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Wave of sexual abuse allegations shakes Argentina

The wave of women speaking out is now threatening an entrenched machismo culture in a country where women are often catcalled, hissed at and harassed on the street.

WT24 Desk

For months, Claudia Guebel could only tell family and friends about a traumatizing encounter with a colleague in Argentina’s Senate, AP reports.

At the beginning of this year, she said, Pedro Fiorda, a senator’s chief of staff, grabbed her violently by the arms like a “hunter who catches prey.” The, she felt his tongue inside her mouth. The terror that seized her made those minutes seem eternal, she said.

“I didn’t know how to react, I was paralyzed,” said Guebel, a congressional aide who previously worked for the same senator.

In December, she was finally moved to file a formal complaint with judicial authorities after actress Thelma Fardin publicly accused actor Juan Darthes of raping her in 2009 when she was 16 and he was 45. Writers, politicians and journalists expressed support for Fardin on social media.

But Guebel is now part of a wave of women who have come forward in the South American country with sexual misconduct accusations in what has inevitably been compared to the #MeToo movement in the United States, where the worlds of media, business, entertainment and politics have been roiled by allegations against powerful men.

“For a while in Argentina we have been witnessing a paradigm shift … where the voices of women are beginning to be heard, understood and, most importantly, accompanied by others,” said Fabiana Tunez, executive director of the National Institute for Women in Argentina, who said the accusations by Fardin lent the movement more visibility.

On Dec. 11, the actress announced she had filed a criminal complaint in Nicaragua, where she says she was raped by Darthes in a hotel during a promotional tour for “Ugly Duckling,” a children’s television series. Darthes, who has since moved to his native Brazil, has denied the allegation.

“We are all very shocked,” said Sabrina Cartabia, Fardin’s lawyer. “It is opening up the possibility of talking about something very painful.”

In Argentina there is no national registry of victims of sexual abuse. But a survey found that 45 percent of the 2,750 students polled at public and private universities in Buenos Aires reported suffering physical or psychological abuse and 9 percent had suffered sexual abuse. The survey was published in a 2016 report by UNICEF Argentina.

The wave of women speaking out is now threatening an entrenched machismo culture in a country where women are often catcalled, hissed at and harassed on the street.

In recent weeks, telephone lines that receive reports of gender violence have seen sharp increases — the largest coming on Dec. 12, the day after Fardin’s news conference.

In recent days, alumnae of the ORT Jewish community school, including the daughter of Argentine politician Daniel Filmus, have also publicly accused a school doctor of sexually abusing them when they were between 13 and 14 years old. School authorities announced that they are willing to cooperate with an investigation.

But the reverberations of the larger movement have spread much further. Women from political parties and youth groups like La Campora have started reporting sexual aggression to blogs, social media and press outlets. The main content producer of Argentine television, Pol-Ka, has committed itself to incorporating a protocol for giving assistance in cases of sexual harassment and abuse. And the Senate passed a law that requires the state to provide training to public employees about gender-related topics.

For her part, Guebel, the assistant to lawmakers, says she will continue working to eradicate a culture of patriarchy.

In addition to her complaint against Fiorda, she has filed a complaint against Sen. Juan Carlos Marino for allegedly touching her breasts, and against congressional staffer Juan Carlos Amarilla, who she says sexually harassed her. Both Marino and Amarilla have declared themselves innocent. All three have been formally charged by a public prosecutor.

“The message that I can give to women is that they become bold,” she said. “This is just the beginning, we are becoming more powerful.”

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