PERU: Peru Film on Sexual Violence Nominated for Oscar

Thursday, February 25, 2010
Associated Press
South America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Liliana Tenorio was just a few months old when her father was detained by the Peruvian military, then disappeared. At age 3, she saw soldiers rape her mother and other relatives during a raid on their country home.

The 26-year-old still struggles with the trauma. While she has overcome a long-standing fear of talking to people, she said the memories fill her with rage.

"I hate them," she said in an interview. "It is a feeling that not even I can control. If I felt fear as a girl, now I have anger toward them."

Tenorio and thousands of victims of Peru's military offensive against leftist rebels never saw the guilty brought to justice. The rapes are treated as a shameful secret that most women still have not reported or the government acknowledged.
But the critically acclaimed feature film, "La Teta Asustada" ("The Milk of Sorrow") -- nominated for a foreign language Academy Award -- is bringing new attention to widespread sexual abuse in the 1980s and 1990s.

The first Peruvian film to be nominated for an Oscar, it tells the story of Fausta, whose mother was raped by soldiers while pregnant with her. Tormented and fearful of suffering the same fate, she places a potato in her vagina thinking it will help her avoid such an assault.

The film's Spanish title -- literally "the frightened breast" -- alludes to an Andean belief that fear and suffering in a pregnant woman are transmitted to her newborn through breast milk. The belief inspired Claudia Llosa's second feature-length film.
Llosa, a distant relative of writer Mario Vargas Llosa, read the work of Harvard University anthropologist Kimberly Theidon, who researched sexual violence in seven Peruvian peasant communities in the 1990s. Women told Theidon of their fears that children born or nursed during the violence would suffer psychological disorders.

"They said, 'These babies are a bit slow. How could they have been normal drinking so much pain, so much fear?'" Theidon said in an interview from Boston.

Fausta, played by the actor Magaly Solier, is inhibited and soft-spoken, but overcomes her fears and opens up to the world through a gradual and difficult process. Her fictional story mirrors the path of many young Peruvians such as Tenorio.
Ayacucho, a state of 700,000 people and one of Peru's poorest, was the seat of power for the Shining Path Maoist rebel group and the epicenter of political violence in the 1980s as villagers were caught in the crossfire.

According to Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated human rights abuses during the military's war against the Shining Path, 83 percent of rapes were committed by security forces -- mostly against Quechua-speaking peasant women.

That statistic attracted little attention until Llosa's movie won a Golden Bear at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival.
Theidon said more awards for the film will keep the spotlight on sexual abuse against Peruvian women.
"The great thing is that it has elevated a bit a topic that nobody wanted to hear," she said.