A number of sexual abuse, harassment and rape cases of young and adolescent girls were recently exposed and shared on Venezuelan social media. Several of the alleged aggressors belong to the country’s artistic, educational and literary fields.
Cases and social media
On April 19, 2021, Alejandro Sojo was accused of statutory rape as well as sexual abuse and harassment. Sojo is the former singer of the Venezuelan band Los Colores, which won the 2012 New Band Rock Festival. He now resides in Argentina. The allegations against him were supported by the testimonies made by six young women through an Instagram account set up for such purposes.
This account compiles and makes public evidential conversations between the alleged assailant and teenage women between the ages of 14 and 16. It also shares past victims’ stories concerning sexual harassment, abuse and rape testimonies in which Sojo and his friend and fellow Los Colores musician Murachi Palomo are named.
More than twenty young women sent their testimonies of sexual violence allegedly committed by Sojo and Palomo to the account.
Sexual harassment, lecherous acts, sexual abuse and rape are forms of sexual violence against women – both adult and underage – which are penalized in Venezuela’s Law on Women’s Right for a Life Free of Violence (LODMVLV) and Law for the Protection of Children and Adolescents (LOPNNA).
The former defines sexual violence as any conduct that threatens or violates the right of a woman, girl and adolescent to voluntarily and freely decide her sexuality, including not only the sexual act, but also any form of sexual, genital or non-genital contact or access, including lavish acts, violent lecherous acts, carnal access or rape itself.
Article 43 of the law states that a person who commits sexual violence may be punished with 15 to 20 years prison. This sentence may be increased by one quarter to one third if the victim is a girl or an adolescent, or if the assailant is a family member of the victim.
Yelena Carpio is a Venezuelan feminist lawyer who is part of the Tinta Violeta collective. She explains that there are other punishable elements established in the law, such as a carnal act with a particularly vulnerable victim (article 44).
"This article ratifies what the previous one states, and adds a description of vulnerable women in relation to their age. It mentions cases when the victim is under 13 for example; when the perpetrator used his relationship of superiority or kinship with the victim; or if the victim has a physical or mental disability among others. However, other vulnerabilities should be considered when denouncing cases of sexual violence, such as socio-economic vulnerability," Carpio explains.
In Venezuela, statutory rape is an old-fashioned legal term referring to an adult’s sexual acts with minors. It is, in fact, the same as the crime of rape or other sexual violence against a particularly vulnerable victim which is penalized in the country’s legal code.
For the feminist and lawyer Maria Santini there is “no sexual relationship when there is no consent. If we mean unequal relationships of power, we are really talking about sexual violence, rape and lecherous acts against girls, women and adolescents."
Carpio adds that sexual abuse within the LODMVLV law refers to lecherous acts. That is, the use of violence that subjects a girl, woman or adolescent to unwanted sexual contact, affecting her right to freely decide her sexuality. This is also so that even without violence or threats, when the aggressor uses their relationship of authority, privilege or kinship to achieve this.
Regarding this kind of sexist violence, Daniella Inojosa, a women's human rights lawyer, stresses that in a case of sexual abuse or lecherous acts there may be no rape. But where there's rape, there's sexual abuse.
Article 259 of the LOPNNA law explicitly defines sexual abuse of children, but states that the judicial attention to these cases should be consistent with the provisions of the Penal Code and the LODMVLV law.
The most recent allegations of sexual violence committed by the Los Colores vocalist came alongside similar claims made on other social networks such as Twitter. On Twitter, individuals and feminist organizations have been trending the hashtags #YoSiTeCreo (I believe you), #NiUnaMas (Not one more), among others, with the objective of insisting on the need to break the cultural norm of sexist violence.
In this regard, countless young and adult women raised their voices on virtual platforms to denounce more Venezuelan musicians, artists, writers and theatre directors.
Among the musicians accused of sexual violence are the guitarist of the rock band Okills Leonardo Jaramillo, Tony Maestracci of the group Tomates Fritos and Daniel Landaeta of LeCinema. The groups have issued statements in support of the victims and state that the musicians have since left the respective bands. In light of the social media accusations, some of the alleged assailants have spoken out publicly.
Theatrical and literary fields are also affected by the wave of allegations. The director and co-founder of the Skena Theater Group Juan Carlos Ogando was accused of sexual abuse and harassment of young girls and adolescents. Following actress Andrea González Cariello’s testimony via her Instagram account, other young women were motivated to speak up about the abuses allegedly committed by this theater director.
Additionally, accusations of sexual violence against Venezuelan journalists and directors were also made, including Willy McKey, Víctor Amaya (Tal Cual newspaper) and César Batiz (El Pitazo TV).
McKey, a writer and producer at Prodavinci living in Argentina, was accused of harassment and lecherous acts against a 15-year-old girl in 2015. He committed suicide on April 29, 2021 after Venezuela’s public prosecutor's office opened an investigation into various accusations made on social media.
As a result, feminist figures and organizations have had to respond to hate messages and stigmatization towards the victims, stressing that the alleged aggressor’s suicide is not their responsibility.
The statements from Venezuelan authorities
During a recent Caracas press conference, Attorney General Tarek William Saab sent a message of solidarity to the victims of sexual violence.
Saab also announced that he had assigned a national prosecutor to investigate Sojo, Palomo, Maestracci, McKey, Ogando and José Pepe Arceo (theater director of Ant Producciones). On April 29, the state representative reported that comedian José Rafael Briceño will also be investigated after allegations that he drugged and raped women as part of his Que se vayan todos (Let them all leave) program in which McKey also participated.
Saab emphasized that these alleged sexual abuses were committed by people who used their fame or power against adolescent or adult women. He also reported that he had decided to propose a revision of the legislation on cases of sexual violence.
Venezuela’s attorney general office receives allegations of machista violence through the Directorate-General for the Protection of the Family and Women. It also channels allegations of rape, sexual abuse and other expressions of gender-based violence.
On April 28, the Ministry for Women and Gender Equality also issued a statement signed by Minister Carolys Pérez in which she expresses her solidarity with women who have been denouncing sexual violence, and energetically condemned the material perpetrators. She also shared the 0800MUJERES (0800WOMEN) national helpline for the care of victims of gender-based violence.
Feminist organizations accompany the survivors
Feminist organizations have a growing impact in terms of training and public reporting in Venezuela. They provide accompaniment, legal advice and psychological care to survivors.
Regarding the visibility of sexist practices in the arts and theater fields, formal complaints have been introduced, and communiqués and calls for reflection sent to universities and other institutions.
In June 2018, five students denounced audiovisual arts teacher Vladimir Castillo for sexual harassment, threats and psychological violence at the National Experimental University of the Arts (UNEARTE) in Caracas.
The modus operandi of this alleged assailant consisted in blackmailing students, promising them participation in artistic productions and manipulating them from his position of power as a teacher to abuse them sexually.
Today, feminist groups such as Faldas-R accompany the UNEARTE students who dared to raise their voices. Carpio, the victims' lawyer, stated that a preliminary hearing of this case was held in August 2019, in which the prosecutor accused Castillo of crimes of psychological violence and threats and harassment, while the judge admitted the sexual harassment charge. To date, the preliminary hearing transcription has not been corrected and this case has yet to go to trial.
In 2020, organizations and prominent figures spoke out in rejection of Castillo's appointment as vice president of the National Audiovisual Television Foundation (ANTV). In August of the same year, a Twitter storm was held with the hashtags #HermanaYoSiTeCreo (Sister I believe you) and #JusticiaParaLasEstudiantes (Justice for the students) to highlight the injustices experienced by the young survivors, as well as the procedural delay.
Also, popular and feminist organizations disseminated a ‘Justice for Students’ communiqué in which they demanded Castillo’s removal from educational spaces and the correction of the preliminary hearing transcription. They also called for the implementation of gender-based campaigns to prevent sexist practices in educational institutions and the development and implementation of protocols to address sexual violence in the country’s public and private schools.
More recently, the Tinta Violeta collective exposed that Jenny Lorena Rosales had been granted bail through their Twitter account on April 26. Rosales allegedly coopted young women for sexual exploitation through Sambil Model (1), a company belonging to the trafficking network of [Sambil Model owner Fabio González, aka] Negro Fabio.
Female trafficking is a crime against fundamental human rights. As such, according to Venezuela’s Law on Women’s Right for a Life Free of Violence, procedural benefits cannot be offered to those involved. For this reason, a Twitter storm was held on April 27 with the hashtags #JusticiaParaLasVíctimas (Justice for the victims), #NiUnaMas (Not one more), #NoMasTrataDeMujeresYNiñasVenezolanas (No more trafficking of Venezuelan women and girls) to make the Court of Control’s measure visible.
Immediately following this storm, the Public Prosecutor's Office introduced an appeal to suspend the bail, leaving Jenny Rosales temporarily detained. The appeal was accepted, and Rosales is currently being held in a Caracas prison within the violence against women division.
However, the Court of Appeals is still due to decide whether the defendant will undergo trial from prison or on bail, according to information from the Public Prosecutor's Office.
Thus, we can see that feminist groups demands and insistence so that the Venezuelan state offers timely and prompt attention on cases of violence against women, girls and adolescents are multiple. In addition, they demand feminist programs, protocols and training in all institutions, which point to the cultural eradication of machismo.
Currently, through the #YoSiTeCreo campaign in Venezuela, a number of singer-songwriters and actresses have shared their stories of sexual abuse and harassment which they disseminate on virtual platforms.
Venezuelan feminist group La 5ta Ola and various other groups have shared social media communiqués expressing their solidarity and accompaniment to survivors of sexual violence, and telling each girl, young woman and adult that #NoEstánSolas (They are not alone). They also demand that the Venezuelan state grant timely attention, without re-victimization, in cases of sexist violence.
Finally, the Tinta Violeta collective and the Arana Feminista network spoke out emphasizing that even when several years have passed since a crime, survivors can still report them. At the same time, they warn of the threats and harassment that young women and adults could face after raising their voices.
(1) Sambil is one of the largest and most exclusive mall chains in Venezuela. Sambil Model is a beauty pageant organized and sponsored by Sambil.
Translation by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.