Associated Press photos Thelma Fardin, accompanied by members of Argentine Actresses during a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, accused television star Juan Darthes of raping her when she was 16 years old.
Congressional aide Claudia Guebel said Pedro Fiorda, a senator's chief of staff, grabbed her violently by the arms and put his tongue in her mouth. “I didn't know how to react,” she said.
Friday, December 28, 2018 1:00 am
Argentine women start speaking about assault
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – For months, Claudia Guebel could only tell family and friends about a traumatizing encounter with a colleague in Argentina's Senate.
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.” Then 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.
“With Thelma's statements, everything was awakened in me,” said Guebel, 52.
Fiorda could not be reached for comment by The Associated Press, and Darthes says he is innocent.
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.
Women say they are also taking a cue from Ni Una Menos, an Argentine grass-roots movement that emerged in 2015 and spread globally. The movement has drawn thousands into massive demonstrations against feminicide and violence against women in Argentina, where a bill attempting to legalize abortion was defeated in August.
“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.
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 2018 report by UNICEF Argentina.
Another poll conducted by the Argentine Management Society of Actors found that 66 percent of actresses said they had suffered some type of harassment or abuse while exercising their profession.
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 Dec. 12, the day after Fardin's news conference.
Tunez, who has helped manage the phone lines, said she was surprised by calls from women 70 to 80 years old with stories of childhood abuse.
“They just wanted someone to hear them, because legally nothing can be done,” she said.
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.
“Argentina is leading the social mobilization of thousands and thousands of women like never before seen in Latin America, which is having an impact on sister countries,” said Maria Elena Naddeo, who works at the ombudsman's office in Buenos Aires.