“We Declare Ourselves Rebels”. Photo from the feminist group Uquira, used and remixed with permission.

In Venezuela, the #MeToo movement is back in the spotlight with more intensity in 2021. A new wave of accusations has given rise to the “YoTeCreoVzla” (“IBelieveYouVenezuela”) movement. The voices of survivors of harassment, abuse, and rape have multiplied on social media in recent days through expressions of support with the hashtags #YoSiTeCreoVzla and #YoTeCreoVzla. Many Venezuelan women agree there had been previous complaints, but they were not given much importance until now, leading to an abrupt awakening.

The wave gained momentum on April 20, 2021, with the creation of the Instagram account @AlejandroSojoEstupro, which compiles allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by musician Alejandro Sojo. Sojo had already been reported for harassment in 2018 through a Twitter thread from the account “Libertad.” Libertad deleted the thread months later, overwhelmed by the avalanche of messages of mockery, discredit, and hate.

According to Venezuelan news site Cinco8, Sojo published a statement and closed his Instagram account on April 24, and more allegations began to rain down on the Venezuelan art scene. Testimonies appeared against members of other bands, including Okills, Le Cinemá, and Tomates Fritos. Almost immediately, the claims against the Venezuelan rock scene expanded to the entire cultural sphere, involving writers, journalists, visual artists, and others.

On April 28, there was an explosion when “Pía” denounced a relatively well-known Venezuelan writer, Willy McKey, for having committed statutory rape between 2015 and 2016, when she was 16 and he was 36. McKey put together publications on Instagram acknowledging what he did, with texts that seemed to defend women’s rights, which attracted criticism from many of his female followers. Veronica Ruiz del Vizo, a specialist in social media and digital marketing, made a Twitter thread explaining why McKey’s post was problematic:

Se que debes estar leyendo @WillyMcKey. Sabes la relación cercana y amigos en común. Desde mi profesión hablo, porque hoy tengo el corazón roto.

Quiero decir públicamente que me preocupa tu estrategia de redes sociales. La selección de los colores en tus publicaciones.

— Veronica Ruiz del Vizo (@VeroRuizdelVizo) April 29, 2021

I know you must be reading this @WillyMcKey. You know our close relationship and mutual friends. I am speaking from my profession, because I am heartbroken today.

I want to say publicly that I am concerned about your social media strategy. The selection of colors in your posts.

That same afternoon, when he already had an international arrest warrant following accusations of sexual abuse, McKey died by suicide in Buenos Aires. On social media, users asked to focus the narrative on survivors and not on the aggressor.

Meanwhile, some Venezuelan women fear the possible politicization of the complaints for political ends. For example, in a country where campaigns to harass and discredit journalists are common, the Venezuelan Public Prosecutor’s Office opened investigations against journalists. The most relevant case is the investigation against Víctor Amaya, editor in chief of Diario TalCual, and César Batiz, director of the independent media El Pitazo, mentioned by an anonymous account which, to date, has not attracted more direct and substantiated complaints. Journalists from El Pitazo signed a statement rejecting the accusations against Batiz, and later, journalists from TalCual did the same for Amaya. In light of these two cases, people ask the government not to exploit the movement to persecute dissidents.

Online reactions

Feminist activist Luisa Kislinger draws attention to the fact that #MeToo had not yet reached Venezuela, until now:

Nunca tuve dudas de que el #MeToo llegaría a #Venezuela en algún momento

Y llegó

A quienes piden “perdón,” sepan que ello no reemplaza la responsabilidad por los delitos cometidos

A las valientes víctimas y sobrevivientes que cuentan sus historias, mi apoyo para Uds #YoTeCreo

— Luisa Kislinger🌺 (@kislingerluisa) April 28, 2021

I never had any doubt that #MeToo would reach #Venezuela at some point.

And it came.

To those who ask for “forgiveness,” please know that this does not replace the responsibility for the crimes committed

To the brave victims and survivors who tell their stories, I support you #IBelieveYou

Journalist Oscar Medina responded to critics who claim that filing complaints in the country’s judicial system is better than making public accusations on social media. He explained that the Venezuelan state does not have the capacity nor the political will to help reach justice. Although legislators passed an important reform against gender violence in 2018, the failure to implement it reflects the lack of institutional will to enforce it:

¿Cuál sistema legal y judicial será ese al que mandan a acudir a víctimas de abuso en lugar de hacer denuncias públicas? ¿En qué fantasía viven? ¿De verdad creen que una víctima de acoso o de estupro puede confiar en eso?

— oscar medina (@oscarmedina1) April 28, 2021

Which legal and judicial system will be the one to which they send victims of abuse to instead of making public complaints? What fantasy do they live in? Do they really believe that a victim of harassment or rape can rely on that?

Writer Oriette D’Angelo commented on the lack of media attention the allegations have received in the past:

Algunas mujeres del mundo literario venezolano tenemos AÑOS denunciando los abusos que hemos sufrido por parte de escritores/profesores de nuestro entorno.

Aquí dejo un hilo de algunas de las denuncias y notas de prensa que han salido en los últimos años:

— Oriette D’Angelo (@oriettedangelo) April 28, 2021

Some of us women in the Venezuelan literary world have been speaking out for YEARS about the abuses we have suffered at the hands of writers/professors in our environment.

Here I leave a thread of some of the allegations and press releases that have come out in recent years:

Complaints against professors, for example, also filled the internet in recent days, such as the one made by Valeria Maza about a professor at the Universidad Santa María (USM) in Caracas:

Caracas, 28/04/21.

Hoy denuncio por este medio a Rogelio Díaz, el acosador de muchas usemistas. Este hombre es un político de COPEI que se esconde detrás de un discurso feminista y de buen tipo mientras le solicita fotos desnudas a sus estudiantes para pasarles la materia pic.twitter.com/OgaHueE7r2

— Valeria Maza (@valamaze) April 29, 2021

Caracas, 04/28/21.

Today I hereby denounce Rogelio Diaz, the harasser of many USM students. This man is a COPEI [Social Christian Party in Venezuela] politician who hides behind a feminist and nice guy discourse while he asks for naked pictures of his students to pass the course.

Regarding McKey’s suicide, many users emphasized that McKey’s victims were not responsible for his act. Others, such as journalist Mariel Lozada, called for focusing the narrative on the victims:

No olvidemos los hechos. No le demos la vuelta a la narrativa. No le quitemos el poder a las mujeres que finalmente se atrevieron a hablar.

— Mariel Lozada (@marielozadab) April 29, 2021

Let’s not forget the facts. Let us not turn the narrative on its head. Let’s not disempower the women who finally dared to speak out.

Attorney Beatriz Borges emphasized that machismo is a societal problem:

Cuando se visibiliza la violencia que tiene su base en la discriminación y desigualdad, es cuando te das cuenta que los chistes machistas no dan risa, solo reflejan una sociedad que normaliza la violencia. Escuchar dolorosos testimonios la pone en su real dimensión. #YoSiTeCreo

— Bibi Borges (@BEABOR) April 29, 2021

When violence, which is based on discrimination and inequality, becomes visible, that’s when you realize that sexist jokes do not make you laugh, they only reflect a society that normalizes violence. Listening to painful testimonies puts it in its real dimension. #YoSiTeCreo

On social media, various users also expressed concern about the intermittent blocking of the hashtag #YoSiTeCeCreo on Facebook:

Facebook bloquea temporalmente los contenidos con la etiqueta #YoSiTeCreo en varios países de América Latina, incluyendo Venezuela, Argentina y Chile. pic.twitter.com/Hwl3oJ18fn

— Iria Puyosa (@NSC) April 30, 2021

Facebook temporarily blocks content with the hashtag #YoSiTeTeCreo in several Latin American countries, including Venezuela, Argentina and Chile.

Journalist and Global Voices contributor Gabriela Mesones Rojo, like many, empathized with the women who publicly denounced those who tormented them, and shared a directory of psychological and legal assistance services for victims of gender-based violence:

No tengo palabras para expresar la indignación que siento. Mi empatía absoluta con las víctimas de @WillyMcKey. A ellas les agradezco la valentía y el esfuerzo de sus testimonios.

Les creemos, no están solas, las heridas van a sanar.

— Gaby Mesones Rojo (@unamujerdecente) April 29, 2021

I have no words to express the outrage I feel. My absolute empathy with the victims of @WillyMcKey. I thank them for the courage and effort of their testimonies.

We believe you, you are not alone, the wounds will heal.

There are hotlines for victims of gender violence. Visit this directory of victim support services in Venezuela, hotlines in Latin America, Asia, and Europe, and a domestic violence safety plan. Help is also available for suicide risk and emotional crises. Visit Befrienders.org to find a suicide prevention hotline in your country.

Source: Global Voices