The performance is only the beginning: 'a rapist in your way'

"A rapist in your way" has taken to the streets of the world. It has created a space to call out gender based violence, and, in the midst of the National Strike in Colombia, it has served to unite previously fragmented feminist movements.

Tania Tapia Jáuregui
25 December 2019, 12.01am
Women in Istanbul, Turkey, gather together to perform 'a rapist in your way' (un violador en tu camino). PA Images: All Rights Reserved.

Dozens of women moving their legs and arms to a singular rhythm. Elbows still, fists rising and falling. Arms alternating Knees that accompany the rhythm. A blindfold. The image has been repeated dozens of times in recent weeks in Chile, in France, in Spain, in India and in Colombia.

From Bogotá to San José del Guaviare. All united to chant the words: "And it was not my fault, nor the fault of where I was, nor the fault of how I was dressed." The performance has become an emblem.

“A rapist in your way” was created by four Chileans from Valparaíso that make up the LASTESIS collective. For a year and a half, LASTESIS has seeked to stage feminist theories through other forms of communication. This performance, in particular, is the result of an investigation that they created about rape in Chile, after they found that only 8% of the rape trials ended in conviction.

The symbols of that violence are embodied and reinterpreted in the performance:

There are the squats that the police force make detained women carry out. They are forced to crouch naked, with their hands on their heads, to detect if they have any object in their vagina.

There are the clothes: how women dress on a night of partying, and what is indicated as "provocative" and used as justification for sexual assaults.

There is a stanza that represents the anthem of the Chilean carabineros - the Police, one of the actors who have perpetrated violence against women in that country -: “Sleep peacefully, innocent girl, without worrying about the bandit, who for your sweet and smiling dream your carabinero lover looks out for”.

And there's the name, "A rapist in your way," a reference to a slogan that the Chilean Police made, "A friend in his way."

In Colombia, the performance has been repeated in different cities and settings since last November.

Andrea Paba is one of the women who answered the call from LASTESIS in Bogotá. She learned about the performance as she left the mobilization of November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, in which thousands of women marched in Colombia.

“We were coming out of the Plaza de la Hoja with a friend when we saw the video. Two days later LASTESIS made us a call on November 28. We set out to do it: my friend worked with the 25N girls [several of those who organized the march that day]. They made a call, and I put a tweet that many women answered. We created a group in Whatsapp. From one moment to another there were about 150 people,” says Andrea.

The lyrics to "A rapist in your path" began to circulate on social networks: the instruction was to try to learn it in a couple of days, along with the choreography. The first date was on Thursday, November 28 at La Morada, a feminist cultural house in Teusaquillo.

About 200 women attended the call, many more than Paba expected. There, the changes to the lyrics were discussed to adjust it to the Colombian context: to remove the stanza about the police and include instead the slogan of National Strike in Colombia: “The State does not take care of me, my friends take care of me”.

Intervention in Bogotá on the 28th of November

The performance was repeated on Saturday 30 at the Parkway in Bogotá. Twice as many women arrived. The call also expanded to other cities in Colombia such as Medellín, Manizales, Quibdó, and the capital of the Guaviare. Outside the country it also continued to grow: in Chile 10,000 women met in front of the National Stadium in Santiago, a place of torture during the dictatorship, to do what has perhaps been the most massive performance to date. It was translated into French and was performed in front of the Eiffel Tower and even reached India.

“It's simple, it's easy to replicate and it was also created in a context of artistic strategies being used as a form of protest. Its content reflects the feeling of a community that appropriated it, replied and made it great,” says Nadia Granados, artist and performer, to explain its popularity. “It is strong and has been done more than once.

It also takes advantage of the body as the center of the action, which allows something small and simple to become something gigantic and forceful.” She explains that although it is not the first time that a performance breaks into public space - it happened with El Silhouettezo in 1983 in Argentina or Lava the flag in Peru in 2000 - the phenomenon of “A rapist in your path” feels so unique and so massive in part also by social networks.

Performance in the National Stadium of Santiago on the 4th of December

“I think that the internet and networks have made many events that happen in the intimate reach a global scale: body exercises, songs, spontaneous acts full of performativity that begin to be a trend, that become viral,” says Granados. “I think that today there is a relevance of the performance, linked to social networks, which did not exist before. A possibility of organization and execution that networks allow, in addition to a powerful feminist movement, which has the capacity to articulate around a transnational agenda in which each one becomes a collective subject .”

It may be that the success of the call on Saturday, November 30, at Parkway, was partly due to the viral performance of Thursday's performance videos. But, of course, it may also be due to the fact that the performance was becoming a visible and noisy space for denouncing gender based violence.

A type of violence that is very common but has few spaces for reporting - hence there is a sub-registry that can double and even triple the number of cases reported by authorities. “There is a piece of one of the videos in which a girl comes out singing with such rage, as if she were telling the rapist: you were the one who raped me. I'm telling you. The rapist is on the streets, there is a structural and systematic violence that oppresses us and the State does absolutely nothing,” says Paba.

Intervention in Bogotá 30 of November

According to Medicina Legal's data, between January and October of this year, there were 18,967 cases of alleged sexual crime against women in the country. ‘Alleged’, because they are still being investigated. The numbers increase in cases of other types of violence that are more normalized and less visible: in 2019, for example, Medicina Legal registered 34,183 cases of violence against women and 31,044 cases of interpersonal violence. These women could fill an entire football stadium.

In the most extreme case of violence, murders, the figures have increased compared to 2018: from 1,156 women to 1,229 women killed in 2019. There were no such obvious changes in how the murderers were dealt with: most remain cases without enough information, with unknown aggressors 15% of the time, and couples and ex-partners almost 10% of the time, according to Medicina Legal figures.

The entity talks about homicides against women, and not feminicides, because it cannot criminalize crimes. However, there are civil society organizations that have dedicated themselves to keeping track of femicides in the country. The Feminicidios Colombia Foundation, for example, published a report on November 25 where it registers 239 femicides in the country so far this year, of which 73.8% have been perpetrated by acquaintances of the victims.

Precisely, 239 of the almost 400 women who met at the Parkway on the night of November 30, carried the name of one of the women victims of femicide on their chest. Andrea Paba, on the other hand, was named after the person who raped her as a child. “I had never told anyone that they had raped me.

My mother knew because she entered the room at the time my cousin was raping me, but it was never an issue I wanted to talk about, I felt dirty. But I understood that I am not alone and that we must learn to socialize it. It is obviously horrible, but this is something that needs pedagogy.

Telling our stories helps other women to take the voice and, if they want, also tell their own story. I did it because of that. Also, why am I going to give so much power to the person who violated me so many years ago? At this moment, there is this support network behind me that supports me and encourages me to tell my story,” says Andrea.

Andrea, and the same members of LASTESIS, leave a clear message: performance is a part of the process, not an end in itself. It is the tool that allows to carry an important message: that the State has been complicit in violence against women because it has a justice system that does not protect or punish abusers; but also a State that is represented by a police force that has also violated women, as in Chile.

“In the Chilean case, there is an experience that has to do with a memory that has not yet been eliminated, which is that of the dictatorship and the experiences of violence that the State can exert on citizens,” said one of the members of LASTESIS to the BBC. “There are raped and abused when they are going to report that situation, are asked how they were dressed, for example, trying to blame the victim. So who finally protects you?"

Performer Nadia Granados agrees that “A rapist in your path” is only one step, but an important one in the path to materialize a concrete transformation in the recognition of gender based violence. “I would not think that performance as such is the one that achieves changes, but we are facing a transnational collective of women that is surely already generating a lot of transformations.

The power to shout together in this massive performance is a symptom of something bigger that has definitely changed and that has enormous power in the fight against the patriarchy which, in itself, is the root of the historical violence that plagues humanity,” says the artist.

Andrea Paba, on the other hand, assures that the most important aspect of “A rapist in your way” has been the discussions that the performance has led to. One, is precisely the wave of allegations of sexual abuse that have arisen as a result of the performance and that have led many women to tell their stories of abuse, based on one of the most popular phrases of the intervention.

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