When I arrived here in El Salvador I thought that I would get to spend more time with individual people who were in or coming out of precarious situations. Strangely, that was not my experience at all. Nevertheless, this week I got to meet a woman who could fairly easily tell the story of many women and girls in this country. She came to volunteer for a couple days at Cemujer. While we were working on a little project together she told me that Cemujer has helped her so much. I asked her why and she started to tell me her story.
As a young girl her parents separated and her mom re-married. Her step-father started to sexually molest her and her siblings. During her childhood was raped and molested by her step-father, her mother knew the whole time and did not show any disapproval. It was almost considered something ‘normal’. This is such a common story; most of the sexual violence that happens here happens within family circles, usually someone close to the girl or woman a step-father or an uncle will commit the act of violence against girls within his own family circle.
This proximity of the victims to their abusers makes the act of denouncing these types of crimes difficult. There fear of loosing family or being rejected within the inner circle of the family creates an even stronger fear of reporting an act of sexual violence. The proximity to the perpetrator can threaten the very life of the woman or girl because any reporting the crime could lead to them committing femicide. The woman who came to Cemujer said that she stayed at home and lived with shame, guilt, and a sense of powerlessness. Eventually, the emotional scars were so deep that she had considered committing suicide.
That was when one of her older sisters who had left home, married, and moved on from some of the emotional and sexual abuse that she had received as a child encouraged her to go to Cemujer. She started attending counseling sessions which, as she said, allowed her to talk about deep hurts that she hadn’t been able to address since she was a little girl. She told me that having the opportunity to talk about her past experiences had helped her heal and gave her a new sense of freedom from her past.
This week there was a meeting of a group of women who have used the Cemujer services. They met to share experiences and encourage one another. Among other things, they participated in a guided discussion about respect, responsibility and gender roles. The reality is that violence against women is deeply ingrained in the culture and it will require a mindset change for both men and women to change the cultural acceptance of violence against women and girls.
Posted By Hannah McKeeth
Posted Dec 5th, 2008