Tens of thousands of Argentinians have held street protests against rising violence towards women in response to the murder of a 16-year-old girl who was drugged, raped and impaled on a stake.
Many of the protesters who took part in marches throughout South America were schoolchildren and mothers, shocked by the case of Lucia Perez in the city of Mar del Plata, about 250 miles south of the capital, Buenos Aires.
Human rights groups claim that a woman is murdered every 36 hours in Argentina, which is known for its chauvinistic attitudes towards women.
Investigators say that Miss Perez was killed by two men who raped her and forced her to take large amounts of cocaine and marijuana. They impaled her, causing her such pain that she suffered a heart attack. They then washed her body, changed her clothes and dumped her at a clinic where they told doctors she had suffered a drugs overdose. A post-mortem examination discovered her injuries from the rape.
Maria Isabel Sanchez, the lead prosecutor on the case, said that she had handled thousands of cases but had never seen “anything equal to this litany of abhorrent acts”.
Two men known for selling drugs outside a school in the seaside city were held and charged with rape and murder. Casa del Encuentro, a pressure group that operates shelters for battered women, claimed that in the past year Argentina had 275 gender-based killings, which it defines as “femicide”. It said that in 40 of those cases, the women had reported attacks by the men who eventually killed them. Some had even taken out restraining orders against them.
Miss Perez’s mother, Marta Montero, asked: “How many more like Lucia are out there and nothing has been done? We can’t understand such barbarity. It’s impossible to understand.”
The protests were organised by a women’s rights group called Not One More. Marchers took to the streets in other countries in South and Central America plagued by violence against women, such as Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. The group organised a similar protest in Argentina last year after a man beat his pregnant 14-year-old girlfriend to death and buried her body in his yard.
President Bachelet of Chile endorsed the protesters on Twitter and mentioned the case of Florencia Aguirre, a ten-year-old Chilean girl whose body was found earlier this month in her stepfather’s shed in the south of the country.
The march was preceded by strikes by women who walked out of their workplaces to join the protest, despite heavy rain in Buenos Aires.
“I’m here to demand justice for my grandchildren,” said Helga Scumlitz, 74. “What’s happening is horrible. And it’s happening every day.”
Malena Resino, 14, said she was proud that so many of her classmates and other women had worn black clothing in a sign of mourning, before walking out of their jobs and schools to join the protest. She said: “It’s so unfair and it should never happen again.”