Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Remembering Karla: Why I support 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Karla Pontigo Lucciotto was 22 when she died. According to her mother’s testimony, she was studying for two professional qualifications: one in computer skills and one in nutrition. She also held down two jobs to help support herself: on weekdays she worked as an assistant in a spa, and at weekends as a hostess in a night-club. Her mother was unhappy about the second job, but thought Karla was hard-working enough to cope with both her employments and her studies [1].

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Karla probably was. What she couldn’t cope with was the harassment to which she was subjected by the owner of the night-club, Jorge Vasilakos. Among other things, she complained to her mother that Vasilakos refused to pay her at weekends, but insisted on visiting her at the spa on the pretext of paying her there. He would also book a massage at the same time, demanding that Karla be the one to administer it [2].

On the night of 28 October 2012, Karla’s brother came to pick her up as usual from the night-club. When she didn’t come out, he became worried and tried to call her on her mobile phone. There was no answer. He tried to go into the club to look for her. The bouncers wouldn’t let him in at first. When they finally did, they warned him that Karla had suffered “an accident”. Her brother found her lying in an office in a pool of blood.

When Karla was finally taken to hospital, doctors discovered that she had suffered severe trauma to the groin area, as well as bruising on her body and face. Surgeons tried to save her by amputating her leg, but it turned out that she had suffered such terrible internal injuries that this action was not enough [3].

According to the night-club, Karla had been injured after falling on a glass door. Police and investigators passively accepted this and failed to carry out routine forensic examinations of her clothes. They argued that the autopsy showed no sign of sexual assault, but didn’t explain how an “accident” could have caused such terrible internal and external injuries. When her family and friends began to make their inconformity with this verdict known via social networks and protests, the local authorities in San Luis Potosí claimed that Karla’s body had shown evidence of high alcohol and drug consumption (something her family considers unlikely) [4]] Meanwhile, the owner of the night-club –who Karla’s family and friends accused of murdering her– was left at liberty, first to contest via the courts the legality of the investigation into his club’s safety record [5] and then to leave San Luis entirely [6]

Karla’s case illustrates how violence against women is tolerated and permitted by Mexico’s police and judicial authorities. The police were not prepared to investigate the case until pressure from her family and friends obliged them to. When criticised, they tried to blame the victim for her injuries by issuing statements about her alcohol and drug consumption. Now fresh investigations have concluded that Karla’s death could not have been an accident [7], they have yet to submit the clothes she was wearing on the night of her death to forensic examinations of the night-club and have allowed the chief suspect to leave their jurisdiction.

I have repeatedly written about this problem [8]. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories like Karla’s. Another famous case was that of Rubí Marisol Frayre Escobedo who was murdered by her partner in Ciudad Juárez in 2008. Rubí’s mother –Marisela Escobedo Ortiz- campaigned ceaselessly for her daughter’s murderer to be captured and charged. Her reward? She was herself murdered in December 2010 while protesting Rubí’s case on the steps of Chihuahua State’s Government Offices. No one has been charged with this crime [9].

Karla, Rubí and Marisela are doubly victims of violence: first at the hands of their aggressors and then, a second time, at the hands of the police and judicial authorities. Their suffering should not go unrecorded or unremembered. Silence makes us complicit and can only breed impunity. This is why I support UN Women’s campaign for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence [10].

This article is written to support My Elegant Gathering of White Snow’s blog hop as part of the 16 Days of Activism campaign

An edited version of this article was published on e-feminist on 27 November 2012.

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Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, , , ,

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