Behind the years-long journey of an author writing about her experience with sexual abuse

Behind the years-long journey of an author writing about her experience with sexual abuse

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When the verdict came, the Argentine author Belén López Peiró he sighed with relief.

The man who had caused her so much pain, who had sexually abused her when she was a child “when I didn’t even know what love was,” she wrote recently, she was finally found guilty.

The long journey from when she first put into words how her uncle, a respected ex-police sergeant, used to sneak into her room in the middle of the night and lie on top of her, to the day of the guilty verdict nine years later, it had been unbearable.

On December 26, a local court in Argentina found Claudio Marcelino Sarlo guilty of “serious sexual assault” committed against a minor, López Peiró, and sentenced him to ten years in prison. The judge concluded that Sarlo had repeatedly assaulted his niece between the ages of 13 and 17 in Santa Lucía, a small community in the province of Buenos Aires where he used to spend the summer at his uncle’s house. The court also ruled that Sarlo must pay some $78,000 and that he cannot have any contact with her.

Sarlo’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“That’s it,” López Peiró wrote in the newspaper El País. “That’s it. It’s finished. C’est fini. I am free.

In an interview with the Washington Post, the 30-year-old described the court fight as “torture,” during which she was forced to testify on eight different occasions and was subjected to repeated psychological and medical evaluations. The years-long process also tore apart her own family, she said, who watched the details of her life become public, she said.

The author detailed her fight to have her uncle prosecuted in two books, earning her praise in literary circles for López Peiró’s innovative narrative approach to both her own experience with sexual assault and the criminal process. Her work also helped spark a national debate about child sexual abuse and the failings of the justice system, intertwining with a national feminist movement that galvanized the country to give more credibility to victims’ testimonies.

Although the judicial decision brought López Peiró long-awaited relief came at great personal costs.

López Peiró said she endured the pain of having to meet her attacker in court, the revictimization that came from testifying over and over again, from dealing with an insensitive prosecutor who asked her “how does it feel to be abused?” He felt that it was she, not him, who was being judged.

When asked if, in the end, was it worth it? If justice can really heal? López Peiró confessed that the answer still eludes him, but the decision to accuse her uncle led her to her books.

“In that process I found a new dimension of the power of words that marked my destiny and my literary path,” he said in an interview from Barcelona, ​​​​where he currently lives.

“And that, I will never regret it.”

López Peiró filed the initial complaint in 2014. A few years later, during the trial, she attended a literary workshop and realized how deeply the experience had influenced her own identity. So he decided to recover his own trauma.

“After all those years of seeking and not finding justice, realizing that it was in the judicial sphere where I felt most revictimized and vulnerable, I understood that my relief and consolation had to come from elsewhere,” she said.

Words is where he found it.

In the books “Because You Came Back Every Summer” and “Donde No Hago Pie” the author denounced not only her uncle, but also her own family for abandonment and mistreatment. She also criticized the legal system and the prejudices and social stigma that often surround those who dare to speak out.

“Why Did You Come Every Summer?” First published in 2018, it recounted the abuse through multiple viewpoints and voices: his mother, a prosecutor, psychiatrists, his aunt, and Sarlo’s wife, who admitted that although believed the abuse had occurred she would not leave her husband, a literary technique rarely seen in novels or autobiographical nonfiction, where a first-person protagonist narrator is common.

“Writing these books helped me get out of that ‘victim’ place,” she told The Post, “and made me feel like I had some control over something, in this case, words, that allowed me to say exactly what I wanted. say. , nothing less, nothing more, and express all that anger and say all those things that embarrassed my family.

While the books resonated in Argentina’s literary and feminist circles, their biggest impact was inspiring other women to step up.

One was the renowned Argentine actress Thelma Fardín accused the Brazilian actor Juan Darthés of sexually assaulting her when she was a minor. Darthés has denied the accusations in an ongoing trial.

In several televised interviews, Fardín gave credit to López Peiró for inspiring her to denounce her alleged attacker, prompting a spike in book sales and sparking a national conversation on the issue, said Leonardo Rodríguez, editor of Madreselva, the book’s publisher.

“While this was not the first book published in Argentina that addressed the issue of sexual abuse, it was perhaps the first time that a book focused exclusively on it and went to the very center and generated this type of massive discussion and debate. Rodriguez added.

Soon, López Peiró was invited to speak at public universities, high schools and libraries.

The case also illustrated the shortcomings of the Argentine judicial system, where victims often “make great sacrifices and are forced to shoulder the burden of convincing the authorities to gather evidence and pursue the case, and they are the ones who have to keep rowing and rowing.” said María Piqué, federal prosecutor.

luli sanchez, López Peiró’s lawyer echoed the criticism and pointed to the nine years it took for a court to convict Sarlo, a period that, she said, was “although terrible and inhumane, not unusual.”

Sánchez said that in Argentina there are many challenges to prosecute cases of sexual abuse, particularly of minors, due to stereotypes towards the victims and judicial institutions often do not take these cases seriously.

In a 2022 report by The Economist Intelligence Unit looking at how countries respond to cases of child abuse and exploitation, Argentina ranked 50 out of 60 countries.

“Recently, when a person reported being a victim of sexual crimes, and there was no physical evidence or direct witnesses, prosecutors easily dismissed them,” Sánchez said.

That has changed in the past decade, according to legal experts, who say prosecutors and investigators have received training on empathy and how to avoid victim-blaming behaviors that are entrenched in Latin American countries.

“There has been a general social demand to treat survivors as real victims of serious human rights violations, that is, that they be heard,” Sánchez said. “The neglect and mistreatment were infinitely worse and tremendous steps have been taken but there is still a long way to go,” he added.

Although López Peiró recognizes the battles won by the feminist movement and the importance of seeking legal justice, the written word has remained her most faithful ally in her search for self-recovery.

“I want other victims to know that words help, help process, untangle and restore – because I don’t think you can cure because this is not a disease, you can restore your memory, your body and your identity that is so often taken from us. “, said.

As for herself, she said she’s ready to move on and eventually write about something else.

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