Social Media Slams Idea That Murdered Backpackers in Ecuador ‘Were Asking for It’

María José Coni y Marina Menegazzo. Imagen publicada por el diario digital TN de Argentina.

María José Coni and Marina Menegazzo. Images shared on various Twitter accounts.

The discovery of the lifeless bodies of two tourists in Ecuador inspired some social media users to insinuate that the women were somehow to blame for the violence they suffered — a view that quickly encountered backlash online.

On February 22, 2016, friends and family of Marina Menegazzo, 21, and María José Coni, 22, launched an extensive social media campaign to find the two young Argentinians, who had disappeared while backpacking in Ecuador's Montañita Beach.

Six days later, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tweeted his support in response to an appeal of Belén Menegazzo, Marina's sister:

@Belenanguela's tweet: My sister and her friend went missing last Monday, the 22nd in Montañita, Ecuador. Please spread the word!!!!

@MashiRafael's tweet: Be strong Belén! Our police forces are investigating. A hug for your and Maria José's parents. All of Ecuador is with you.

Just 24 hours later, Ecuadorian Home Secretary José Serrano confirmed on Twitter that the young women's bodies had been found showing evidence of head trauma.

On February 29, Serrano held a press conference, revealing details of the murder investigation and the arrest of two suspects: Alberto Segundo Mina Ponce, who confessed to killing María José Coni, and Aurelio Eduardo Rodríguez, AKA “El Rojo”, who Mina Ponce said killed Marina Menegazzo.

Images of the men arrested yesterday, suspects in the murder of two young Argentinian women.

According to Serrano, the young women supposedly left the hostel where they were staying on the afternoon of February 22 and met the two murder suspects in one of Montañita's bars later that evening. The killing would have taken place in the early hours of February 23 in the house of one of the men.

Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio reported that Mina Ponce had confessed he wanted to sexually abuse María José Coni. When she spurned his advances, he hit her with a stick, causing a fatal injury. After hearing noises from another room in the house, he said he approached and saw “El Rojo” stabbing Marina Menegazzo. Both men were drunk. Mina Ponce said that he removed the bodies from his house in a wheelbarrow, abandoning one body some 400 meters away and then attempting to hide the other. Both were stuffed into bags.

Initial reactions

Investigators say that the victims went to the attackers’ house by their own free will, an account that Gladys Stefaní, mother of María José Coni, refuted while speaking to Argentinian news channel Todo Noticias (TN).

Condolences were quick to come for the families and friends of the two women on Argentinian and Ecuadorian social networks.

Ecuadorian painter and model Susana Rivadeneira expressed her regrets:

Pain, anger and shame that this has happened in my country. We are united in prayer for Marina and María José and for so many others that we don't even know about #montañita

Argentinian President Mauricio Macri showed his support on his Twitter account and offered the victims’ families legal assistance.

Fabián Gustavo, an Argentinian father himself, responded with a message of solidarity following President Macri's statement:

@mauriciomacri's tweet: All the legal assistance that you require is available to you through the Argentinian Embassy in Ecuador.

@fabiangc1977's tweet: Thank you, Mr. President. On behalf of all Argentinian people, we are united in this time of sadness

However, amongst the messages of solidarity were those who questioned the safety of travelling in Ecuador. Argentinian news website Infobae published a video on its Facebook page asking Argentinian citizens: “Would you travel to Ecuador after what happened to the Argentinian girls? Would you let your daughters travel alone to Ecuador?” To which the last interviewee replied:

No, de ninguna manera. Solos no. Menos siendo mujeres. Mucha desventaja física. Solos no. Solas no.

No, no way. Not alone. Much less if they are women. They are at a physical disadvantage. Not alone. Not alone.

Are the victims to blame?

Soon, the deeply rooted problem of victim blaming surfaced in online discussions of the women's murders. One such comment was from psychiatrist Hugo Marietán, who in an interview with the BigBang news website stated:

La víctima propiciatoria es la que asume un alto riesgo y de alguna forma parte de lo que moviliza el crimen. Con facilidad ocupa el lugar de víctima. Puede resultar odioso decir que se pusieron en riesgo, pero seguirán muriendo mujeres si no toman precauciones. Seguro se toparon con gente que los ayudaron y no les pasó nada y luego se confiaron. Pero se cruzaron con personas que se abusaron de esa confianza.

Propitiatory victim is the one who takes a high risk and somehow facilitates the crime. They easily become a victim. It may be awful to say that they put themselves at risk, but women will continue to be killed if they don't take precautions for their safety. They surely ran into people who helped them and nothing happened, so they lowered their guard. But they crossed paths with people who abused this trust.

Along the same lines, Twitter user Stefanía García made her own observation of the photo released of the suspects:

Who goes to stay the night at a stranger's house, let alone strangers that look like that? #MontañitaIsNotToBlame

The backlash to this victim blaming didn't take long.

Paraguayan María Guadalupe Acosta wrote an open letter putting herself in the place of the tragic backpackers. Her letter, titled “Yesterday they killed me”, has received thousands of ‘likes’ and went viral on Facebook.

Ayer me mataron.

Me negué a que me tocaran y con un palo me reventaron el cráneo. Me metieron una cuchillada y dejaron que muera desangrada. […]

[…] Pero peor que la muerte, fue la humillación que vino después.
Desde el momento que tuvieron mi cuerpo inerte nadie se preguntó donde estaba el hijo de puta que acabo con mis sueños, mis esperanzas, mi vida.

Yesterday they killed me.

I refused to let them touch me and they cracked my skull open with a stick. They stuck a knife in me and left me to bleed to death. […]

[…] But even worse than my death was the humiliation that followed. From the moment they ended my life, no one asked where was the son of a bitch that ended my hopes and dreams forever.

Acosta continued, referring to victim blaming:

Cuestionaron a mis padres, por darme alas, por dejar que sea independiente, como cualquier ser humano. Les dijeron que seguro andábamos drogadas y lo buscamos, que algo hicimos, que ellos deberían habernos tenido vigiladas.

Y solo muerta entendí que no, que para el mundo yo no soy igual a un hombre. Que morir fue mi culpa, que siempre va a ser.

They questioned my parents for giving me my freedom, for letting me be independent, like any other human. They told them that surely we were hanging out, high on drugs and looking for it, that it had to be something we did, that they should have looked after us.

She ended with an appeal to all women:

Te pido que por mí y por todas las mujeres a quienes nos callaron, nos silenciaron, nos cagaron la vida y los sueños, levantes la voz. Vamos a pelear, yo a tu lado, en espíritu, y te prometo que un día vamos a ser tantas, que no existirán la cantidad de bolsas suficientes para callarnos a todas.

I urge you for the sake of myself and women everywhere who were gagged, silenced, had our lives and dreams shit on, to speak out. We will fight, me by your side in spirit, and I promise that one day there will be so many of us, there won't be enough bags to shut us up.

Ecuadorian blogger Ricardo Zevallos Repetto made reference to the Project Consent campaign in his article “La campaña que llegó tarde para los asesinos de las argentinas en Montañita” (The campaign that was too late for the killers of the Argentinians in Montañita), stating:

Porque casos como el de las argentinas sugieren que uno de los problemas es que el consentimiento no es bien comprendido. La gente cree que usar falda es darle permiso a la otra persona para que toque tu cuerpo y eso, considero muy pero muy anticuado, irracional y egoísta.

Cases like this suggest that one of the problems is a lack of understanding of consent. People think that a woman wearing a skirt gives them permission to touch their body and I think that is extremely outdated, irrational and selfish.

The Facebook page of anti-gender-based violence organization Soy Nosotras (I am all of us) reflected:

Cada día ese SOY NOSOTRAS se llena de sentido. Porque en cada una de las mujeres que mueren por día en manos de la violencia machista, morimos todas.

Every day the notion that I AM ALL OF US makes more sense. Because every day that a woman dies at the hands of gender-based violence, we all die.

As for the victim blaming, the page commented that:

Y en el mientras tanto, todas, tenemos que vivir con la carga de soportar los comentarios de una sociedad que avanza pero que por momentos parece no entender nada. ¿Cómo somos capaces de cuestionar sus edades para viajar “solas”? ¿Qué hacían en Ecuador? ¿Por qué deciden ir de mochileras como están las cosas? ¿Por qué las familias “las dejan” viajar? ¿Qué se le cruza a una MADRE para permitirle ir de mochilera?

Meanwhile, we have to put up with comments from a society that is said to be progressive, yet at times seems to understand nothing at all. How can we question their age to travel “alone”? What were they doing in Ecuador? Why did they decide to go backpacking given the current situation? Why did their families “let them” travel? What is a MOTHER thinking when she lets her daughter go backpacking?

Juan Pablo Torres, Ecuadorian lecturer at the Universidad de SEK Ecuador, summarized on Facebook many of the recurring opinions on the case:

Me parece terrible la manera en la que el cobarde asesinato de las dos turistas mendocinas ha explotado lo peor de los seres humanos en redes sociales:

Machistas: “Eso les pasa por andar en Montañita en tanga”

Patriarcas: “Eso les pasa por andar solas”

Fervientes correistas: “El Ministro del Interior solucionó el caso más rápido que en cualquier país”.

Fervientes opositores: “La inseguridad es culpa del gobierno”

Racistas: “Esas chicas tan guapas nunca se hubiesen quedado en la casa de esos”

Clasistas: “Eso es culpa de la pobreza y miseria del sector de Montañita”

Xenófobos: “Por qué tienen que venirse a quejar de la seguridad acá, sino les gusta regresen a Argentina”

Teorías de conspiración: “Les pagaron a dos para que se hagan pasar por los asesinos, porque encubren una red en la que está involucrado el Presidente”

Ultraconservadores: “Eso les pasa por andar drogadas”

Estúpidos (no encuentro una categoría para calificarlos): “Si van a Montañita corren el riesgo de que pase eso”

Estos son comentarios leídos en mi red social, por lo cuál me siento más avergonzado, como es posible que sigamos pensando de manera tan retrograda. […]

I think it's awful how the cowardly killing of the two tourists from Mendoza has exposed the worst of humankind across social media:

Chauvinists: “That's what you get for walking around Montañita in a thong”

Patriarchs: “That's what you get for walking alone”

Fervent government supporters: “The Minister of Interior solved the case quicker than in any other country”

Fervent government adversaries: “The lack of safety is the government's fault”

Racists: “Such pretty girls would never have stayed at those guys’ house”

Classists: “This is all down to the poverty and misery of Montañita”

Xenophobes: “Why do they have to come and moan about the lack of safety here? If they don't like it they can go back to Argentina”

Conspiracy theorists: “Those guys were paid to pass themselves off as the killers; it is all a cover-up to protect the president”

Ultraconservatives: “That's what you get for hanging out high on drugs”

Idiots (I can't find any other category for these people): “If you go to Montañita, you run the risk of this happening”

These are all comments from my social media feeds which leave me totally ashamed. How can such backward thinking still exist in this day and age […]

Tenemos derecho de ir tenemos derecho de volver. Ilustración de la página pública de Soledad Voulgaris en Facebook.

“We have the right to go and the right to RETURN.” Illustration taken with permission from the Facebook page of Uruguayan illustrator Soledad Voulgaris


  • anon_64

    If I get so drunk I get lost and pass out on the sidewalk at 2am, and I wake up with my wallet and phone missing, did I deserve to be robbed? Did I ask to have things stollen? Of course not. But should I question my actions? Should the people who care about me suggest I make better decisions, ones that don’t significantly increase the likelihood of me being the victim of a crime?
    “They asked for it.” is victim blaming.
    “They should have been more careful.” isn’t. It’s no different than saying “Lock your doors at night” or “Pay attention at ATMs.”

    • It depends on your definition of victim blaming, but for many “They should have been more careful” still qualifies. The reason is that, in context, it has the same effect as “They asked for it” because you are really saying “They could have avoided it”.

      You could react in hundreds of ways that don’t risk blaming the victim, or you can say something that ultimately puts responsibility for the outcome on the victim rather than the perpetrator. If you focus on how the victim could have fixed it that’s victim blaming to an important degree.

      If you instead focus on how the perpetrators or society could have fixed it (better education, less patriarchal society, better law enforcement, not being awful), then you are much less likely to hurt and trigger the friends and family of the victim as well as the never-ending list of victims of similar crimes who might read your words.

      When in doubt imagine the woman you love most had the same thing happen to her, never got justice for it, and is now reading your words as a description of what she “should have done instead” to avoid it.

      • Jannie

        These are such tricky waters to navigate (especially because gender is involved)! I don’t think anyone would absolve the perpetrators of guilt in this particular story. They are 100% wrong in rape and murder. However, I don’t think anon_64 would be pronouncing these perpetrators less guilty by questioning the victims’ choices. There has to be room for that.

        My neighborhood is unsafe at night due to gun violence (true story), and let’s say you visited and I warn you not to walk outside past 9pm. But you decide to take a midnight stroll anyway and end up shot. Would you say you were completely innocent in this scenario? While I wouldn’t blame you for getting shot per se, I would question your choice in taking a midnight stroll despite previous warnings.

        You evoked the concept of justice. That’s a really loaded word because every situation has multiple sides and no one has perfect knowledge.

        • scuttlepants

          “Would you say you were completely innocent in this scenario?”
          Yes, because taking a walk is not an invitation to shoot me.

          There’s no confusion; no lack of clarity here. The blame 100% is on the shooter.

          • The shooter, the friends and family of the shooter who failed them in various ways, the community of the shooter who failed each other in various ways and the myriad authorities who fail everyone constantly. Everyone is guilty except the victim.

            Try to appreciate the WAYS in which that is true and maybe you’ll understand why the concept of victim blaming is not a simple logical conclusion but a sensitivity we all need to develop.

          • Jannie

            Just want to reiterate that I am not saying the victims are to blame for being raped and murdered. The perpetrators are 100% wrong in rape and murder. The lines of argument are becoming increasingly blurred and this much needs to be made clear.

            >”The shooter, the friends and family of the shooter who failed them in various ways, the community of the shooter who failed each other in various ways and the myriad authorities who fail everyone constantly. Everyone is guilty except the victim.”

            If I get shot in my own neighborhood, I am the victim. But according to you I am also guilty because I belong to “the community which has failed the shooter in various ways.”

          • scuttlepants

            I think he means that if we as a community let victim blaming continue, we create a culture which not only allows, but to a perpetrator’s mind, almost endorses crimes.

          • You’ve surfaced a good point I wasn’t even trying to make: If these girls were guilty in any way of this crime, it was not how they dressed, what they smoked or where they went, it was in their participation in an overall patriarchal society. Honestly I doubt they were particularly guilty of this for many reasons, but looking at it that way is much less likely to perpetuate the situation than “advising” them on how they could have avoided the dangerous situation.

          • Laura Ryan

            “innocent” was just a poor word choice but the concept still stands. No one is saying the shooter is not 100% responsible for the crime, but people need to understand that whilst you have every right to take a walk in an unsafe neighbourhood past 9pm, doing so dramatically increases your chance of being the victim of a crime. Hence, you do have some control over how safe you are, and you can exercise that control by choosing not to take such a risk. Just to reiterate, that does not make the actual perpetrator any less guilty. It just means that like it or not, the victim of the crime in this hypothetical did make a choice that put themselves in greater danger. This isn’t victim blaming, it is a fact and one people should be aware of when they are making choices regarding their own safety.

        • Mary Dzohara

          I’ve been to Monatinitas and I wasn’t told that it was a dangerous place, on the contrary I was told that it was safe and fun. So, should I have deserved to be killed there? Because even though I am telling you I wasn’t advice anything about the “danger” there, anyway you will find another reason to blame me. You are wrong my friend. What if they were never told it was dangerous? So do you wanna talk about parenting? Those mother fuck.. who killed them must pay for that.

    • Attia Rante

      So, women should just expect that all their bad choices will end in rape and death? Good to know.

      • David C

        Attia I think you should read Jannie’s post above. She seems much more level headed than you.

        • Level-headedness doesn’t make you correct as much as it makes you sound willfully insensitive in this context.

          People are upset about these issues for extremely good reasons.

          Try using your logical, level head to disagree with yourself and see how that works.

          • Jannie

            I apologize if I have sounded “willfully insensitive” in this context. That is certainly not my intent and I agree with you that the media coverage of this particular story is a good reason to be upset. I’m just wrestling with when and if personal responsibility is relevant – perhaps in this particular context it isn’t….

  • GPickles

    There is a big difference between blaming the victim (which some reprehensible people in fact do) and suggesting that care be taken when among strangers in an unfamiliar and possibly dangerous place. Such cautionary sentiment absolutely does NOT mean they “were asking for it” or “deserved it”, by any means. Anyone who can’t tell the difference between these things is being disingenuous or hopelessly indignant.

    • scuttlepants

      The problem is, in reality, that separation doesn’t always occur. People do make judgements on the victim and often completely fail to discuss the actual perpetrator.

      “She was raped? Ah, was she drinking? Her clothes were very tight…”

      So I don’t think there is a problem in reminding people that the focus and 100% of the blame must always lie with the perpetrator.

      • Jannie

        No. The perpetrator is 100% guilty for his/her wrongdoing. This does not necessarily or automatically mean the victim is always 100% innocent. Each person is responsible for his/her own actions.

        I think someone brought up the case of a car accident – you look at each party’s involvement in the accident. The car that was struck doesn’t automatically get assigned zero fault.

        • scuttlepants

          A car accident is simply not comparable to murder in this scenario.

          As a society we focus so frequently on blaming the victim we often barely mention the perpetrators. Until the focus changes to blaming the perpetrators, we send them the underlying message that they are not as responsible.

          Someone above asked if I would have responsibility for being shot while walking in a bad neighbourhood. My answer was no, because taking a walk is not an invitation to shoot me.

          I’m not sure how I can make it clearer than that.

          • > This does not necessarily or automatically mean the victim is always 100% innocent.

            The victims in this case are innocent of murder and they are innocent of sexual assault. They are not guilty of a crime, they are 100% innocent, even if they could have made other innocent decisions that protected their safety better.

            That you would imply they are guilty of this crime indicates you are not listening to yourself.

  • […] of soldiers accused of committing sexual violence gets underway in Guatemala, and the murders of two Argentinian travelers in Ecuador and Honduran indigenous activist Berta Cáceres rattle the […]

  • Creepy Pedro (King of WS)

    Yeah no disrespect to the dead or the families but they made some bad decisions.

  • […] psychiatrist even chimed in to victim-blame, explaining that the girls were “propitiatory victim[s]” who took the risk that made the crime possible, and that […]

  • […] A psychiatrist even chimed in to victim-blame, explaining that the girls were “propitiatory victim[s]” who took the risk that made the crime possible, and that while it might be awful to say this, “women will continue to be killed if they don’t take precautions for their safety.” […]

  • […] A psychiatrist even chimed in to victim-blame, explaining that the girls were “propitiatory victim[s]” who took the risk that made the crime possible, and that while it might be awful to say this, “women will continue to be killed if they don’t take precautions for their safety.” […]

  • […] A psychiatrist even chimed in to victim-blame, explaining that the girls have been “propitiatory sufferer[s]” who took the danger that made the crime potential, and that whereas it could be terrible to say this, “ladies will proceed to be killed if they do not take precautions for his or her security.” […]

  • […] A psychiatrist even chimed in to victim-blame, explaining that the girls were “propitiatory victim[s]” who took the risk that made the crime possible, and that while it might be awful to say this, “women will continue to be killed if they don’t take precautions for their safety.” […]

  • […] A psychiatrist even chimed in to victim-blame, explaining that the girls were “propitiatory victim[s]” who took the risk that made the crime possible, and that while it might be awful to say this, “women will continue to be killed if they don’t take precautions for their safety.” […]

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