Chile has been held up as a transitional justice success story. Emerging from a repressive dictatorship to democracy, it has made meaningful progress in grappling with brutal human rights violations through truth commissions and, more recently, criminal trials. Yet, the Chilean human rights prosecutions have a glaring hole. Courts have convicted scores of state agents for enforced disappearance, execution, and torture (or their equivalents in Chilean law at the time), but have failed to meaningfully address sexual violence crimes, even though almost all women detained by the regime were victims of some form of sexual violence, and many were raped. Recently, however, the issue seems to be gaining more judicial attention.
This Article explores the question why it has taken so long for Chilean courts to reach the issue of dictatorship-era sexual violence. The reasons include the “pacted” Chilean transition, deficiencies in Chilean criminal law and procedures on sexual violence, lack of resources for sexual violence prosecutions, normalization of violence against women, and the reluctance of survivors to come forward when the likelihood of success was exceedingly low. The Article also examines the confluence of cultural and legal forces—perhaps most importantly, feminist mobilization and greater judicial openness to international norms—that have given rise to recent attempts to litigate sexual violence. Ultimately, it seeks to draw lessons from the Chilean transitional justice experience for future domestic prosecutions for sexual violence in the context of mass atrocities.Download the PDF