SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Four women who say they were sexually tortured as political prisoners following Chile's 1973 military coup have filed a complaint they hope will bring to light dictatorship-era rapes that have been buried by fear, shame and silence.
The allegations were made in a complaint filed in May and the women gave their testimony to Chilean judge Mario Carroza this week.
They are being allowed to raise the decades-old charges because of international human rights accords recently signed by Chile, said Carroza, a specialist in crimes against humanity who is presiding over the case.
The women also are pressing Chile to update its 140-year-old penal code to classify the rape of political prisoners and torture as political crimes, which would subject violators to harsher sentences than currently allowed.
"We demand that the Chilean government, that the authorities, the state, change the laws and accept that this sort of sexual torture exists," Nieves Ayress, 66, an educator and community activist now living in New York, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Ayress was a 25-year-old socialist activist when she was detained in 1974, along with her father and 15-year-old brother. Upon her release in 1976, she was forced into exile.
She appeared before Carroza late Monday to present her testimony. On Tuesday, she underwent examinations to document the lasting psychological impact and physical scars she bears as a result of the alleged assaults. There is no surviving DNA evidence, but she says there are scars from military sabre cuts to her stomach, razor cuts to her breasts and injuries to her genitals caused by torture that included electric shocks.
With the examination results still pending, it is unclear when Carroza will formally accept the case and start the investigation that could lead to criminal charges.
During her detention, Ayress said, her torturers penetrated her with rats and dogs. Soldiers would tie her naked to a bed and bring in her father and brother under orders to rape her. The rape wouldn't take place but the torture was psychological. The father and brother were later released and they fled into exile.
Ayress and the other women in the complaint — Carmen Holzapfel, Soledad Castillo and Nora Brito Corez — all say they were sexually assaulted during their separate detentions. Several men who initially were part of the complaint dropped out of it.
"They formed a line of soldiers and forced me to have oral contact with all of them," Ayress said.
Cristian Castillo, director of the memorial site created at a former torture center known as Villa Grimaldi, said he has no doubt victims will be emboldened to speak out "as a result of the declarations by these women that specifically denounce this crime against humanity."
The dictatorship led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet toppled Chilean President Salvador Allende and ruled until 1990. Officials say more than 40,000 people were victims of the dictatorship, including more than 3,000 who were killed. Some 70 officers and soldiers and a handful of civilians have been convicted of various crimes, with some condemned to prison terms of several hundred years.
Chile's National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture, which collected the testimony of thousands of people tortured during the dictatorship, said nearly all of the 3,399 women it interviewed reported suffering sexual torture. More than 300 said they were raped while in custody.
Only since 1993 have international bodies classified rape committed during conflict as a crime against humanity, when the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia adopted the definition.
The complaint by the four women is against several former and current military personnel, but does not give their names.
Ayress said she was not able to see her attackers, but "the other women who were held with me, they saw the torturers."
"There are hundreds of soldiers who are going unidentified," she said. Now that 40 years have passed since the military coup, "people are beginning to speak and to lose their fear, but it is difficult."
Eva Vergara on Twitter: https://twitter.com/evergaraap