Attempted Rape and Femicide Captured on Film, but No Justice Served: The Story of Arlette Contreras, the Face of the “Ni Una Menos” Campaign in Peru
On July 12, 2015, the life of Arlette Contreras, a 25-year-old Peruvian lawyer, radically changed after being brutally assaulted and threatened with death by her former boyfriend, Adriano Pozo. Security cameras, which recorded the entire crime, show Adrián—naked—chasing and beating Arlette in the plain view of a hotel lobby in Ayacucho, Peru. He forcefully dragged her by the hair towards to the hotel room while she screamed for help. Fortunately, hotel staff managed to intervene and save her life.
Arlette decided to break the silence that characterizes these types of cases by making her story public and denouncing her assailant for attempted feminicide and rape. Her case was brought to the Superior Court of Justice of Ayacucho. Despite having strong video evidence and witnesses to the crime, the court absolved her aggressor from the charges of attempted sexual violence and femicide, and instead sentenced him to just one year of suspended jail time for minor injuries. Arlette was stunned and the verdict caused widespread outrage throughout the entire country. On August 13, 2016, more than half a million people participated in one of the largest marches in the history of Peru, headed by Arlette, under the slogan “Ni Una Menos” (Not One Less). Thanks to massive public outcry, the court’s decision was eventually annulled on appeal and a new trial was ordered, which is still ongoing. Adriano Pozo is still free.
For her courage and fight against gender-based violence, Arlette received the Women of Courage Award in March 2017, an annual award granted by the U.S. State Department. In addition, she was named one of the 100 most influential people in 2017 by Time magazine, under the category icons.
Despite international recognition as a hero, Arlette continues to experience great insecurity in her home country. Over the past the two years she has been defamed, run over, attacked by a home intruder and continuously harassed. I met Arlette during the “Women of Courage” award in Washington D.C. and had the opportunity to hear her story first-hand.
Isabel: Arlette, what are the highlights of your trial and what is its current status?
Arlette: My trial began about two and a half years ago, after filing a complaint against my aggressor for attempted rape and femicide. On July 22, 2016, the Superior Court of Justice of Ayacucho found the injuries I suffered to be minor and sentenced my aggressor to one year of suspended jail sentence. This first-degree judgment has in my opinion several irregularities and is based on judicial errors and gender stereotypes. It should be mentioned that Adriano Pozo is the son of a councilor of Ayacucho; his family has many connections and influential friendships, including members of the judiciary.
According to the judges, there was no attempted rape nor femicide, despite the evidence of the video where my naked aggressor chases and hits me with the intention of dragging me to the bedroom, and of a complaint filed by his former girlfriend against him on November 1, 2014, for physical assault. Ironically, his state of intoxication was considered a mitigating factor. Another example, two medical doctors concluded that there were signs of digital pressure in the area around my neck. After 8 months one of them retracted his version, without undertaking another examination, while the other doctor kept his version. However, more weight was given to the opinion of the doctor who retracted.
The ruling also explains that the crime of feminicide is committed when there is hatred towards women. According to the judges, the fact that my aggressor washed the dishes during a party indicates his desire to share and participate in activities common to women, and the fact that he does not hate women and is not misogynist. Because he washed the dishes, he could not have wanted to kill me.
I have collected four Amicus Curiae to demonstrate what it means to have a gender approach in a judgment. This decision is currently under investigation, but as of now there is no information about it and I can’t be part of that process.
I decided to appeal this outrageous sentence, which gave rise to the march “Ni Una Menos”. Thanks to the march, it was possible, on appeal, to obtain its annulment and order a new trial. In addition, I requested the transfer of venue from Ayacucho to Lima, but my request has been rejected.
Isabel: Why did you request a change of venue of your case to Lima?
Arlette: The motion for change of venue from Ayacucho to Lima was necessary because I believe that there are not enough procedural guarantees of due process in Ayacucho, given my health and safety issues.
I was denounced by the other party for falsehood, to discredit my testimony and damage my image. In Ayacucho there is a smear campaign against me, not only through the media; I have suffered constant threats and harassment, including receiving a picture of a gun and two bullets. On September 16, 2016, the last day for the presentation of new evidence, I was involved in an accident while going to the Court of Justice. A car ran me over, causing my tibia to fracture into 12 fragments and almost the amputation of my leg. My bone was reconstructed with nails and plates. I currently suffer from severe pain, I can’t walk fast and for a while I had to use crutches. After this accident, someone tried to hold me responsible for it, blaming me for not having security guards. I requested this accident to be investigated, but it was archived. I also requested the recordings of the security cameras and was told they were broken.
On January 1, 2017, a man broke into our house in Ayacucho, he attacked my mother, tried to choke her, and threatened to kill both of us. We filed a complaint in that case as well. Regrettably I have received protection guarantees on paper only. I have made several other complaints and all of them have been archived. Surprisingly, the ones presented by my aggressor against me are still valid. For all these reasons, I had to move to Lima.
Isabel: How is your life in Lima?
Arlette: In Lima I am much better, but I still have many problems. It is not easy to start a new life from zero in a new city. I have left my family, friends and all my life plans. In addition, I’m still under attack on social media. Photos of me are still being manipulated, and falsehoods are said against me. People have been offered money to look for intimate videos to be used against me, but of course they have never found anything.
This year after having the international recognition I received, there was another attempt to discredit me using audios from 2015 as if they were more recent.
Recently, a lawyer offered to take my case ad honorem, but never showed up at the oral hearing, while his secretary returned some documents. Then I discovered that his colleague and best friend became the defense lawyer. I have not reported this man to the ethics department of the Bar Association because of the costs of this complaint and because all my previous complaints have always been filed.
Isabel: What have governmental institutions done for you?
Arlette: When my story came to light, I went to the Ministry of Women, looking for a shelter in Lima, I was not offered any solution. Also, I was never able to benefit from the Law on Violence against Women, which guaranteed access to shelters only in 2016. In conclusion, nothing.
Isabel: What did your life look like before July 12, 2015?
Arlette: I had just obtained the title of Lawyer, I was enrolled in a Masters in Criminal Law, although I was interested in Human Rights. Unfortunately, I was never able to begin my Masters because of all the facts I mentioned. I had a group of friends and a very normal life.
Now everything has changed, I don’t have a job, I depend financially on my family, I have weekly medical appointments for post-traumatic stress, I have difficulties walking and a lot of pain. Unfortunately, I recently had to suspend my physiotherapy and I do not have access to all the medications I need. I feel trapped.
Isabel: What are you doing now and what are your wishes for the future?
Arlette: I have several ongoing activities. I would like to working with and for children. Good children transform into better adults and a better society can be created. I have given several presentations, trainings, forums for the most remote and rural communities, where violence against women is more widespread and where the Peruvian State does often reach.
I would like to do a Master in Human Rights, to be more prepared and to learn more about this topic, but I have not been able to access any scholarships in Peru.
I would like to do something for the others, to leave a legacy. At this point, there is nothing I want for myself. I care about children and girls, I do not want them to go through what I have experienced. I am inspired by the innocence and purity of girls, and I do not want them to lose opportunities and their lives to be affected by violence.
I know that my profile is not pleasant or accepted in my country, because I constantly highlight the gaps in addressing the issue of violence against women, and hearing to my voice bothers many people.