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Mini-skirts and rape in Colombia

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 19 November 2013 13:52 GMT

An activist for a women's rights group holds a poster during the "March of Whores" to protest against discrimination and violence against women in Medellin April 6, 2013. The march is part of the SlutWalk protest movement which started after a police officer advised female students in Canada to "avoid dressing like sluts". The poster reads: "No slut". REUTERS/Albeiro Lopera

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Colombia still has a long way to go to change society's engrained belief that violence against women is somehow a woman's fault because of the way she dresses

It's perhaps the most famous restaurant in Colombia where the well-heeled go to enjoy a succulent steak, cocktails and dancing.

Near the capital Bogota, the Andres Carnes de Res restaurant, has made its owner, Andres Jaramillo, a household name and one of the best known businessmen and brands in Colombia.

So when Jaramillo criticised the victim of an alleged rape in the car park of his restaurant people listened.

"Let's consider what happens when a 20-year-old girl comes (to the restaurant) with her girlfriends, who is then left by her father in the hands of God. She's dressed in an overcoat and underneath it, has a mini-skirt on. Well, what's she playing at?" Jaramillo told local radio station, BluRadio.

His comments earlier this month sparked a backlash on social media and from women's rights campaigners.

"Remarks like the one by Andres Jaramillo only imply that a woman is to blame for being raped," Colombian senator Gloria Ramirez was quoted as saying in El Espectador newspaper.

Jaramillo's 'deplorable' remarks aren't a one-off but reflect widespread sexism and a culture of victim-blaming in cases of gender violence, El Espectador said in a recent editorial.

"Of course the problem with all of this is that unfortunately, the way in which Andres Jaramillo thinks is not simply an outburst in Colombia. On many occasions, that's the way in which sexual crimes against women in this country are conceived," the editorial said.

Colombia's presidential advisor on women's rights, Nigeria Renteria, also weighed in on the national debate following Jaramillo's comments.

"Such remarks result in a message that justifies sexual violence against women in that it places the responsibility on the young woman about the possible aggression against her because of the clothes she was wearing," Renteria said in a press statement.

Jaramillo has since apologised for his remarks.

"I would like to offer an apology to those women and men who were offended by my comments ... I emphatically reject any form of violence against women as I believe there's nothing that justifies it," he said in a press statement.

He then went on to say: "I love mini-skirts because beyond their esthetic, it's a way of expressing freedom."

Jaramillo has said he's cooperating fully with police investigating the alleged rape.

But his apology has done little to defuse the anger his comments have provoked.

Over the past weekend, dozens of women dressed in short dresses and mini-skirts protested outside one of Jaramillo's restaurants in north Bogota, holding placards saying, 'With a mini-skirt on or naked, respect women's bodies,' while chanting 'Andres, our body is not meat.'

Colombia's patriarchal society and macho culture has been blamed by local women's groups for normalising violence against women.

In 2011, 17,000 medical exams were carried out on women who had been victims of alleged sexual violence, according to Colombia's National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences.

But many incidents of sexual violence against women in Colombia go unreported. Little confidence in the criminal justice system, fear of reprisals from their aggressors and low prosecution rates for sexual violence cases prevents more women from coming forward and more cases going to court, rights groups say.

Rehardless of the outcome of the police investigation into the alleged rape in the restaurant car park, remarks like Jaramillo's show Colombia still has a long way to go to change society's engrained belief that violence against women is somehow a woman's fault because of the way she dresses.


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