Guatemala Moves Towards Confronting Sexual Violence
Thursday, December 3, 2009 3:40 PM

2 December 2009

While Guatemala has long been known for its brutal civil war, high rates of gang violence, and widespread sexual violence against women, in recent years, institutions such as international NGOs, the Guatemalan government, and Guatemalan non- profits have moved towards addressing rape and other forms of violence against women. Though progress has been made, activists say that the sexual violence crisis is far from over.

The Guatemalan government estimates that 77 out of 100,000 Guatemalan residents have been raped, but organizations say that figure is far higher. Only two percent of cases are brought to trial, and eight of every ten women who attempt to prosecute their assaulter drop charges. Some argue that the level of violence is similar to levels during the civil war, which lasted from 1960 to 1996. Roselyn Costantino, a professor of violence against women in Latin America at Pennsylvania State University, stated that "The country is out of control right now with [drug] trafficking and violence, and women are often the innocent ones caught in between.” (The Christian Science Monitor).

Doctors Without Borders recently opened its only mission in Latin America in Guatemala City, where it treats survivors of sexual assault. National NGOS like Fundación Sobrevivientes help survivors prosecute their crimes through  the Guatemalan legal system.

In 2008, the Guatemalan government, facing charges of granting virtual impunity to assaulters, passed a femicide law and in 2009 created a new presidential office to aid in the legislation’s implementation. The new law went into effect in early November 2009, and so far more than 30 cases are being prosecuted.

Norma Cruz, director of Fundación Sobrevivientes, believes that "The law is important, but we have a system in which 98 percent of crimes are not even brought to trial. Even fewer are convicted. For a woman to press for her crime to be prosecuted takes a lot of courage” (The Christian Science Monitor).

Compiled from: Ezra Fieser, “Guatemala Slowly Confronts Widespread Rape of Women,” The Christian Science Monitor (20 November 2009).