Antonia Barra’s story: a case of systemic sexism that shook an entire country

By Carla Munoz Antolin-

Source: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-53512966

In Chile, the 18th of September is a national holiday; everyone takes a few days off to celebrate the creation of the country’s first independent parliament. Antonia Barra together with her friend Consuelo Uribe and her friend’s boyfriend decided to spend the holidays in the city of Pucón. Martin Pradenas did the same thing and rented a big house in the area with his friends. At the end of the day, Antonia and Martin met in a club. Later that night security cameras at a supermarket’s parking lot recorded Martin taking Antonia to the house he was renting. The video was made public later and shows how Martin touches her and takes her to his place, while Antonia struggles to walk straight as she was heavily under the influence of alcohol at the time.


Antonia woke up with Martin on top of her and quickly asked her friend to pick her up. She told her what happened but asked her to not tell anyone about the incident; she was worried about how her parents and society would react. She noticed some pain on her back and wrists and went to the hospital where she also took the morning-after pill.


Almost a month later her ex-boyfriend, Rodrigo Canario, heard that something happened between her and Pradenas and called Antonia confronting her about the matter. During this call, Antonia broke her silence for the first time and told him that she had been raped by Martin Pradenas, and mentioned her wish to just disappear. Rodrigo recorded this call without Antonia's knowledge, and forwarded the recordings to others. Eventually, the recordings reached Pradenas who thought Antonia wanted to make everything public in an attempt to turn society against him. He reached out to Antonia accusing her of lying and, according to Antonia’s family, threatened her.


The next day the victim’s family found her dead at their house and the cause of her death was ruled a suicide. To her parents, Antonia had seemed happy as per usual so they decided to take a look at her phone and discovered what their daughter had been going through. Antonia’s family reported what happened to the police, and legal procedures were swiftly initiated.


According to a police report, after he learnt that he was being investigated, Martin erased 14,000 pictures he had on his laptop and he claimed that his phone had been destroyed by his mother in an “angry outburst”, deleting evidence the police intended to analyse. He also joined a WhatsApp group called ‘Justice for Antonia’, a group that was used by women to plan events and protests, using the name 'Andrea'. Martin Pradenas already had 5 other accusations against him, 2 regarding inappropriate touching and 2 relating to rape (now three including Antonia). Later, during the court hearing, the judge dismissed 2 of these cases because of the time elapsed after the reported events.


The court hearing caused huge discontent throughout Chile as the visual evidence was dismissed and the judge suggested that it was impossible to assume Antonia was not able to defend herself in her state (being under the influence of alcohol). Also, Martin was sentenced to house arrest instead of being remanded in custody, according to the judge this was because of his good behaviour.


This decision caused widespread protests all over the country due to the large sense of injustice. This was especially since, following the mass protests that swept across the country in October and November of last year (2019), many were sentenced to time custody for far less serious or violent offences. For example, Roberto Campos Weiss, a teacher who hit an already broken subway turnstile, was in prison for 56 days. Following the protests, the decision taken by the judge in Martin Pradenas case was revoked by the Appeals court of the city of Temuco, and he was remanded.


Antonia Barra’s case has become very well known in a country full of discontent regarding the privileges given to a small group of people who are the elite. One of the elements that affect people the most is sexism. In Latin America, every two hours a woman becomes a victim of femicide and killed because of the mere fact of being a woman. According to a recent report of the OCAC (Observatorio Contra El Acoso Callejero) in Chile, 82% of women between the ages of 18 and 26 experience some sort of sexual harassment, these numbers are considerable, especially when taking into account the fact that only 50.7% of the population are women. It is thought that the fact that these sorts of incidents have affected most women in Chile directly makes them easy to relate to.


People feel angry as the reason Martin was eventually remanded in custody is thought to be due to the social pressure caused by the numerous recent protests across the country. This case highlights the fact that, in reality, rapists are frequently allowed to be at their homes until investigations are completed, and, as in many cases there is no criminal record or physical evidence, they are usually allowed to return to society without any punishment, making women feel vulnerable and ignored by the criminal justice system.


The 22nd of July 2020, after the court hearing, Chilean social media was filled with purple pictures with statements such as “Justice for Antonia” and “purple warning for Antonia Barra” (purple represents the social movement for equality for women). Furthermore, it is thought and hoped that Antonia’s case will increase awareness of sexism and difficulties women have to overcome to be heard in Chile and throughout Latin America. A similar thing occurred as a result of the case of Daniel Zamudio in 2012, who was the victim of homophobic attacks which ended up killing him. His story led to the implementation of a law against these kinds of homophobic crimes. Right now Antonia’s father, Alejandro Barra, is working with the ministry of women and a few deputies to make modifications to the process that women in Chile have to go through to obtain justice.

 

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