The song, “Un violador en tu camino,” means “a rapist in your path,” and has gained momentum in the midst of nationwide protests in Chile against the privatization of public services and social inequality. The situation escalated when protests were met with forces of armored men prowling the streets using water cannons and tear gas to dispel crowds and enforce curfews under martial law. Since the protests began mid-October, there have been reports of police brutality and sexual violence at the hands of the state. The national human rights institute has filed 106 sexual violence cases against Chilean state forces, including rape and forcing people to strip naked in detention.
“Estamos en guerra,” Chilean President Sebastián notoriously told the press on the second day of unrest, which is a message that evoked the country’s memories of General Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 coup and brutal dictatorship that ended in 1990. That violent dictatorship profoundly affected women’s social roles—they were discouraged from participating in the labor force and public life, while their maternal duties were emphasized. In the last weeks of Pinochet’s government, already limited access to abortion was even further restricted. To this day, Chile has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Women protesting in Chicago on Saturday wore green bandanas as a way to connect with the Latin American pro-choice “green tide” movement.
“We have to read this along with the ‘Ni Una Menos’ movement and the ‘Me Too’ movement in the U.S.,” said Natalie Niedmann Álvarez, a Chilean University of Chicago student leading the flash mob. “In Chile and all throughout Latin America, it was a collective enterprise, that I am a victim of sexual violence too, and you are not going to take one of ours. We are against patriarchy. Out of the particular situation Chile is facing right now, this resonated.”
Violence against women is widespread in Chile. This year, the Chilean Network against Violence towards Women recorded 32 femicides. And for women who report their rape to law enforcement, only about 8% result in a conviction.
In Chicago, women have expressed outrage in recent weeks over recent reports of sexual violence. Last month, a 19-year-old student at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) was strangled to death after a man allegedly became angry when she refused to acknowledge his catcalls. In the same month, a 20-year-old woman was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and held in a basement for six days, police reported.
The UIC student, Ruth George, was among the faces of femicide victims from different countries whose images were laid down as flyers in front of the protesters on Saturday. In Mexico, Ana Daniela Vega was killed by an ex-boyfriend, and Lesby Berlin was strangled by a phone cord and blamed for her own murder. Argentinian Lucia Perez was raped and killed by two men. In Chile, Fabiola Campillay lost sight in both eyes due to police violence.
It was a gesture not unlike the demonstration organized by Tracie Hall, founder of Rootwork Gallery, when she brought together about 30 Black women to perform a ritual along the streets of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. The demonstration honored the young Black girls and women who’ve disappeared in the city. As Hall pointed out, these are demonstrations which brought together women across generations and nationalities.
“I’m here today because we know that sexual violence is unfortunately pandemic across the world,” Hall said. “We’re in a space right now where it doesn’t feel safe to be on the street, and once there’s pervasive fear, then power wins. So what I believe we see right here is power of the people. It’s empowering.”
“What’s encouraging and brutal is that the discourse of male and police brutality and sexual abuse against women is something so broad that it resonates with a lot of people,” Niedmann Álvarez said. “Especially the chorus, ‘and it wasn’t my fault or where I was or what I wore,’ is particularly moving, at least for me. We are so used to seeing in the media, ‘woman alone in an alley drunk’ or whatever.”
For Chicago natives Adriana Rodriguez, 17, and her sister Alondra Rodriguez, 19, it was very emotional for them when they were learning the lyrics and choreography, thinking about the act of performing a song to bring attention to the fear they feel in their own community.
“The way we interpreted the song was that the only way that people listen to women is when they’re entertaining,” Adriana said.
“That’s why they put it in a dance,” said Alondra.
“So when you listen to a song you hear it and you’re going to remember the lyrics because and it’s going to get to them just like it got to us,” Adriana concluded.
Emotions were high all around as the flash mob made their rounds in the park, singing in both English and Spanish. Women of all ages, some from Chicago, some from Mexico or Chile, wiped tears from their eyes, held hands, and embraced one another. Even a women working security, after maneuvering the crowd around the park, was recording and nodding along to the beat. “A mi no me protege la policía, me protegen mis amigas,” the chanting was heard to close out the performance. “The police will not protect me, who protects me is my friends.”
“It’s a form of therapy,” organizer Carla Balcazar said in Spanish about the song. “It’s a therapy for us, together, united, to yell for a better world. At the end, that’s what this is.”
That morning, I held back the emotions rising up in me while witnessing the performance, while trying to separate myself as a reporter. But as I found myself on a dancefloor later that night, I was unable to shake the rhyme from my head. I started chanting it to myself, “and it wasn’t my fault/where I was/or what I wore. The rapist is you.” As someone who has survived sexual assault, it was therapeutic to give in to the song, and let go of the shame and guilt that often keep victims from coming forward. It took me three years before I told my family, and an audience of readers who picked up the student newspaper, what happened to me at a fraternity event in college. I wish I had this mantra back then.
I hope the song keeps spreading, for the sake of those who need to hear it, but also for the sake of those who need to sing it.