More than 270 complaints of sexual and gender-based violence emerged in less than a week, after the uncovering of a group that circulates intimate photos of young people and adolescents.
By Keyling T. Romero (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – I don’t know where to start. My hands are shaking. My heart is racing and my tears flow like the first time I cried when I realized I was sinking,” writes “K” on her Twitter account.
She is one of the young Nicaraguans who decided to share her history of violence, after a wave of complaints that emerged with the revelation of a WhatsApp group called “La Liga” (The League), a group of men who share intimate photos on social media, without consent, of their girlfriends, friends and other young people they have convinced to exchange nudes photos of themselves.
This group was publicly denounced by feminists in “El blog de la denuncía” (The accusation blog”, a space created in January this year, allowing women who have been victims of sexual, physical, psychological or harassment violence to accuse their aggressors by name. While many complaints have been shared in recent months, it was not until a week ago that testimonies like those of “K”, who was physically and psychologically abused by her former partner, began to increase.
“Since I began to see the stories of women exposing their abusers, I started to remember everything that I lived through, that I felt I could not speak about. But, finally, I decided I would not keep quiet,” wrote a young woman as she began to share her experiences of violence.
What is “La Liga”?
The complaints about this WhatsApp group reached the social networks of “The accusation blog” on Thursday, April 9. The women who approached the blog sent a list with the names of those belonging to “La Liga”, attaching evidence that the group evalua
“All complaints comply with a protocol. We receive the victim’s story and publish it exactly as she gave it. The victim sends us evidence, not all of which is published so as not to contaminate evidence, in case she decides later to take legal action (…) In the case of this complaint, all protocols were followed and we decided to publish it,” explains one of the founders of the blog.
“La Liga” began as a Dropbox folder, a digital cloud storage platform, created between 2007 and 2008, to store nude photographs of women and adolescents that were sent privately to their partners. This file was accessible only to men, and in 2014, they created a group on WhatsApp to share the images.
After the identity of this group was exposed, many women began to write, both privately and in public, that they had been victims of these men, naming others who were also involved. Some members of “La Liga” acknowledged their participation and apologized publicly, while others demanded evidence.
“I want to absolutely deny having ever been part of that WhatsApp / Dropbox group in La Liga; appearing – unfairly – on that list is a call to raise awareness and reject those acts. If there is any evidence that proves my belonging or participation in any of these referenced spaces, please make them public because I have nothing to hide,” said one of the accused.
The strength of #MeTooNicaragua
Since the 2017 birth of the feminist movement #MeToo at the international level, complaints on social networks have become a mechanism to break the silence that aggressors have long counted on to exercise violence and abuse with impunity, given the inaction by authorities.
“Public accusations are almost the only strategy that we women have, given that we live in a macho state, governed by a president who abuses the constitution, laws, citizenship, and particularly women,” explains María Martha Escobar, founder of various feminist initiatives in Nicaragua. She adds that these spaces have been used effectively by young people who have access to the Internet, are aware of their rights, and have decided to break their silence.
However, reporting a case of violence is not easy. Women face being revictimized through the legal process, the impunity often afforded men, and the social stigma that follows those who speak up. Before making the decision to tell their stories, they must live though the long personal process of healing and self-acceptance, because in some cases it is difficult to even recognize that they have suffered violence.
“Whoever thinks it is easy or has no cost not only suffers from an enormous ignorance of the trauma caused by abuse, rape, manipulation, but lacks the human capacity to empathize with the true victims. There are people who take years to acknowledge that they have suffered violence, and speaking up about it – at whatever the moment may be – is a great challenge, and never an easy one,” says Alondra Sevilla of the Nicaraguan Feminist Movement.
Men are believed, women are not
In criminal law, there are not many guarantees for victims of gender violence either, because although there is a Comprehensive Law against Violence against Women (Law 779), few cases are successful, while femicides, the most extreme form of this type of violence — continue to increase. In 2018, there were 57, with 63 in 2019 and in the first three months alone of 2020, 17 femicides have been reported, according to Catholics for the Right to Decide.
While women are encouraged to report cases of abuse legally or on social networks, they often find that their stories are dismissed, as men have the privilege of the presumption of innocence and are taken more seriously than their victims.
“Violence against women is so normalized that these very serious crimes are simply not understood as such in the popular imagination. And what about those on the other side? Many times, they say: how is this possible? ‘I would totally vouch for this person,’ as it is very painful and difficult to recognize that the people you love and trust can be aggressors. It is much easier to turn away, “says Seville.
Escobar also affirms that machismo, deeply rooted in Nicaraguan society, is another reason that men are believed and that accusations of abuse are considered acts of personal revenge and not as defense or vindication. “As feminists we want people to understand that this is not a war of the sexes, nor a media show. It is something serious. We are talking about situations of abuse and violence in all its forms, which legally constitutes a crime,” says Escobar.
Sorority backs the allegations
A number of feminist groups have publicly expressed their support for the dozens of accusations of violence that have emerged since April 9, through Twitter and other social networks. “Reporting on social networks is an act of protection for future victims, so that other women can identify the aggressors – it is a social warning that these men present a risk to other women. Reporting is an act of strength and a warning that men will no longer have the privilege of our silence”, say members of “The accusation blog”.
This group says that it has received more than 500 complaints, of which only 47 have been published on its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and on a Telegram channel. The average age of the victims is between 14 and 35 years. However, there are many other complaints that are being shared in the personal accounts of the victims, who have been buoyed by the support of other women.
Several feminist movements are calling virtual marches, under the umbrella of “#YoTeCreo” (“I believe you”), with content shared through social networks such as messages, songs, poems, arts and photos in support of all the women who have denounced their attackers. All this content is also shared using the hashtag #TeAcuerpamosTeCreemos.
Additionally, other spaces such as Sanarte, a group of psychologists that emerged in 2018 and provides psychological care, have activated help lines for women who need accompaniment throughout the legal process.