*CW: following blog may contain triggering content, including violence, sexual assault and torture*
Before coming onto this trip, I have always thought about protests as an action, a verb, something that humans actively participate in. However, I have learned in Chile that physical sights can also be participants in protesting the regime or human rights abuses.
We visited two former torture sights during the dictatorship called Villa Grimaldi and Venda Sexy. They were both residential homes of people who fled after the coup and have been seized by the dictatorship to use as torture houses. Captured detainees, who are usually intellectuals, revolutionaries, social activists and communists, were taken here to suffer. After the tormenting period ended, Villa Grimaldi was transformed into a memorial site and stand there as a constant reminder of what happened here and the continued protest to human rights abuses. There are reproductions of the torture houses, exhibitions of detainees’ belongings and many pieces of art that commemorated the exploitation that happened here. The woman who guided our tour, Lucretia, was a survivor of the sight and show explained the history of the house to us. Her presence and her positivity as well as strength is still another form of protest to the torture that happened here.
Venda Sexy, which means sexy blindfold in Spanish, was a torture sight specifically for women and political sexual torture. They used sexual assault (forced pregnancies, rape, forced nudity and other severe forms of sexual abuse) as a method of political oppression. The survivors and activists have been lobbying and negotiating to turn the house into a memorial sites but all their efforts so far has faced incredible legislative, legal and financial hurdles. Thus, as a form of protest, we had class on the public space right outside the house, educating passing pedestrians about the brutal history of the place and pressuring the house owner to sell or donate the property. Our physical presence, even if we didn’t chant anything, put up signs or demonstrate, was a pacific yet powerful mean of protesting. Our guest speaker, Beatriz, told us that they have tried to occupy the public space outside Venda sexy as a form of protest and the homeowner has repetitively tried to drive them away but since they don’t own the road, they have no means of stopping the protest. Visiting these sights and participating in their activism definitely opened my eyes to different ways of protesting, and the significance physical spaces carry in activism.