All María José Coni and Marina Menegazzo wanted to do was travel.
Like many 20-somethings dream of doing, the two Argentinian girls spent weeks traveling together up the west coast of South America — from Lima, Peru, to Ecuador’s “Mitad del Mundo” (or “middle of the world” monument), taking pictures with bright toothy smiles the whole way.
Unfortunately, their trip met a horrible and tragic end in the Ecuadorian coastal city of Montañita.
The two friends were offered a place to stay by two men they didn’t know, and days later, their bodies were found in plastic bags.
Immediately, there was an outpouring of support for the victims’ families … but with it came a darker subtext.
Many offered their overwhelming support and condolences, including Argentinian President Mauricio Macri.
Me comuniqué con las familias de las chicas mendocinas para manifestarles nuestro apoyo en este tristísimo momento. (sigue)
— Mauricio Macri (@mauriciomacri) February 29, 2016
However, others were quick to ask how María and Marina may have put themselves at risk, a thought process and tactic often referred to as victim-blaming.
A psychiatrist even chimed in to victim-blame, explaining that the girls were “propitiatory victim[s]” who took the risk that made the crime possible, and that while it might be awful to say it, “women will continue to be killed if they don’t take precautions for their safety.”
“No, no way. Not alone,” one person responded. “Much less if they are women. They are at a physical disadvantage.”
Guadalupe Acosta, a student from Paraguay, had enough of the victim-blaming and decided to speak out … but not as herself.
Acosta wrote a letter on Facebook from the perspective of one of the two women, condemning those who blamed them for their own deaths.
(WARNING: Graphic descriptions of violence below.)
“Yesterday I was killed,” Acosta’s post begins. “I refused to be touched, and they burst my skull with a stick. I got stabbed and was left to die bleeding.”
Her post continues, contrasting the pain of death with the humiliation of being blamed for it:
“Worse than death, was the humiliation that followed. From the time they had my dead body nobody asked where the son of a bitch that ended my dreams, my hopes and my life was. No, rather than that they started asking me useless questions… What clothes did you wear? Why were you alone? Why would a woman travel alone? You got into a dangerous neighborhood, what did you expect?”
She also argues that the narrative would’ve played out differently if she, the victim, were a man:
“Being a woman, it is minimized. It becomes less severe, because of course I asked for it. Doing what I wanted to do, I found what I deserved for not being submissive, not wanting to stay at home, for investing my own money in my dreams. For that and more, I was sentenced.”
The post, which has been shared more than 700,000 times, is a stinging criticism of a society that too often blames women for the horrible things that are done to them.
It’s happens with nauseating regularity. Rape victims are asked what they were wearing, or why they put themselves in harm’s way. Women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted are told that they simply misinterpreted someone’s intentions or led them on.
In searching for an example of this, you usually don’t have to look beyond the past 24 hours. Just this week in Texas during a hearing on sexual assault prevention, state Rep. Myra Crownover blamed victims for being intoxicated, saying “The best defense is being sober.”
And while she later clarified her comment, it points to the disturbing psychological tendency to want to prevent rape by figuring out what the victim was doing wrong.
Victim-blaming makes us feel like maybe we live in a world where bad things only happen to those who deserve it.
In a weird way, society’s tendency to victim-blame makes sense. There’s something strangely comforting about suggesting that the victim of a crime could have done something differently to change their fate. It makes us feel like we could survive in a similar situation if only we did something differently. It also makes us feel like maybe we live in a world where bad things only happen to those who deserve it.
The danger of victim-blaming, however, is that it makes the focus of the story or the solution to the problem solely about the victims and what they could’ve done differently. It means we end up ignoring the fact that 100% of the time, the perpetrator of the crime is the one at fault — that they are the one who should’ve done things differently, and they’re the one who should be held accountable for their actions.
If María and Marina hadn’t gone with the killers in Montañita, sure, they’d still be alive. But the men probably would’ve found other victims, and two other girls would be dead, and we’d be having the same conversation, and nothing would change.
Thanks to Guadalupe Acosta, María and Marina got the chance to remind the world that their deaths, while tragic, were not their fault.
We’ll will never get to see what María José Coni and Marina Menegazzo could’ve grown up to do with their lives. They were friends, they were daughters, they were travelers, and their lives were ended at a time when they should’ve only just begun.
With Acosta’s powerful letter in their defense richocheting around the Internet, however, now, they’re activists. They can speak with a voice loud enough to reach the entire world, and strong enough to inspire survivors, victims, and their loved ones everywhere to keep working to make a difference in the world and the way we treat crime victims.
Acosta’s words aren’t just for María and Marina. They’re for every survivor and victim of violence who has ever been told it’s their fault. Or that they could’ve prevented it. Or that they should’ve done something differently.
As Acosta writes in her letter on their behalf:
“I ask you, on behalf of myself and every other women ever hushed, silenced; I ask you on behalf of every woman whose life was crushed, to raise your voice. We will fight. I’ll be with you in spirit.”
María and Marina may be gone, but their voices will never be silenced.