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She wrote books about sexual abuse by her uncle. Now he’s going to jail.

Remark

When the verdict came, the Argentine author Belén López Peiró sighed in relief.

The man who had hurt her so much, who had sexually assaulted her as a young girl “when she didn’t even know what love was,” she recently wrote, eventually found guilty.

The long journey from when she first put into words how her uncle, a respected ex-cop, would sneak into her room in the middle of the night and lay on top of her, until the day of the guilty verdict nine years later, had been unbearable.

On December 26, a local court in Argentina found Claudio Marcelino Sarlo guilty of “serious assault” committed against a minor, López Peiró, and sentenced him to ten years in prison. The judge concluded that Sarlo repeatedly assaulted his niece between the ages of 13-17 in Santa Lucia, a small community in the province of Buenos Aires where she spent the summer at her aunt and uncle’s house. The court also ruled that Sarlo has to pay about $78,000 and that he has no contact with her.

Sarlo’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It’s done,” López Peiró wrote in El País newspaper. “That’s it. It’s done. C’est fin. I’m free.”

In an interview with the Washington Post, the 30-year-old described the “torturous” legal battle in which she was forced to testify eight different times and subjected to repeated psychological and medical evaluations. The years-long process also shattered her own family, she said, who saw details of their lives made public, she said.

The author chronicled her struggle to have her uncle prosecuted in two books, earning praise in literary circles for López Peiró’s innovative narrative approach to both her own experience of sexual assault and the criminal prosecution process. Her work also helped spark a national debate about child sexual abuse and the failings of the justice system, becoming entwined with a national feminist movement that pushed the country to give more credence to victims’ testimonies.

Although the legal resolution brought López Peiró long-awaited relief, it came at great personal cost.

López Peiró said she had to endure the pain of encountering her attacker in court, of being victimized again and again by testifying again and again, of dealing with a callous accuser who asked her: “How does it feel to be abused? ?” She felt it was she, not him, on trial.

When asked if it was all worth it in the end? If justice can really heal? López Peiró confessed that the answer still eludes her, but the decision to accuse her uncle led to her books.

“In that process I found a new dimension of the power of words that marked my destiny and my literary path,” she said in an interview from Barcelona, ​​where she currently lives.

“And I will never regret that.”

López Peiró filed the first complaint in 2014. A few years later, while deep in the process, she attended a literary workshop and realized how deeply the experience had affected her own identity. She then decided to reclaim her own trauma.

“After all these years of seeking and not finding justice, of realizing that I felt most victimized and vulnerable in the judicial sphere, I understood that my relief and comfort had to come from elsewhere,” she said.

Words is where she found it.

In the books “Porque Volvías Cada Verano” (“Why Did You Come Back Every Summer?”) and “Donde No Hago Pie” (“Where There Is No Standing”), the author not only denounced her uncle, but also her own family for neglect and abuse. She also criticized the legal system and the prejudice and social stigma that often surround those who dare to speak out.

“Why Did You Come Every Summer?”, first published in 2018, recounted the abuse from multiple viewpoints and voices: her mother, a prosecutor, psychiatrists, her aunt and wife of Sarlo, who admitted that although she believed that had abuse occurred she would not leave her husband – a literary technique rarely seen in novels or autobiographical non-fiction, where a first-person narrator is common.

“Writing these books helped me get out of that place of ‘victim,'” she told The Post, “and made me feel like I had a certain control over something, in this case words, that allowed me to say exactly what I wanted to say, nothing less, nothing more, and express all that anger and say all those things that have embarrassed my family.

While the books resonated in literary and feminist circles in Argentina, their greatest impact was inspiring other women to come forward.

One of these was well-known Argentine actress Thelma Fardín who accused Brazilian actor Juan Darthés of sexually assaulting her when she was a minor. Darthés has denied the allegations in an ongoing trial.

In several television interviews, Fardín López mentioned Peiró for inspiring her to denounce her alleged attacker, sparking a spike in book sales and sparking a national conversation about the matter, said Leonardo Rodriguez, an editor at Madreselva, the book’s publishing company.

“While this was not the first book published in Argentina to address the issue of sexual abuse, it was perhaps the first time a book focused exclusively on it and went to the heart of it and created this kind of mass discussion and sparked debates. Rodriguez added.

Soon López Peiró was invited to speak at public universities, high schools and libraries.

The case also illustrated the shortcomings of Argentina’s justice system, where victims often “make great sacrifices and are forced to take on the burden of persuading the authorities to collect evidence and move the case forward, and it is they who must continue to root and rowing,” said María Piqué, a federal prosecutor.

Luli Sanchez, López Peiró’s lawyer echoed the criticism, pointing to the nine years it took a court to find Sarlo guilty, a period that, she said, was “while appalling and inhumane, not unusual”.

Sanchez said there are many challenges in Argentina in prosecuting cases of sexual abuse, especially of minors, because of stereotypes about victims and the judicial institutions often do not take these cases seriously.

In a 2022 report by The Economist Intelligence Unit analyzing how countries respond to cases of child abuse and exploitation, Argentina ranks 50th out of 60 countries.

“Not so long ago, when someone reported being a victim of sex crimes and there was no physical evidence or direct witnesses, prosecutors would easily dismiss him,” Sánchez said.

This has changed in the last decade, according to legal experts, who say prosecutors and investigators have received training on empathy and how to avoid victim-blaming behavior, which is entrenched in Latin American countries.

“There is a widespread societal demand to treat survivors as actual victims of serious human rights violations, in other words, to make them heard,” Sanchez said. “The neglect and abuse has been infinitely worse and huge strides have been made, but there is still a long way to go,” she added.

While López Peiró recognizes the battle won by the feminist movement and the importance of pursuing legal justice, the written word has remained her closest ally in her quest for self-repair.

“I want other victims to know that words help, they help process, untangle and recover – because I don’t think you can heal because this is not a disease, you can recover your memory, your body and your identity, which is .” often gutted,” she said.

As for her, she said she’s ready to move on and finally write about something else.

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