The shooting death of a 19-year-old woman in a Venezuela police holding cell has revealed that women in the jail were being systematically forced to have sex with officers, underscoring the high level of violence faced by women in custody.
On March 13, Daniela Geraldine Figueredo Salazar died from a gunshot wound to the face at the Zamora Municipal Police Station in Guatire, a city in the state of Miranda. The shot was fired by the service weapon of an official who was later detained.
Following Figueredo Salazar’s death, several of her fellow inmates reported that they were being forced to have sex with officials at the jail, according to Venezuela-based prisoners’ rights organization A Window to Liberty (Una Ventana a la Libertad – UVL). The sexual abuse was being coordinated by a former officer who is also currently jailed, the women said.
“He is the one that forces us to have sexual relations both with him and with other officials,” one of the women told the non-governmental organization.
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This is not the first case of sexual violence in the country’s detention centers. In 2018, it was reported that women in Venezuelan prisons were being forced to have sex with guards in order to be released for court hearings.
Additionally, in 2019, a report by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights pointed to state security forces as perpetrating various forms of sexual violence against detainees.
Several women testified that officials with the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional – SEBIN) were asking for sexual favors in exchange for property and privileges, according to the report.
InSight Crime Analysis
The dynamics in Venezuela’s prisons and police detention centers — which include overcrowding, inmate control, and a lack of care for female detainees — facilitate women being sexually assaulted and becoming victims of other gender-based crimes and human rights violations.
Women make up more than seven percent of the country’s inmate population. But the country only has three spaces constructed for their detention, two of which are extensions of larger male prisons. Other male prisons have also come to house female inmates.
Women are also held in the country’s massive system of police holding cells — such as the one where 19-year-old Figueredo Salazar was killed. Such detention facilities are not meant to hold people for longer than 72 hours but have become in practice a parallel prison system where detainees languish in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.
Additionally, those in charge of guarding female inmates are not always women, leaving them in the control of male personnel in violation of international standards. This, along with the lack of adequate infrastructure for women detainees and basic guarantees of prisoner rights, makes preventive detention centers and prisons conducive to sexual abuse, said Magally Huggins, a criminologist with Una Ventana a la Libertad.
In many cases, female inmates are forced to have sex with “pranes,” or “prison bosses,” and guards, to ensure their safety, Huggins told InSight Crime.
Basic female hygiene products, like sanitary pads, also “can become instruments for manipulation,” said María Corina Muskus Toro, gender and human rights consultant for the Venezuelan Prison Observatory,
“Sex may be the way to pay for it, or for some other benefit,” she said.
In addition to the sexual violence exercised by the guards and other inmates, female detainees can fall victim to other types of human rights violations, such as a lack of access to health and hygiene services. Pregnant women, for example, must live with overcrowding and lack of food.
Sexual violence plagues prison systems across Latin America. According to Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía – INEGI), eight percent of female prison inmates in that country have been a victim of a sex crime within the prison system. Of these, a third report having been assaulted more than three times.
Additionally, in 2015, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission reported that in at least 20 female penitentiary centers, officials asked for sexual favors in order for inmates to access “institutional services, such as a place and a bed to sleep in, or to receive protection for fear of being assaulted.”