By María Victoria Alen
When I was in my fourth year of high school, I remember we had a physics teacher who was known for two things: number one, being extremely strict. And number two, being a “sadist” with the students.
In retrospect, I can see now how repulsive it is that a rumor about a teacher being a sexual harasser, was taken as natural in an educational institution (private or public, in this case private) and that the whole situation was assumed normal, as part of the professorial fauna, as well as when we speak of the mediocre teacher, or the friendly teacher. It would seem that, within our patriarchal configuration, a sadistic teacher was something quite normal in the lyceums and what we all had to go through there.
What a way to educate ourselves to normalize violence: excellent work, high school!
“Teach” and harass
The thing was like this: the teacher hated that the girls wore sweaters tied at the waist, so each time the list went by and we stood up to be counted, we were asked to take it off, same story if we went to the blackboard, which he, almost always, did with the girls in the classroom.
At 15 years of age, my knowledge of feminism, legality, child protection and other etceteras was quite limited, so that, apart from what I thought was abusive, I did not make a bigger scandal about the situation. One day, before entering classes, a classmate and I talked about the sadistic teacher and decided that we would not listen to him when he demanded we take off our sweaters. At the beginning of the class the man, as always, called the list. And I, being of last name Alen, was the first to be called so, I got up, with my sweater tied tightly around my waist and when he asked me to take it off I categorically refused. The result? The rest of the class I had to remain standing.
Then it was my friend’s turn, who did the same with the same consequences for her. The guy then called a third student who also refused, so the behavior pattern had been established and he knew it, we were not going to obey him anymore.
The professor approached my friend and asked her why she refused, to which my friend got up with a speech that, although I do not remember correctly, evokes wonderful feelings of revolution and rebellion. The man began to worry, so like a good cornered animal he began to scream and threaten us for not fulfilling his orders. Then, the boys of the course began to murmur “sadist”, “dirty old man” in low voices and in less than a minute the guy had a room in open rebellion against his sexual misconduct.
He returned to his desk, visibly upset and began to justify himself saying that he was just trying to maintain uniformity, that we were spoiled and, to everyone’s surprise, he pretended to faint. I say pretended because he took good care of being close to the chair when he did and fell back with enough delicacy so that his weight did not take the chair with him and fall backwards to the floor. Immediately, a student went to call the coordinator and in less than 2 minutes the director was present before our expressions, crossed between surprise and disbelief.
To make the story short, the director talked to the whole class, justified the teacher (whom he had known for many years, as he told us) and the sweetner of the rest was more or less in the terrible consequences (for the professor) the accusations we were making could have, the seriousness of everything and how inconsiderate we had been. Result? We did not have a physics teacher the rest of the year and the guy was retired.
Have we changed a lot?
Back to the present, 15 years later, a university professor repeatedly harasses several students of the PNF of Arts at the Experimental University of the Arts, better known as Unearte, all this before the undaunted gaze of the academic and governmental authorities, that they have done amazing juggling to avoid, at all costs, talking about the case, much less trying to assume their responsibility in it.
As 15 years ago, the authorities wash their hands, feigning a bit of dementia and another little sympathy with the perpetrator, becoming immediate accomplices of the sexual harasser. Also, as 15 years ago, the perpetrator, with high level contacts, knows that nothing is going to happen, as indeed it has not, and unlike many other cases reported by networks in which the victimizer is imprisoned and prosecuted by law, (thanks to the insistence by networks of feminist groups and social movements) in this case various strategies were used, including threats to journalists and dismissals for relatives of those who decide to bring the issue to light.
Here we could stop to contemplate the nuances of the case. According to the reports and denunciations made, the teacher of Unearte “cajoled” the victims by promising fame and fortune and then recording them in sexual acts that, presumably, he sold later.
The questions and doubts I have read about the case are more or less in the vein of “but they also decided to take that risk because the guy promised fame, therefore, they also have responsibility because they could have refused”, which would lead dangerously to the waters of victim blaming. Although it is not clear how long this individual has committed these atrocities, we do know that he is an experienced man with a high level of manipulativeness that borders on psychopathy. On the other hand, we have a group of young people with high expectations regarding their careers and a vulnerability, given in part by their youth and, in another, by the confidence that would correspond to the presence of a teacher, a figure that must convey security, trust and support.
And what about the authorities?
All of the above is only part of a dantesque landscape that surrounds us, without even entering the institutional waters, such as: what mechanisms does the university offer to handle these cases? (not only the Unearte, in the UCV there are lots of identical cases that have ended up in the same empty bag of oblivion and academic complicity). And on the other hand, what tools does Venezuelan law offer? We know that we have a specific Organic Law that includes 22 forms of gender violence, but are our prosecutors educated in gender violence? It seems that not much, as happened in the case of Angela Aguirre, whose complaint was to be dismissed by the prosecutor assigned to the case, Emily Hernández, who, altering the evidence, intended to pass the death of Angela as a case of accidental drowning instead of one of kidnapping, group rape and murder.
Or the national police, who when asked what they think of these cases often respond with suspicion, looking away and responding with a timid: “those are domestic cases that I prefer not to broach”, alluding to the old phrase: “in matters of husband and wife, no one should be intrude”, so that leads to the death of the woman in question. Even, the complicit silence of the political representatives of both banners that, when a piece of news does not serve their partisan interests, are oblivious in full view. If “avoiding the responsibilities of the competition” was an Olympic sport, our politicians would leave with an undisputed gold in all modalities.
What to do?
The first thing is to inform yourself about it. Online there are thousands of pages that develop terms such as feminicide, cycle of violence, patriarchy, sexist behavior, revictimization, among others. As the first cause, if you are interested in the subject, the main thing is to educate yourself in it, before commenting on it, so you will become a political agent of change and not a door stop.
Secondly, fortunately, through social networks there are different campaigns and organizations that provide informative and communicative support in these specific areas. The alternative is not to silence, ommission and letting it go, but to educate, investigate and then organize according to these cases, to know them, report them and above all insist, to all involved, actively or passively, that justice be done for the women who are not only harassed, assaulted, raped, murdered and mutilated by perpetrators but are later revictimized by the moralistic critique of those who have not had enough empathy to understand all the edges of the situation. We can not allow prosecutors like Emily Hernandez, or perpetrators like Vladimir Castillo to tarnish the lives of our young women,
Finally, we need to make a collective reflection on this subject, according to a recent report, the data on femicide in Venezuela exceeds the world average by 10%, which means that practically every 4 of 10 Venezuelan women have suffered different types of violence because of their condition as women. These figures, alarming as they are, are reversible, but for this we must begin by understanding that, to let go of cases like the first one mentioned above, paves the way for the normalization of actions like those of the second, which are not only terrible because of how normal they are in society, but acquire a new level of horror when we discover that the authorities, those destined to take care of us, protect and defend us, are the first ones that lend themselves to the reproduction of these acts, protecting the aggressors through the use of their positions and the title granted by the People’s Power and the whole people. We have a long way to go, but we’re moving forward.
Translated by JRE/