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Home invasion: political activist brutally assaulted by intruders

I twisted my body onto the bed, landing on my side in a position that denied them complete access. They groped and assaulted me but did not rape me. With every move and every blow, under my blindfold memories of kidnapped and disappeared people haunted me. 

  • 2 weeks ago
  • May 4, 2024
The assailants who attacked Sabrina for her political views, vandalized her home with the letters VLLC (Viva la Libertad Carajo), a phrase associated with the controversial new President Javier Milei's. | Photo courtesy of Sabrina Gabrielle Melo Bölke The assailants who attacked Sabrina for her political views, vandalized her home with the letters VLLC (Viva la Libertad Carajo), a phrase associated with the controversial new President Javier Milei's. | Photo courtesy of Sabrina Gabrielle Melo Bölke
journalist’s notes
interview subject
Sabrina Gabrielle Melo Bölke, born in Rosario, Santa Fe, currently resides in La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina. An active member of the political group HIJOS, Sabrina also engages in amateur sports and the arts. She works in the Chamber of Deputies of the Nation, contributing to her community and country through her diverse interests and political activism.
background information
The Red Nacional de Hijos (National Children Network) has reported a brutal political attack on a member of the Human Rights organization, who was beaten and sexually assaulted in her home. The assailants also vandalized her property with the acronym VLLC (Viva la Libertad Carajo). This organization has deep roots in the collective struggle of families impacted by the repression, torture, and enforced disappearances during Argentina’s military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983. Under the leadership of President Javier Milei and Vice President Victoria Villarruel, the current democratic government has often dismissed the reparative efforts of groups like HIJOS. The administration promotes a “complete truth” that controversially seeks to legitimize the crimes of the dictatorship, as discussed in a recent government release.

LA PLATA, Argentina — On Tuesday, March 5, 2024, intruders violently entered my home, assaulted me, and threatened my life. From that moment on, my life changed irreversibly. I remain engulfed in constant fear and anxiety, unable to enjoy activities that once brought me joy. Motivated by my political activities, the attack plunged me into a limbo of dread and uncertainty.

It remains difficult to find the words to describe the moment I found myself defenseless against those who invaded my home. While accidents and robberies seem like expected facets of life along the margins of society, this attack felt fundamentally different. It had no place in democracy.

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Intruders assaulted my home: “Overpowered and outnumbered, they quickly restrained me”

Before that day, I led a life filled with passionate pursuits. I played soccer, basketball, guitar, and piano. I wrote poetry, worked, and remained actively involved in a group called HIJOS. This political legacy remains personal for me. During Argentina’s military rule from 1976 to 1983, soldiers detained my father. Before him, my grandfather suffered under the dictatorship in 1955.

That Tuesday seemed ordinary. I left work and picked up a sandwich, planning a quiet evening at home watching Racing, my favorite soccer team. As I entered my apartment, all sense of normalcy shattered. Arms sprung forth from behind me and hands grabbed my neck. They covered my mouth and eyes. Overpowered and outnumbered, I had no time to scream. They quickly restrained me.

When my captors briefly removed the blindfold they placed over my eyes to show me their guns, I realized the severity of my situation. Initially, I thought these men targeted me for a robbery. Feeling vulnerable, I worried about my few belongings, particularly my cherished musical instruments. “What can you possibly take from me? I don’t have a single peso,” I told them. My wallet remained empty, even of my latest paycheck.

Their chilling response cut through the confusion. “We didn’t come to steal anything, they paid us for this,” said a voice from the shadows. At that moment, a cold realization washed over me. I believed my life was over. Yet, I resolved to maintain my dignity. “I am not going to die crying,” I declared.

Their response was to deliver more blows and to shout. They desperately needed to keep their identities secret. Oddly, this gave me a sliver of hope; the fact they did not want to be recognized suggested they might not intend to kill me.

Forty minutes of torture in my home: the price of political activism

This experience became one of the most vivid moments of my life. I felt hyper-aware of every second of this nightmare. The real challenge, I thought, was to decipher their motives. It turned into a psychological battle, where I tried to read their actions to understand the unfolding situation. Meanwhile, they bound my hands and feet with wires. My mind raced, searching for any clue that might reveal what they truly wanted.

Then, one of them said, “Turn around,” and for the first time, intense terror gripped me. Their demands felt like the tightening of gears, each movement calculated to increase the pressure on me. I refused to comply. They blindfolded and gagged me again, trying to force me onto my stomach in my room. Instinct and dignity drove my resistance; I remained determined not to let them rape me or reduce me to an object for their cruelty.

As a political activist, I hear countless stories of torture and oppression. I know people who endured far worse than my 40-minute ordeal. My activism fortified me, helping me resist. Torture, I understand, remains a form of grotesque political interaction, the most brutal form of dialogue.

In that critical moment, I felt determined not to become what they aimed to make me, all while trying to preserve my life during their beatings. With a tremendous effort, I twisted my body onto the bed, landing on my side in a position that denied them complete access. They groped and assaulted me but did not rape me. With every move and every blow, under my blindfold memories of kidnapped and disappeared people haunted me. 

Before they left, they issued a chilling threat: “If you tell anyone we were here, we’ll come back for you and shoot you.”

At times, I feared they might take me away from my home. Yet, throughout the nightmare, I proudly maintained my resolve. I refused to plead for them to stop beating me or to spare my life. I begged for nothing. Suddenly, perhaps seeing the extent of my injuries, they halted their assault. One of them approached, saying softly, “Flaquita, I have to knock you out,” as if offering a twisted form of kindness.

This bizarre attempt of the assailant at playing a good cop felt surreal. I knew each of these men were the same. He struck my head sharply, causing a scalp wound but failing to knock me unconscious. Before they left, they issued a chilling threat. “If you tell anyone we were here, we’ll come back for you and shoot you.” Lying on the floor, I heard their footsteps and the slam of my apartment’s exit door.

Seizing the moment, I struggled to free myself. I managed to untie one hand and then the other, but my feet remained bound. Hopping to the door, I found it locked. I had no choice but to make my way to the bathroom and call for help through the window facing the street. Thankfully, someone heard me and alerted the police.

During the agonizing wait for rescue, my mind raced with the notion I barely escaped death. My apartment was a mess, with furniture and belongings shattered. Everything felt alien. The experience changed me and my home irrevocably. In pain and still partially bound, I collapsed to the floor, overwhelmed by a sharp ache in my stomach. The police eventually arrived and rushed me to the hospital, where I remained until 3:00 a.m. 

Life altered: the impact of publicizing the home invasion and revealing my identity

Returning home, the sight that greeted me felt chilling. The criminals scrawled “VLLC” and “Ñoqui” on a wall—terms associated with President Javier Milei’s slogan “Viva la libertad, carajo” and a derogatory label for state employees perceived as underperforming. This graffiti underlined that the assault was not personal. It was a warning to anyone who shared my views.

After discussing what happened with my colleagues at the HIJOS organization, we decided to publicize the incident. We concealed my identity out of fear of the death threat the men issued as they left. Regrettably, I had to reveal my identity after a newspaper threatened to expose me unless I came forward voluntarily.

Despite being overwhelmed by the solidarity and positive responses that followed; my life drastically worsened. I rarely leave my house now, and never alone. I constantly reevaluate how to interact with the world, often asking myself existential questions and living in a heightened state of sensitivity. Today in Argentina, many media outlets and even top political leaders spread hate. Cruelty and the suppression of dissent seem to be normalized.

This age-old issue remains rooted in a long history of social wounds, reflecting the enduring battle for power and influence. I refuse to take it as a personal attack, but rather a sign of deeper, longstanding conflicts. This experience scarred me. Memories of March 5, haunt me daily. For weeks, I nursed bleeding cuts on my scalp and gazed upon visible bruises and scabs. Tension grips my body like a mix of physical aftershocks and lingering stress. The inner wounds feel as though they will stay with me forever.

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