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Romina Tejerina: A story of gender violence and patriarchal unjustness

by The committee for the freedom of Romina Tejer Tuesday, May. 05, 2009 at 1:05 PM

Romina is a poor youth who was born in one of the most conservative and old-fashioned regions of Argentina: Jujuy. One day, while leaving a party she was raped by her neighbor, Eduardo Vargas. As a result of this raping she became pregnant. For six months she hid her pregnancy, all the while carrying out abortion steps through in-home methods. In spite of being raped, she was unable to ask for assistance as the society where she lives looks negatively upon pregnancy out of wedlock. To be raped is generally looked upon as the fault of the victim, because they either provoked the situation or did not do enough to resist it. During the time that her pregnancy lasted, the rapist felt as if he had gotten away with it and threatened her constantly in order that she wouldn’t say a word. Later, after various attempts at abortion, it ended – prematurely – in the bathroom of her house. She was overcome with post-traumatic stress upon sight of her recently born dead baby. Romina then found herself in a state of mental confusion upon learning what one of the official reports had said. The judge that wrote them never believed that it was actually a case of rape.

The judge Argentino Juárez took one year to finish the trial, although the processing code states that it should last no more than 30 days; he only finished it then when the defense attorney, Mariana Vargas, filed a complaint appeal called “justice delayed”. The judge focused the arraignment hearing on the clothing that Romina wore the day of the rape, all the while throwing out the analysis of psychologist Maria Teresa Fernández, an expert witness of the defense. For nine months this same judge impeded Romina from receiving psychological help and imposed upon her a restricted and humiliating regimen. Additionally, he denied her the possibility of continuing her high school studies.

As for the rapist, seven months of denunciations from the women’s movement were necessary for “justice” to initiate a dignified response. Eduardo Vargas was jailed for 23 days and was then freed due to lack of evidence; without even performing a DNA analysis to confirm the father of the baby. Vargas was dismissed and was later presented as a witness in the case against Romina, saying that she had killed her baby.

On July 12th, 2004 the house of appeals of the criminal chamber of Jujuy affirmed the verdict of judge Argentino Juárez, on behalf of which Romina Tejerina remained convicted of “homicide aggravated by the relationship”. Then as a result of this disgraceful verdict, Romina was sentenced to 12 years in prison for homicide aggravated by the relationship. If the crime of infanticide was legally recognized, she would not be in prison more than three years.

During her prison sentence, the hostility towards Romina continued constantly. The criminal justice system has many utilized many tools to victimize and condemn her over and over: in December of this past year, she was denied the possibility of leaving for celebrations as well as the psychological attention she needed, she was not allowed to continue working, and they insulted and humiliated her family when they came to visit. Additionally, since the first day the judicial system has worked to prolong her term as much as possible and to intimidate her in order that she give up fighting for her freedom.

The crime of infanticide was eliminated in 1994 from the penal code as a result of a debate regarding the trafficking of minors. The problem is that the 2º of the penal code that governs it talked about a diminishing sentence for “a mother that kills her child” due to “avoiding dishonor”. There’s more: the same article reduces the penalty for immediate family members that attempt to save her honor in this way. “Neither the dignity nor honor shall be compromised in birth, as dictate the principles of the current era”, according to the ruling of the senate that approved the abolition of that article.

That same year, the bill obtained half support and subsequently passed to the house of parliament where it was proposed to eliminate infanticide, even if making sentences worse. Being protected in the constitutional hierarchy of the International Convention for Children’s Rights, the senate insisted that one couldn’t punish one baby homicide more lightly than another, and this vision took precedence in the high chamber. Until that point there did not exist much discussion, as most agreed that the women’s honor did not seem affected. The problem that was left unanswered – and to this day is still criticized – is the elimination of diminishing sentences during the initial post-partum period.

The case of Romina Tejerina, doesn’t only reflect upon a male-dominated justice system in a conservative province, but also that it is defended in the “common-sense” in order to make it seem like the only responsible action. The guilt-making of Romina hides the hypocrisy and avoids facts pertaining to sexual and physical violence, which are socially condoned and rooted in prejudices sustained as much by religious beliefs as misogynistic and patriarchal values that punish every attempt of women to decide matters relating to their own body.

For the Jujeña society and the majority of Argentina, it was and continues to be unforgiveable that she killed her child. They deny and hide other important elements: since the moment she learned of her pregnancy she attempted to abort it. Also, the birth of the baby was premature, perhaps as a product of the various abortive steps she carried out. And more than anything, she was a victim of rape, an act that continues to have real consequences.

Romina, imprisoned for the past six years, is a symbol of the power that the political, judicial and criminal justice systems are capable of exerting, above all in reference to women and even more the poor. However, the flag has been raised by the movement of women, and they will not stop fighting until her freedom is attained.

The committee for the freedom of Romina Tejerina, solicits organizations of women that are in solidarity with this cause. Romina should not spend one more day in prison. Romina is a poor woman and her history reflects that of thousands of histories of women from Argentina that are raped and stigmatized. Any pertinent action will be of help: distributing information for her freedom in the embassies and consulates of Argentina, acting on your solidarity, etc.

Contact email

Mirta Tejerina, sister of Romina

For Romina’s freedom! For bringing rapists to justice! Enough of the violence towards women! Legal abortion already!

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