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Guatemala slowly confronts widespread rape of women

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"Women have never been equal partners in this society," Costantino said. They have always been looked on as property, he added. "This is a culture that has never wanted to confront its legacy of violence against women."

Colombian cocaine passes through Guatemala

Members of Mara Salvatrucha 13 and Mara 18, two of the largest gangs in Central America, use rape as a way to gain a reputation. During territory disputes, such as the one in Marisole's neighborhood, they will often target women as a method of instilling fear by which to control areas.

"By dropping someone off without her blouse on after they'd raped her, they are saying, 'We control this neighborhood and you better not cross us,'" says Harry E. Vanden, a researcher who specializes in Central American gangs and has served as an expert witness in cases against gang members.

Territorial control is of particular importance to gangs these days. Mexico's war on drugs has led cartels to set up operations in Guatemala, through which some 80 percent of Colombian cocaine passes on its way north, US officials have estimated. And gangs are vying for supremacy to win lucrative relationships with drug traffickers.

"They use rape as a way to take vengeance on a family and to keep their neighborhood in line," Dr. Vanden says.

Sexual violence became so acute in recent years that Doctors Without Borders started its only mission in Latin America dedicated to treating sex victims in Guatemala City. And Nov. 25, the United Nations will open its Latin America chapter of its UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign in Guatemala.

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