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Penn students join viral performance against sexual violence that erupted during protests in Chile

The original Spanish performance piece, “A rapist in your way” by the art collective Las Tesis, spread across Latin America and the world after Chilean women demonstrated on Nov. 25 for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Political Science student Selene Bonczok Sotelo, 21, wraps a black mesh band around her eyes before performing "Un violador en tu camino" at Penn Monday, December 9, 2019.
Political Science student Selene Bonczok Sotelo, 21, wraps a black mesh band around her eyes before performing "Un violador en tu camino" at Penn Monday, December 9, 2019.Read moreJesenia De Moya Correa

Blindfolded with black mesh bandannas, University of Pennsylvania students and faculty performed a protest song at noon Monday against campus sexual harassment as part of an international outcry that started in Chile in late November and has wound its way to Philadelphia.

The original Spanish piece, called “Un violador en tu camino” (“A Rapist in Your Way”), by the art collective Las Tesis spread across Latin America after Chilean women demonstrated on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the Plaza de Armas of the capital, Santiago.

Since then, the song has been an anthem for protest against impunity in cases of gender-based violence in Spain, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Austria, Turkey, and Latin American countries including the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico. Philadelphia may have been the third U.S. city to host the movement, after New York City and Boston.

At least 25 participants, some from Penn’s Latin American and Latino studies department, stood in the rain on Locust Walk carrying banners that reflected items from the 2019 Association of American Universities survey. Among them, at Penn almost 26% of undergraduate females reported unwanted sexual contact since entering college, a decline from 27.2% in 2015.

Tulia Falleti, director for the department, said that despite the college’s efforts to prevent violence against women, the Ivy League school hasn’t made much progress in the last four years. She referenced a task force created in 2016 to foster a campus free of sexual violence and harassment.

“What the students are asking for is a change of culture, one that is more inclusive," she said, "that respects the diversity of gender, of sexual preferences, of class.”

Selene Bonczok Sotelo, 21, was one of the students who helped organize the protest. She said the performance was a first step to asking the university to make an effort to eradicate the abuse of power and privilege at a prestigious university that claims excellence.

“Lots of students here are powerful," she said. "Their parents ... have multimillion-dollar enterprises, and we have fear of retaliations and that others don’t take our cases seriously, because that’s how patriarchy works.”

The group was demanding the training of faculty, staff members, and students on sexual violence; relocation of fraternities from Locust Walk (and bringing the LGBTQ Center and Women’s Center closer to campus); and using Callisto — a third-party tech system — to allow people to anonymously record and report sexual assault and empower survivors.

Falleti added that the demonstration also intended to call attention to the systemic oppression of women around the world, in particular in Latin America, with the street violence in Chile and in Bolivia in recent months.

The song, also referred to as “El violador eres tú”— Spanish for “You Are The Rapist,” its chorus — was read in English and sung in Spanish under the surveillance of four of Penn’s “open expression observers,” sent by the vice provost to demonstrations to make sure school guidelines are observed. It goes:

The patriarchy is a judge / that judges us for being born / and our punishment / is the violence that you see.../ The rapist was you / the rapist is you.

Luz Elena Pérez, 19, a second-year nursing student, learned about the event on Facebook after watching videos of the Chilean performance on social media and during class discussions. She said that she felt the need to support the cause and express her solidarity with the global movement, both as a Latina and as a student exposed to gender-based violence on Penn’s campus.

“It was very emotional to see how important it is to voice this issue, and the experience in Penn is actually more common than we would want to think,” she said.