Wendy Funes

Uncovering the Facts Behind Honduran Gang Rapes

A seasoned investigator recognized by the country’s EU delegation and others for her human rights reporting, Funes aims to look into the alleged cover-up of the links between a local official and a series of gang rapes of young women.

 

FUNDED

raised $1,120 out of $1,120

Terror and rape in a Honduran village

7 months ago


My story takes me down dirt roads to the municipality of Santa Elena, which stretches out across 186 square kilometers in La Paz, southwestern Honduras. It’s an area of green pastureland, orchards, organic crops, and chimneys that fill the landscape with smoke. Its streams run crystal-clear, like the arteries of a circulatory system embedded in the mist-shrouded mountains. The air smells of tortillas, made with corn of different colors, and firewood freshly cut to take to the stove.

 

In the municipality is a village of the same name, home to the indigenous Lencas, who still travel on horseback and cultivate their corn and bean plots with ox-drawn plows. Most of the Lencas’ land is owned by the state or held in “communal titles” on behalf of indigenous groups, who consider land, rivers, and wildlife part of their body and spirit.


The Lencas’ worldview and traditions are under pressure from the Catholic Church, neoliberal economic policies, international aid programs, and the government, which uses carrots and sticks to influence them. Their activists have lately been the target of a terror campaign, including murder, for opposing construction of hydroelectric dams in the region. The dams are owned by the husband of Gladys Aurora López, vice president of the Honduran congress.


Maternity-related health complications are common, leading to one death in 2014, according to the Health Ministry. Teen pregnancy is also on the rise.


At the same time, the indigenous leaders of Santa Elena, who are members of human rights organizations, have accused activists and former officials from the ruling party of raping the community’s girls and women. Some of the victims, they say, have aborted or otherwise tried to get rid of the babies that resulted.

 

Abortion is illegal in Honduras, even in cases of rape.

 

To see if there is merit in the allegations, and to investigate the case of one young woman tried for infanticide in 2013, in September I began to search for information and to interview community leaders.


From the prosecutor's office, I requested records about the specific case, as well as records of men in the area who were convicted of rape around the same time. I also asked how many of the regional cases had occurred in the village of Santa Elena.

 

The prosecution refused to release most of the information, reporting only that in 2013 and 2014 two cases were brought against women for the violent deaths of newborns. No men were charged in crimes that might be considered related, such as rape or sexual assault.

 

In the face of the prosecutor’s refusal, I obtained the official information through contacts. It included an infanticide that occurred in Santa Elena in 2013 that does not show up in homicide statistics compiled by the Secretariat of Security.

 

Also in contradiction to the figures of the secretariat, court records show two infanticides in 2012. Local people say a ruling party activist raped an indigenous girl in one village and a former party official raped and impregnated another indigenous teenager in a different village.

 

"There was a problem of men watching over the girls to rape them, which the citizen’s safety committee stopped,” a community leader from Santa Elena said.

 

My research continues with meetings, interviews, fieldwork, and data analysis. Many thanks to those who made this dream possible and to Press Start for its support.

Press Start’s Wendy Funes reports on sexual terrorism against Honduras’ Lenca women

5 months ago


 

In a southwestern corner of Honduras, fear and shame stalk the young women of the indigenous Lenca people. Many have become easy targets for sexual predators, who often face few consequences – unlike the women who take desperate, illegal measures to get rid of the babies or pregnancies that result from the attacks. For a project funded by Press Start donors, Wendy Funes traveled to the quiet, mountainous area of Santa Elena and listened as several young women told their stories. You can read her article here. In the coming months, Press Start will be checking to see if Wendy’s work has local impact and, if so, reporting back to her donors.

A few years ago Wendy Funes faked her own death and bought her own death certificate as part of an expose that led to reforms in Honduras’ corrupt Civil Registration Office. In another investigation, she dressed up like a panhandler to shed light on the lives of the poor in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, and revealed that children were being forced to beg in the streets.

A journalist since 2001, Funes has worked in print, radio, and television, covering human rights and security issues. For the last four years she has led the investigative unit at Conexihon.hn, a website operated by the independent Freedom of Expression Committee (C-Libre). Funes also works as a magazine editor and as a consultant in investigative journalism.

Growing up reading the works of Gabriel García Márquez and watching the respected news operation of Univision television, she aspired to a career in journalism, for the chance at adventure and to help improve people's lives.

“The best way to fight injustice and help people live better lives is to train more investigative journalists,” she says.

Honduras is one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist in Central America, with violence and  threats against reporters on the rise since the 2009 overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya. In the past several years, dozens of journalists and media professionals have been killed, including well-known radio host Ángel Alfredo Villatoro in 2012. Many cases remain unsolved.

In 2004 Funes says police threatened to plant drugs in her car as she investigated drug trafficking.

Other obstacles are less menacing. Institutions frequently refuse to provide journalists access to information and documents – in the past few years Funes has appealed around 30 such denials  – restrictive libel laws are used to silence reporters critical of the government, media ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy business people who often use the press to protect their own interests, and many newspapers rely on government advertising to survive. The result is a deeply rooted culture of censorship and self-censorship.

“Opportunities to do investigative journalism in Honduras are limited,” Funes says. “Those who dare to speak up and report on the important issues are marginalized and accused of getting paid by the opposition.”

Despite the dangers and the toxic media environment she works in, Funes is undeterred.

“I want to leave a legacy of investigative journalism and end this history of social injustice and corruption,” she says.

 

To read about Funes' reporting proposal, please click here.

Click here to see Wendy Funes's reporting proposal.

Nominated by

Coverage region: Honduras

Reporting focus: corruption, human rights, security

Notable work or awards: European Journalism Prize in Human Rights awarded by the European Union delegation to Honduras 2015, first place for print investigative reporting; Tribunal of Women Against Femicide (Honduras) 2014, first place for blogs/opinion writing; Save the Children, Fonamih Y Casa Alianza 2011, first place television reporting

Media: Conexihon.hn

 Previous work:

¡Mataste a un niño!

Militares hondureños implicados en cerca de 300 delitos en los últimos cinco años

Un viaje al lado de una “peligrosa” mujer

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