The former hostage Ingrid Betancourt, who recently decided to run for president with a focus on women's rights, is the center of criticism after her declarations in a presidential debate at a University seemed to say poor women who are raped are somehow provoking it. She later blamed a mix-up between French and Spanish.
When Ingrid Betancourt announced last month she was running for president of Colombia, the celebrated former hostage said a central focus of her candidacy would be women's issues. After a candidate debate on Tuesday night, those issues have arrived in the worst possible way.
Asked by university students what society could do to better protect women's safety, Betancourt said that women's issues "concern us all," but then added: "Many times we realize, especially in the poorest neighborhoods, that women let themselves get raped, let themselves get raped by people very close to the family or let themselves get followed by criminals, who follow their route, know where they are going to go and they are predators that are chasing them who are totally unprotected.”
After her statement, candidate Camilo Romero, part of the leftist coalition, Pacto Histórico drew attention to what Betancourt had said, saying women didn't "let themselves" be followed or raped.
Enrique Gómez Martínez, a right-wing candidate, brushed off the statement, arguing that it was a language mix-up: "Don't mistreat a woman who has spoken French for 20 years,” a reference to Betancourt's dual nationality with France and French education.In French "se faire violer" means "to be raped" and has no victim-blaming connotations, unlike the Spanish "se hace violar," that she used.
But perhaps the most damning part of Betancourt's comments is that she was referencing only poor women. The other top female presidential candidate Francia Márquez Mina tweeted that the comment "legitimizes class, sexist and patriarchal violence."
Video clip of the incriminated speech Tuesday during a debate at Bogota's Sergio Arboleda University — Source: Análisis Urbano Medellín
Damage is done
As El Espectador reported, Betancourt also seemed to blame a linguistic error, while admitting that she misspoke and again outlining her proposals to invest in ways to increase safety in schools and protection centers for women that offer psychological counseling.
The candidate has faced criticism for launching her candidacy after leaving the center coalition Coalición de La Esperanza and running with her recently revived party Oxígeno Verde ("Green oxygen party") on environmental and women's issues, the latter of which never featured prominently in her political career.
She can't go around speaking in French grammar and blaming victims.
Women's rights associations, already skeptical of Betancourt's feminist rebranding, slammed her comments Tuesday at the debate at Bogota's Sergio Arboleda University. The collective 14 Por Colombia released a statement: "The problem is many people think the same way, that women make themselves subject of rape, asking why do [women] provoke them, why do we dress in a certain way, why are we in a certain place — the guilty ones are never [the rapists]."
Bad grammar, a bad excuse
The collective also dismissed her explanation of the mixup with French. "The excuse was worse, she said she got confused because that's how you say it in French, So what if in French that's normal, in Spanish it's clearly not, and if she wants to be every woman's president she can't go around speaking in French grammar and blaming victims."
Betancourt has apologized, saying she felt the discomfort in the room and didn't understand what was happening. "When I was expressing this obviously what I meant was that women, when they are in these spaces, they are victims of these attacks — that doesn't mean they seek to be victims."
On Twitter she added: "Speaking of my comment in the debate, obviously that's not what I meant. It was taken out of context. This shows that women are accused so many times of being guilty of the aggressions of which they are a victim, it is even thought that a woman can think this."
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