Lucia: A culture of abuse

This article is a part of a larger series on teen mothers in Ecuador. 
To read the first article in the series, click here.
Read the previous article here. 

Perhaps what is one of the darkest spots on the beautiful landscape of Ecuador is a culture of abuse that takes place behind the closed doors of homes and apartments all over the country. This abuse contributes to an incredibly high rate of teen pregnancy in the country, although it is often not reported because cultural stigmas cause families to view domestic violence and abuse as a private matter.

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It was the cause of Lucia’s pregnancy. Her mother’s ex-fiancé José, 57, sexually abused her for months. He was living with her mother, Lucia, and her two sisters at the time.

“He began to pay me attentions,” Lucia recalled. “I felt afraid and I told my mom everything. And she said, ‘No. It’s not okay.’ But it just kept happening.”

“It just kept happening” is the story of many girls and women in Ecuador. One in six women have been victims of physical, sexual or psychological violence, one in four have been raped, and almost 30 percent have been sexually abused, the Ecuadorian government reported in 2014. The results were from a four-year study of gender violence by The Panamerican Organization of Health. The report also stated that there are more than 3 million female abuse victims in the country annually.

“So a month passed like that,” Lucia told me in her bedroom at Casa Elizabeth, a home for pregnant teens. “One day my mom went to work and my sister wasn’t there. I was there alone with [José]” Lucia was 15. 
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“One day I told him, ‘No. I don’t feel well. My mom would never support this.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to,’ [but] he wanted to so he got angry. He made me afraid.” So Lucia and her family moved out of José’s home. Over the course of the next month, her mom bounced from home to home with Lucia and her two sisters, including a former boyfriend and an uncle.

When one of the men got violent, Lucia and her family were forced to turn back to José. At this point, her mother suspected Lucia was pregnant. “My mom told me that I had to marry him if I was pregnant,” Lucia said. “But my mom was afraid, because we had no where to go.”

The abuse Lucia’s mother allowed to happen illustrates what may be hard for many in America to understand — the cultural precedent that shames women into hiding abusive relationships. While domestic violence and abuse are universally condemned, it is often ignored in Latin American countries, stated the UNIFEM (the United Nations’ committee against domestic violence) in 2011. The cultural view that places expectations on Latino men to dominate their homes, known as machismo, also glorifies a woman who is passive and complacent — and who keeps her family from embarrassment.

A 2007 study in the Journal of Family Violence found that it was a “lack of education and the fear of backlash [that] ultimately impede women from filing a report. From a young age, women are dependent on men because of an intractable social attitude that domesticates them.”

The cultural view that places expectations on Latino men to dominate their homes, known as machismo, also glorifies a woman who is passive and complacent — and who keeps her family from embarrassment.

To put it simply, these women are pressured to endure violence and abuse because they lack the socioeconomic options to leave. We hear it echoed in Lucia’s testimony that “my mom was afraid, because we had no where to go.” DSC_0048

But Lucia’s story is also an example of what Ecuador is doing right. Since the late 1990’s, Ecuador has increased support for abused women in the country. Laws have been passed which allow greater protection for victims and punishments for the aggressors. It has begun public awareness programs and female-fun police stations, which has the specific purpose of processing claims of domestic abuse. Schools are required work with pregnant teens so that they can finish school if they want to. The U.N. in a 2011 statement called it “a leading country in Latin America to ending domestic violence.”

It was teachers who noticed Lucia was missing school and that something was wrong. When José tried to rape her younger sister, Lucia confided in the school psychologist and agreed to press charges against him, saying that he assaulted other girls under age before her. That was when she was sent to Casa Elizabeth, and where I met her, 16 and five-months pregnant.

And while she still has at least five more months in Casa Elizabeth, she is already looking ahead. She doesn’t know where she will go, but says that she will continue school and provide a good example for her child. “My life has been complicated,” Lucia said. “So of course I am afraid of being 16 and a mother…. [But] I will go with pride.”

Read the next article in the series here

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