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Countries in the Americas have made strong progress in recent years on gender equality, but with discriminatory laws still on the books and some of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world, much remains to be done.

Overview

The Americas – which includes North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean – is extremely diverse in terms of culture, race, ethnicity, language, and economic development. What is common across the region is that many women and girls are not fully protected by national or international law.

What is common across the region is that many women and girls are not fully protected by national or international law. Not all countries have ratified international human rights standards and treaties, there is no explicit protection for women in the US Constitution, and women and girls across the region continue to experience sexual violence at very high rates, combined with a lack of effective access to justice, particularly for adolescent girls. 

Equality Now’s report Failure to Protect: How Discriminatory Sexual Violence Laws and Practices are Hurting Women, Girls, and Adolescents in the Americas, reviews the gaps and loopholes in the sexual violence laws of 43 jurisdictions in 35 countries in the Americas. Women from marginalized communities, such as indigenous women, often face multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of their sex as well as their ethnicity while accessing justice for rape

Equality Now in the Americas at a glance

Pursuing justice for victims of sexual violence. Equality Now is part of the legal team bringing a potentially landmark sexual violence case against Bolivia to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Demanding constitutional equality in the United States. We are working with partners to fight for constitutional equality and embed the Equal Rights Amendment into the US Constitution

Ending harmful practices across the United States. We are part of coalitions working to fully ban child marriage and FGM in more US states. Currently, only six states have banned child marriage and 39 states have passed anti-FGM laws.

Achieving Legal Equality

Surprisingly, women are not protected by the U.S. Constitution, though the Equal Rights Amendment, if incorporated, would change that.

Ending Sexual Exploitation

Sex trafficking and online sexual exploitation and abuse are as prevalent in the Americas as in other parts of the world.

Ending Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is wide-ranging and pervasive throughout the world, including in the Americas. It is rooted in discrimination, sex and gender inequality, and patriarchal norms, and is perpetuated by the law itself, particularly against adolescent girls.

Ending Harmful Practices

 Female genital mutilation and child marriage occur on every continent except Antarctica, including the Americas.

Equality Now works with partners in the region to campaign for stronger laws and practices around sexual violence to ensure that women and girls, especially from the most marginalized groups, are fully protected from violence, as well as working to end inequalities in the law.

Our work

Learn more

Key resources

Ending Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Girls: A Call for International Standards

Online sexual exploitation and abuse are growing at an alarming pace globally. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable as offenders take advantage of the sex, gender, …

READ MORE

Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the United States

The United States (US) is a key player in the fight against online sexual exploitation and abuse (OSEA). The role of the US in this fight is especially important because the US is a global hub of technological innovation. …

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Bolivia CAT Submission 2021

This joint submission details our concerns with regard to laws related to rape and other forms of sexual violence and procedures and practices which effectively deny access to justice for survivors of sexual violence. Bolivia’s legal system continues to provide …

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Countries

Equality Now works with partners across the region to hold governments accountable for protecting the rights of women and girls. Explore progress towards gender equality across the region.

Barbados

The Caribbean has some of the highest reported rates of sexual violence in the world. Survivors who live on islands, including Barbados, face unique challenges and seemingly insurmountable social barriers when it comes to accessing justice.

Due to the small size of Barbados’ population there were concerns and pushback over creating a sexual offences registry.

The law in Barbaros criminalizes all forms of sexual intercourse with children below the designated age of consent, without providing for close-in-age exceptions (commonly known as “Romeo & Juliet” clauses), thereby punishing consensual sex between adolescents.

Contrary to international and regional standards Barbados has no requirement for consent to a sexual act to be voluntary and genuine, making rape cases more difficult to prosecute.

Bolivia

Bolivia has the second highest rate of sexual violence in Latin America and the Caribbean (after Haiti) during a woman’s lifetime, but protection gaps in the laws themselves, particularly the Penal Code of Bolivia, deny access to justice for many survivors of sexual violence and provide opportunities for perpetrators to escape justice.

The definition of rape in the Penal Code of Bolivia is based on force, requiring intimidation, physical or psychological violence, taking advantage of a severe mental disease or insufficient intelligence of the victim.

The Penal Code of Bolivia contains an estupro provision, whereby having carnal access to a person between the ages of 14-18, through seduction or deceit is punishable with a lower penalty of imprisonment between 3-6 years, as compared to imprisonment of 15-20 years for rape.

Currently, the Penal Code of Bolivia has a limited statute of limitations for all offenses, including rape. A rape victim is only afforded 8 years to come forward and report the crime before prosecution is no longer possible.

Key Resources for Bolivia

Bolivia CAT Submission 2021

This joint submission details our concerns with regard to laws related to rape and other forms of sexual violence and procedures and practices which effectively deny access to justice for survivors of sexual violence. Bolivia’s legal system continues to provide…

READ MORE

Failure to Protect: How Discriminatory Sexual Violence Laws and Practices are Hurting Women, Girls, and Adolescents in the Americas

Being able to live a life free from violence, including sexual violence, is a fundamental human right. Despite this, sexual…

READ MORE

Bolivia: Protection Gaps in Sexual Violence Laws and Practices

Bolivia has the second highest rate of sexual violence in Latin America and the Caribbean (after Haiti) during a woman’s lifetime, according to data from the PanAmerican Health Organization. However, even these high…

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Ecuador

Despite some changes to its sexual violence laws in recent years, Ecuador still has several discriminatory sexual violence provisions on the books.

Ecuador’s estupro provision provides a penalty of 1-3 years’ imprisonment (far lower than the penalty for rape which is imprisonment for 19-22 years) for perpetrators who resort to deceit to engage in sexual intercourse with persons between the ages of 14 and 18; until the penal code was reformed in 2005, the estupro provision required that the victim be an “honest person.”

In August 2020, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of Paola Guzmán Albarracín v. Ecuador, holding Ecuador responsible for failing to protect Paola from the sexual violence she suffered in her school and ordered reparations for her family.

Ecuador calculates statutes of limitations based on the sentence possible for the offense. Given that penalties for rape and sexual assault can be very low, limiting a time period for reporting a case of sexual violence based on these very short ranges of punishment is doubly discriminatory.

Key Resources for Ecuador

Failure to Protect: How Discriminatory Sexual Violence Laws and Practices are Hurting Women, Girls, and Adolescents in the Americas

Being able to live a life free from violence, including sexual violence, is a fundamental human right. Despite this, sexual…

READ MORE

Ecuador – Submission to Human Rights Committee 132nd Session June 2021

The following submission, made in advance of the 132nd session of the Human Rights Committee, covers our concern about sexual violence laws and procedures that deny justice to survivors in…

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Jamaica

Poverty, victim-blaming, and gaps in laws in Jamaica put women and girls at higher risk of sexual violence and exploitation, and reduce survivors’ ability to access justice.

Recent research on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on community violence found widespread so-called consensual sex between girls aged 12 to 15, sometimes younger, with much older men in their thirties and up into their sixties. In these situations girls are generally paid very little, but the men portray it as if they are helping the family.

Contrary to international and regional standards Jamaica has no requirement for consent to a sexual act to be voluntary and genuine, making rape cases more difficult to prosecute.

The law in Jamaica explicitly permits marital rape (except in certain limited circumstances, such as if the parties are divorced, separated or a protection order has been issued).

Key Resources for Jamaica

Failure to Protect: How Discriminatory Sexual Violence Laws and Practices are Hurting Women, Girls, and Adolescents in the Americas

Being able to live a life free from violence, including sexual violence, is a fundamental human right. Despite this, sexual…

READ MORE

Mexico

Prevalence of sexual violence is extremely high in Mexico, but gaps in the laws themselves deny access to justice for many survivors of sexual violence and provide opportunities for perpetrators to escape justice.

41.3% of women above the age of 15 have reported facing at least one incident of sexual violence.

The definition of rape in the Federal Penal Code is based on force, requiring physical or moral violence, unless the victim is under the age of 15, is incapable of understanding the act, or is unable to resist.

The Federal Penal Code of Mexico contains an estupro provision, whereby sexual intercourse with a person between the ages of 15-18 with deceit is punished with a lower penalty of imprisonment of 3 months to 4 years (as compared to 8-20 years for rape).

Key Resources for Mexico

Failure to Protect: How Discriminatory Sexual Violence Laws and Practices are Hurting Women, Girls, and Adolescents in the Americas

Being able to live a life free from violence, including sexual violence, is a fundamental human right. Despite this, sexual…

READ MORE

Mexico: Protection Gaps in Sexual Violence Laws and Practices

Prevalence of sexual violence is extremely high in Mexico, as 41.3% of women above the age of 15 have reportedfacing at least one incident of sexual violence. Despite this, gaps in the laws themselves deny access to…

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GIRL MOTHERS: Forced child pregnancy and motherhood in Latin America and the Caribbean by CLADEM

Tens of thousands of girls are raped and become pregnant across Latin America every year. The ages of these girls show that these pregnancies were from sexual abuse and…

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Paraguay

Sexual violence and forced child pregnancy are serious problems in Paraguay, but gaps in the laws themselves deny access to justice for many survivors of sexual violence and provide opportunities for perpetrators to escape justice.

Paraguay’s legal definition of rape requires the use of additional physical violence or intimidation, contrary to international standards which urge the use of rape definitions based on lack of consent.

Article 137 of the Paraguay Penal Code provides a lower penalty (just a monetary fine) for sexual offences against adolescent girls between the ages of 14-16 than for rape of a child or a woman (4-15 years).

The law in Paraguay has a separate offense of homosexual acts against minors, which has a lower penalty than rape but higher penalty than those applicable for estupro.

Key Resources for Paraguay

Failure to Protect: How Discriminatory Sexual Violence Laws and Practices are Hurting Women, Girls, and Adolescents in the Americas

Being able to live a life free from violence, including sexual violence, is a fundamental human right. Despite this, sexual…

READ MORE

Paraguay CEDAW Submission 2017

This submission deals with Paraguay’s obligation to address its high prevalence of sexual violence and forced pregnancy against young and adolescent girls under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”)….

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Paraguay- Equality Now joint submission to the Committee against Torture 61st Session July 2017

The submission details our concern about human rights violations faced by girls in Paraguay, focusing in particular on the high number of girls in Paraguay who are forced to…

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United States

Women are not protected by the United States Constitution, nor are women and girls in every U.S. state effectively protected from FGM, child marriage, and sexual violence.

The Equal Rights Amendment was passed by Congress in 1972, and reached the required number of state ratifications in 2020, but has yet to be incorporated into the Constitution.

Only 6 states have set the minimum age of marriage at 18 and eliminated all exceptions, and 20 U.S. states do not require any minimum age for marriage, with a parental or judicial waiver.

The definition of sexual abuse and aggravated sexual abuse in the United States Code is based on force, requiring force, fear or threat unless the victim is incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct, or is physically unable to decline participation in the sexual act.

Key Resources for United States

Ending Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Girls: A Call for International Standards

Online sexual exploitation and abuse are growing at an alarming pace globally. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable as offenders take advantage of the sex, gender,…

READ MORE

Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the United States

The United States (US) is a key player in the fight against online sexual exploitation and abuse (OSEA). The role of the US in this fight is especially important because the US is a global hub of technological innovation….

READ MORE

Failure to Protect: How Discriminatory Sexual Violence Laws and Practices are Hurting Women, Girls, and Adolescents in the Americas

Being able to live a life free from violence, including sexual violence, is a fundamental human right. Despite this, sexual…

READ MORE

Stories

Hear from some of the incredible survivors and activists committed to raising their voices to make equality reality across the Americas and around the world.

A white young person wearing shorts leans in against a doorway while looking at a smartphone

Sarah Cooper – United States

I was 12 or 13 when I first got a Facebook account. Early on, I would aimlessly go online once or twice a day for an hour or two. Things rapidly progressed and I joined various Facebook subgroups – music fan groups, ones about Harry Potter, Twilight, …

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white person in beige sweater using a laptop

Gibi – United States

About Gibi: Gibi is a Youtuber and ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) artist with over 3.7 million subscribers on her YouTube channel. She has been repeatedly targeted by deepfakes and online harassment. Things became so serious that she had to change her …

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computer keyboard with blue and orange light

Steve Grocki expert interview – United States

Steve Grocki is the Chief of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation & Obscenity Section, US Department of Justice  The internet has many marketplaces where people can share child sexual abuse material (CSAM), as well as …

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Stephanie – Ecuador

A survivor who has faced guilt, shame, and the possibility of being blamed and disbelieved is now legally barred from bringing a case against her abuser because of the statute of limitations. This story was shared as part of the launch of Failure to …

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Join

None of us can afford to sit back and wait for equality to arrive – we need to act now. Only by working together will we achieve the legal and systemic change needed to address violence and discrimination against women and girls.

Get involved

Social change begins with legal change and people like you — raising your voice against injustice — play a vital role in our collective success.


Take action across the Americas

Eliminate the ERA Deadline

Surprisingly, women are not protected by the U.S. Constitution. Join our campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment by calling on your Senators to support the elimination of the ERA deadline. Take action today and tell Congress there is #NoDeadlineOnEquality …

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Help stop child sexual abuse in Bolivia!

Bolivia has the highest rate of sexual violence in Latin America. Sexual violence against children is especially common in Bolivia, with 1 in 3 girls experiencing sexual violence before age 18. The country also has the highest adolescent pregnancy …

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