Cuban Soap Raises Debate about Child Sexual Abuse

Alma Mater magazine and the Cuban anti-violence campaign against women and girls, Evoluciona, organized an online debate to guide and clear up concerns about the issue.

Por IPS-Cuba

After an episode of the soap opera broadcast on August 14th came to an end, where the girl clearly showed trauma after being raped, a group of experts in psychology, social investigation, law and actor Roberto Espinosa who played the perpetrator on screen, held a debate on social media with viewers. Photo: Taken from

HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban soap opera El Rostro de los Dias (Facing these days) which is currently being broadcast on national TV, raised a public debate about an issue that doesn’t get a lot of coverage in the Cuban media: child sexual abuse.

Different reactions on social media referred to the situation on-screen, criticizing it, judging it or using it as an excuse to dig deeper into the different manifestations of violence against women and girls.

While a group of people attacked the actor who plays the rapist, others took advantage of the visibility of the issue to create memes and images in bad taste, regarding an act that is loathsome in both moral and legal terms.

Aside from these bad practices, there were also a significant number of posts to defend actor Roberto Espinosa. The artist suffered virtual attacks sparked by him doing his job, or to legitimize how serious sexual abuse is.

Espinosa plays Rene, who is the stepfather of Lia (Liliana Sosa) in the soap, and before the rape, gives signs of wanting to cross the line with the girl, who even goes to her mother, Irma (Lesvy Samper), to complain, but the mother doesn’t believe her.

Support for the actor

After the rape on-screen in this fictional show on prime-time TV, the young man who plays the rapist posted a post on his Facebook page inviting for reflection, beyond the trauma or twists and turns of the novela.

“It isn’t a matter of hating me, or taking this soap opera to heart, it’s a matter of becoming informed. It’s opening your eyes, supporting and looking for help, it’s knowing that this isn’t a taboo subject. It happens… and it needs to be dealt with,” Espinosa wrote on his wall.

However, in different online groups created to comment on this soap, and on other digital platforms, many people have flown off the hook with their comments, throwing out insults and even threats to the actor, going beyond his appearance on screen.

Responding to this criticism, young Facebook user Liliana Cordero posted, on August 13th, a post which went viral. She called for people not to lose their manners and respect for Espinosa’s work as an actor.

Cordero wrote: “Repudiating, hating and even verbally attacking the character in our homes, is a normal instinct when watching the soap opera. But not against the actor, this young man who did his absolute best. He who has spent hours, days and months of lost sleep and even years to get on screen, hoping he can transmit a message.” Cordero received countless displays of support for her stance.

However, the debate went further than his performance as an actor or the character Rene’s judgement. It reached formal circles of debate with experts in sexual abuse-related matters.

The Debate

After an episode of the soap opera broadcast on August 14th came to an end, where the girl clearly showed trauma after being raped, a group of experts in psychology, social investigation, law and actor Roberto Espinosa who played the perpetrator on screen, held a debate on social media with viewers.

The forum was held by Alma Mater magazine, on its Facebook page, and the Evoluciona campaign. It included the participation of sexologist Beatriz Torres, researcher Yohanka Valdes and lawyer Liset Mailen Imbert.

In promotion for this digital event, the coordination team explained that they would answer questions linked to child sexual abuse. This from the viewpoint of the young actor who is facing a negative role. Likewise from the psychological impact on victims and their families, the social footprint of this scourge, and its legal implications.

Forum members asked some 300 questions during the hour-and-a-half meeting.

Many of them asked about the criminal penalty for sexual abuse. Others brought up the mother’s responsibility to look after her daughter and the psychological damage caused by rape.

Other issues that popped up related to protection for victims, and the actor’s psychological preparation. The discussion included protocols to follow in cases of abuse, sex education in Cuban schools, and abortion as a right (Lia ends up pregnant). It also noted the lack of a comprehensive gender-based violence law in Cuba.

Once again, this multitude of questions reaffirmed the need people have for more profound, constant information in the media about gender-based violence.

Summary of the experts’ responses:

Beatriz Torres: There is no specific indication or symptoms of sexual abuse, nor are there any specific behavior patterns. Children and teenagers show signs in their behavior that we adults need to take note of. Especially sudden changes in their behavior and things such as:

Physical signs: bleeding from the genitals or anus, anal fissure, bruises, UTIs, pain sitting or walking, sleeping problems, problems eating, or even pregnancy in teenagers.

Behavior: social isolation, distrust in relationships, knowledge of or the practice of sexual behavior that isn’t age appropriate. Likewise, sexual language, excessive masturbation, moodiness, problems at school, breaks in routine.

Emotions: signs of anxiety, depression, nightmares, feelings of blame, fear of adults, especially towards the perpetrator, rejection, isolation from family and friends.

The clearest sign is generally fear and rejection of the perpetrator, sudden changes in behavior, anxiety, sleeping problems.

The three most important things to do: listen to the child, observe the child, look for possible signs. Let them know they can openly ask for help if anything happens. Make them feel protected.

Yohanka Valdes: Lia’s mother, like many Cuban mothers and other people – both men and women -, aren’t able to recognize abuse in its many manifestations. Responsibility for the rape in the soap opera lies firstly with the man who thinks that a woman’s body can be invaded, violated, manipulated.

There is a power dynamic that is assumed as something quite natural, which reinforces the idea that we women are “available”. Irma, Lia and Rene form part of this society that holds onto machista, patriarchal norms. This is often reinforced by people’s silence.

Irma is in love with a young man who she trusts and she doesn’t believe this could happen in her own house. I believe that in any case, she is to blame for not listening to her daughter and not ensuring open communication with her. By not making her daughter feel she can trust her.

Liset Mailen Imbert: Rape is stipulated as a crime in our Penal Code (1987) with prison sentences ranging from 4-10 years, and even 30 for repeat offenders.

These crimes can be reported at your nearest National Revolutionary Police (PNR) station. Nevertheless, victims and families can seek advice, information and guidance at the following institutions:

-The National Center for Sex Education: 78382528/29(110)

-Oscar Anulfo Romero Center: consejerí[email protected] / 76481521(112)

-Attorney General’s Office: 780212345

-Federation of Cuban Women: 78383540 (42)

-PNR: 106

It’s worth noting that the Attorney General’s Office’s helpline charges a local call rate. The above will direct you to representatives within your region.