidence of the illegal violence inflicted against people in general and women in particular. Regarding Alison’s case, they claim that “she shouldn’t be on the streets instigating violence,” ignoring the police responsibility and blaming her for what happened. I keep learning about the dimensions of patriarchy and its evil foundation.
Alison’s life and the other 52 people assassinated during the protests became our inspiration. We will be on the streets again tomorrow and the day after, and the day after that one, until justice comes. Several journalists and political analysts agree that we are still protesting despite the government’s violent response because we have nothing else to fear.
And we, women, feminist or not, are still in the front of this fight, honoring all women in the countryside historically forgotten and ignored. Also, we fight on behalf of all women in the cities underpaid, raising kids by themselves, struggling daily to get food due to unjust government policies and invisible, but more than real, patriarchy. In the meantime, our president, Iván Duque, is pressuring the South American Soccer Association (CONMEBOL) to host the Copa America in Colombia while impeding the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to visit the country. He is trying (unsuccessfully) to hide the social crisis while he keeps ordering the troops via Twitter to attack us.
I invite you, my dear FAR community, to pray for us, keep spreading the word about the Colombian crisis, advocate for us with your authorities, and not remain indifferent to this small but incredibly amazing country.
Laura Montoya is from Bogotá, Colombia. She is a Psychologist, devoted to work alongside communities affected by the 60+ years of war in her country. Currently, she is a second-year student in the Masters of Divinity program at Boston University School of Theology. She is also a FAR intern and Office Assistant in the Anna Howard Shaw Center at BU-STH. Due to the pandemic, she is living in her hometown with her husband Oscar, a baby dog named Joy, and her cat Agustin of Hippo.
Categories: abuse, Abuse of Power, Body, civil rights, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, General, Human Rights, Justice, Patriarchy, Police brutality, Politics, Poverty, Rape Culture, Sex Abuse Crisis, Sexual Violence, Women's Suffering, Women's Voices