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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 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.

This report, which reviews the gaps and loopholes in the sexual violence laws of 43 jurisdictions in 35 countries in North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, calls on governments to improve protections in the law, as well as improving access to justice and implementation of the law, and challenging negative stereotypes so that sexual violence is reduced, and perpetrators are held accountable.

“I think people blame victims because sexual violence is like a mirror to society. It’s better to think that a girl is lying because if not, that means acknowledging that someone in your circle is capable of something like that and can hurt someone else.”

Stephanie, Ecuador

Equality Now’s analysis of laws, policies, and practices related to sexual violence, alongside in-depth discussions with survivors, activists, and lawyers actively engaging with survivors of sexual violence, found that many sexual violence and rape laws across the jurisdictions studied effectively deny justice to survivors of sexual violence due to loopholes and protection gaps in the laws. The report also uncovered severe barriers to accessing justice and implementation gaps within the criminal justice system in many jurisdictions.

We’re calling for comprehensive action from governments to holistically address sexual violence and intersecting discrimination faced by women and girls across the region to live up to their commitments to protect and promote the human rights of women and girls. Specifically, the governments of the Americas must: 

  • Improve protections in the law 
  • improve access to justice under the law
  • Improve implementation, practice, and accountability
  • Challenge negative stereotypes and improve public understanding of sexual violence

Read the perspectives of survivors and activists across the Americas

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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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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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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Explore further resources

Canada – Committee on the Rights of the Child – 90th Session, May 2022

This submission details our concern about the continued prevalence of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in Canada and the failure of the Canadian government to take concrete and …

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United States – Testimony in Support of B24-0516, the “Female Genital Mutilation Prohibition Act of 2021”- District of Columbia

This written testimony was submitted to the Council of the District of Columbia Committee on the Judiciary & Public …

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Bolivia – Submission to the Human Rights Committee – 134th Session February – March 2022

This submission expresses our concerns about sexual violence laws and procedures in Bolivia that deny justice to survivors and constitute a violation of …

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