A film about sexual abuse, shame and the long way to forgiveness in Colombia




Jineth Bedoya Lima, journalist, investigator of war crimes and Colombian celebrity struggles to discover the truth about the atrocities committed to women in the 60 year of conflict and to find peace for herself after she was raped by paramilitary fighters.


Colombia, a country torn by conflict and anomie 


In the fall of 2016 finally peace agreements were signed between the Colombian president Santos and the rebels of FARC, hopefully ending an almost 60-year conflict.  In the course of this brutal war tens of thousands were killed and more than 2 million Colombian women were raped by FARC, the military and many paramilitary groups that roamed the country. The impunity for perpetrators of acts of unspeakable cruelty against women is one of the most contested issues in quest for peace.


Laws of Silence 


While doing journalistic research in one of Bogota’s prisons, Jineth gets is kidnapped, tortured and raped. “This is what happens if you do research to the paramilitary, this is a warning for all the press”. For 9 years Jineth stayed silent about the sexual abuse. Then she found the courage to stand up against her perpetrators and she became the spokeswoman for all the victims of sexual violence in Colombia. 


“For a long time I believed suicide was the only way out in this life,” Jineth says, “but now I have found how to give new meaning to my life. I can give a face and a voice to the victims and I want to fight for these women and girls to get a better future. The worst already happened to me, I hope they’ll have a better future than me.”


This brought her fame and international recognition when she was presented the Women of Courage Award by Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. But it also means she is under constant threat living a hidden life protected by bodyguards wherever  she goes. 


In her work as a journalist for Colombian newspaper El Tiempo Jineth is an excellent guide in this muddle of violent stories. One of these stories is told by a survivor of the massacre of El Salado. She use the term ‘when it happened’ because the acts are too horrendous and the words too harsh. 


Now the square of El Salado is quiet and deserted. There are few people who want or dare to go back or live in the village. The church where it all happened stands out as a monument for the victims.


In Colombia all victims have the right to justice and to ask for a small compensation. However, 98% of all cases of sexual violence are still in impunity and women are still afraid to talk. For this reason, Jineth didn’t ask for money herself, she wanted a national day for extra attention and respect for all the victims of sexual violence. This has been chosen as 25 May, the day Jineth was kidnapped by her rapists. The march to El Salado, organized by Jineth, is expected to get a lot of international attention. 


Now that peace is signed Colombia has to confront itself with the crimes committed and start a healing process. Perpetrators of all sides have to come forward. Some are not ready to be recognizable on screen, but they depict their pasts in violent paintings for a project by artist Juan Manuel Echavarría. We want to film them in front of their paintings and have them interviewed by Jineth.

The border between perpetrators and victims becomes diffuse. We spoke to women who were kidnapped by the FARC themselves and later became a perpetrator as they were forced to fight. They have one thing in common: Their youth, their trust, a lot has been taken from them. Yet now is not the time to be silent: the stories must be told and the culprits must be brought to justice. 


For Jineth this also has a personal meaning. The trial against her perpetrators has been postponed many times and one of these paramilitary men has even been released for a short while. Only under strong national pressure was he arrested again. 


In the movie we follow Jineth Bedoya Lima from the moment one of her perpetrators calls her for a meeting. He wants to ask her for forgiveness. For Jineth this seems an almost impossible request, she doesn’t have an answer ready and the thought of forgiving this man will haunt her during the whole movie. 


Why this film?


The power of the film lies with the battle of Jineth who’s confronted with the arduous contemplation of guilt and penance, crime and punishment and the (im)possibility of reconciliation. 


Even though it is very hard for women to talk about it, most of the times it turns out to be a liberation to talk with other victims and find recognition in each other’s stories. Everywhere in the world ‘after it happens’ women firstly get accusations as ‘what were you doing out so late?’ and ‘were you wearing that?’. Women are portrayed as abettor or accomplice to their rape and this must come to an end. With this documentary we want to help women to talk about what happened and to find recognition and strength in the stories of the women in the film. 



Vision of the directors


The story of Jineth, the events she organizes, the recognition she gets internationally, her commitment to the victims and her determination to go after the perpetrators triggered us to make a film about this remarkable woman. The story is layered by images of the sometimes glamorous life she now leads as a Colombian human rights celebrity. Visually the raw images of daily life in Colombia as Jineth pursues het goals are mixed with the lyrical paintings of the perpetrators and the entourage of international human rights events. Despite the horrendous content there is hope for a better future for the victims of the Laws of Silence and for a country to find real peace.


Jan van den Berg, Lenny Schouten and Martijn Schroevers



Utrecht, November 2016

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