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The #MeToo Movement Arrives in Venezuela

Dozens of women reacted to a gesture of bravery. An insurrection began against all those who at one time or another abused a woman. This is how it began:

[Leer en español]

The anonymous testimony triggered a wave of stories. The complainant was 14 years old at the time. In her statement, she says that her abuse continued until she turned 18. “The encounter ended with him forcing me to give him oral sex without letting me breathe. I cried in the act because of how humiliated I felt”.

In less than forty-eight hours, more than 20 women claimed that Alejandro Sojo, the lead singer of a band from Caracas, had sexual relations with them when they were minors. He was over 23 years old.

Although rumors around Sojo have existed for years on Twitter, the announcement of a new album by the vocalist generated a synchronicity of denunciations that were compiled by the Instagram account @alejandrosojoestupro. This was just the trigger. The denunciations laid the groundwork for the #MeToo movement to arrive in Venezuela.

In 2017, the #MeToo took the United States after a series of sexual abuse allegations against producer and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Then, actress Alyssa Milano called on women to tell their stories using the hashtag #MeToo.

It was a revolution and the #MeToo movement began to gain popularity in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, India, and Pakistan. Thousands of women began to reveal their testimonies while their aggressors were pushed aside and scorned. Roman Polanski, R. Kelly, Bill Cosby, Louis C.K., Dustin Hoffman, Ryan Adams, and more recently Marilyn Manson, have been some of the famous accused, after the beginning of a very severe criminal trial against Weinstein, who was sentenced to 23 years in prison months ago by an American court.

The movement has generated all kinds of reactions. Initially applauded, it has also been described as indomitable. Revolutionary at last, #MeToo plunged the United States and Europe into the midst of a feminist insurrection, which echoed in absolutely all spaces.

And although in Latin America it did not find special resonance. This week, finally, the #MeToo movement arrived in Venezuela.

“I deeply regret all the damage that my past mistakes may have caused […[ I now understand […] that they are a clear sign of the masks of our macho society that must finally fall. I regret […] all the damage I may have caused with my behavior as an ignorant and reckless boy,” Alejandro Sojo posted on his Instagram account, shortly before deleting it in the face of the wave of insults. Sojo ultimately shut down all his social media accounts.

Sojo’s case, resonating as it had never done before, invited more women to join the courage to call out those who tarnished their past. The accusations continued to target the decaying Venezuelan music scene: Tony Maestracci, drummer of the renowned band Tomates Fritos; Leonardo Jaramillo, guitarist of Okills; and Daniel Landaeta, of LeCinema, followed Sojo.

None of the accused denied the accusations, most of which were cases involving sexual intercourse with a minor.

The music scene reacted. The renowned band La Vida Boheme, recipient of several Latin Grammy Awards, issued a statement: “We condemn the acts denounced in social media about Alejandro Sojo and invite all our colleagues to make a united front against abuse, harassment and physical, emotional and/or sexual harm.”

But the allegations transcended the Venezuelan music industry. On April 28, writer and editor Willy McKey published on his Instagram account a post titled “Maybe I’ve been an abuser too.” Several hours later, he went on to acknowledge a crime: “I have committed statutory rape.” His first post was in reaction to the noise that was beginning to be generated. The second, to a very strong accusation against him.

“I have finally decided to talk about my experience of abuse with Venezuelan writer Willy McKey”. So begins the thread by “Pia,” an anonymous individual who at 2 p.m. on April 28 decided to expose her abuser.

“He told me that I was his ‘accomplice’ and accomplices were each other’s safe space. Under that premise he got my silence,” reads Pia’s thread. “‘Bursting’ was a euphemism for ejaculation and ‘messy’ was a euphemism for sexual arousal. When he would tell me he was ‘messy,’ it meant he was horny.”

“Gradually he became more insistent. I rarely had the courage to say no to him. I was not spared from hearing him masturbate and come more than once. I thought it was okay, that it was my ‘accomplice’ duty.”

Pia recounts that McKey masturbated her and performed oral sex on her first encounter with a man. She had just turned 16. He was 35. “During the act I lay on the bed, motionless and with my eyes closed. I felt like I was in a doctor’s office, during those encounters: naked, bewildered and hoping it would end quickly. I never said it, but I was uncomfortable. Everything felt wrong.”

“With my heart in my hand,” Pia continues in her testimony, “I can say that I was never sexually or romantically attracted to Willy Mckey. I was 16 years old, for God’s sake. My 15th birthday party was just celebrated.”

“As a result of this experience (…) I developed vaginismus and had trouble for years having sex. My body understood the trauma before I did.”

Pia’s testimony broke the internet and generated what has so far been the peak of this phenomenon in Venezuela. Willy McKey was a respected intellectual, a writer very well connected with the intellectual and cultural elite of Caracas. He was the editor of Prodavinci, a Venezuelan portal that brings together several of Venezuela’s most recognized pens.

McKey immediately accepted the episode on his Instagram and gave it the weight of a crime (estupro).

“I must recognize that this episode took place at a time when I was a public figure and was in a formal relationship with who until today has been my couple. So in addition to apologizing to the affected, I must also apologize to the one I made life, for never having discussed it with her and annulling it in my pending record, until seeing it appear at a time like this,” McKey wrote on his Instagram account.

The insults increased. People of the Venezuelan cultural scene stood aside, condemned him and, although they acknowledged their closeness to Mckey, they accepted to be ashamed of it. Venezuelan singer-songwriter Ulises Hadjis, who had composed songs together with the writer, wrote in his Twitter account: “I always talk about separating artist and work, but after the denunciation of Willy Mckey today, I doubt that I can play again the couple of songs we wrote together”.

Veronica Ruiz Del Vizo, Venezuelan businesswoman, also wrote: “I know you must be reading, Willy Mckey. You know the close relationship and friends in common. From my profession I speak, because today I am heartbroken.”

“I am sad, Willy. You know that from me you always received love and hugs. Your way what it shows is lack of empathy and that hurts me more”.

The news site Prodavinci, until then Mckey’s professional home, published a statement: “We have read the very serious allegations posted on social media against Willy McKey, in which he is accused of committing rape, abuse and harassment. In view of this situation, we have decided to immediately terminate his collaboration with Prodavinci”.

The mood in social media is tense. The complaint against McKey was followed by others. It’s not just allegations from anonymous accounts. A testimony from Claudia De Lima pointed directly against the Venezuelan comedian Gabo Ruiz. In the text, Ruiz is accused of harassment.

“Three years ago the comedian Gabo Ruiz abused me and until recently I did not understand what had happened. I don’t want to give too many details, but basically after I told him I didn’t want and didn’t feel comfortable having sex without a condom, he proceeded to ignore me and keep trying to have sex with me. I had to say no many times to get him to leave me alone and that’s not right.”

Ivonne Harting, a psychologist, told on her social media how she had been abused several times.

“The first time it happened to me I was five years old,” recounts Harting. “The character who did it is well known (…) He decided it was cool to run his tongue over my belly and asked me what I felt. I started to masturbate compulsively. It hurt me. My mother judged me.”

“The second case is the most serious. I told the person I considered my friend, who is the daughter of the guy. She asked me to shut up and told me that she had to take a bath because she was so disgusted. Because her father, Andrés Abreu, when I was fifteen years old, performed oral sex on me against my will. And he almost raped me.”

Actress Andrea Levada also spoke out. In heartbreaking testimony, Levada says: “My biggest impulse to talk about this is to know that after me, another one came. I wish I had spoken out in time and no one else would have gone through this”.

“Today I’m talking about José Arceo, a Venezuelan theater director. I met him in 2016, when he called me to perform my first professional play. You can imagine the illusion of an 18-year-old girl whose biggest dream was (and is) to be an actress.”

“We rehearsed this piece for a year, at his house,” Levada recounts. “He loved to say comments about my body and that of my classmates. He would touch parts he shouldn’t have. He would tell us that to know how to act ‘you had to know how to fuck’. He commented that that was the way the business was.”

In one rehearsal, Levada says, Arceo asked her and her partners “to blindfold ourselves, take off our clothes and touch each other.”

“I agreed, because if he was capable of asking me that, he was capable of anything,” Levada says. “This happened. I was 18 but I didn’t want that. All I wanted was to fulfill a dream.”

There are many voices with full names. And there are others who have taken public statements of Venezuelan personalities that show similar behaviors to those of the accused.

A video from some time ago, where McKey appears talking with the well-known comedian José Rafael Briceño, was re-circulated on Twitter. In the conversation, Briceño relates a hypothetical scenario in which, faced with an unfaithful partner, he decides to drug her and make her believe that he was with another man. Briceño’s name also went viral on April 29.

The hashtag #MeTooVenezuela started to go viral. Voices are piling up and pointing against those who are accused of being aggressors. So far none of the accused has denied any of the accusations. Most voices are calling, in unison, for justice. But this is delicate.

According to the World Justice Project, out of 128 countries studied, Venezuela ranks last in terms of rule of law, as estimated in 2020. This, the study shows, speaks of the absence of guarantees in terms of any judicial process. Venezuelans who demand justice are, in the end, helpless and have been for years — not only now when it comes to dozens of complaints of sexual harassment. Political persecutions, unjust imprisonments, and all kinds of atrocities have marked the development of the rule of law in Venezuela.

However, the prosecutor of the Chavista regime, Tarek William Saab, announced the opening of a criminal investigation in response to the denunciations in social media. The Public Prosecutor’s Office will investigate Willy McKey, Alejandro Sojo, and Tony Maestracci.

**

At 5 p.m. on April 29, Willy McKey posted on his Twitter account: “Don’t be this. It grows inside and kills you. Sorry.”

Two hours later, journalists in Buenos Aires confirmed that the writer jumped from a ninth floor. He died.

In social media, people emphasize that his suicide is not the responsibility of the accusers. The claim is that abuses, such as the ones Willy perpetrated, should not happen again.

Silvia Gaviria, a prestigious Colombian academic, psychiatrist, expert in women’s mental health and former representative of the Andes to the World Psychiatric Association, told El American: “The issue of sexual abuse and harassment has been in history for many years, but silenced. Women, from a disadvantaged position, did not dare to denounce. When a brave person who does so appears, those who feel identified try to emulate the behavior.”

“What these movements do is to make visible a problem that is there, that is latent. This is going to generate many reactions, not only from women but also from the community. In that sense, it’s a good thing. There always has to be a first person who dares and defuses the fear so that others will do it”.

Regarding Mckey’s suicide, she adds: “Those who are denouncing or highlighting this situation are not responsible for the individual decisions of the person denounced. In the end, when denouncing you don’t know how the offender will react.”

“Whoever denounces has rights. She has the right to protect herself and others. This is not a reason to stop denouncing.”

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