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

Categories: Latin America, Argentina, Ecuador, Citizen Media, Law, Travel, Women & Gender
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 [1] tweeted his support in response to an appeal of Belén Menegazzo [2], 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 [5] on Twitter that the young women's bodies had been found showing evidence of head trauma.

On February 29, Serrano held a press conference [6], 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 [9] 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) [10].

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 [11] 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 [14] and offered the victims’ families legal assistance.

Fabián Gustavo [15], 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 [18] on its Facebook page [18] 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 [19] surfaced in online discussions of the women's murders. One such comment was from psychiatrist Hugo Marietán, who in an interview with the BigBang [20] 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 [21] 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 [25] 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 [26].

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 [27] campaign in his article “La campaña que llegó tarde para los asesinos de las argentinas en Montañita [28]” (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 [29] (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 [30] 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 [31]