A Salvadoran Rape Victim Sentenced To 30 Years In Prison For Having A Stillbirth Has Been Acquitted
On average, there are 321,000 victims of rape and sexual assault in the United States, and in Latin American countries those numbers are even more horrifying. In many Latin American countries, violence against women is a lot more prevalent and women even end up paying far greater consequences for simply being victims of rape and assault than their abusers. For one, in countries like El Salvador, there’s an absolute ban on abortion which has led to the harsh criminalization of women and their bodies.
In July of 2017, the now 21-year-old Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz had been sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide by a court in El Salvador. The year before, the young rape survivor was found on the floor of her bathroom drenched in blood and when she was taken to the hospital, doctors examined her and saw signs of delivery but no baby. Hours later, after doctors had reported this to the authorities, local officials found a newborn dead in a septic tank. Then the young woman was accused of inducing abortion and aggravated homicide.
On Monday, August 19, 21-year-old Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz was acquitted after a judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to convict her of the alleged crime she had been accused of years prior.
According to reports, the young woman walked out of a women’s jail in El Salvador on February 15 where she was met by a crowd of cheering women carrying “Justice for Evelyn” banners. This is where Evelyn had been for nearly three years after being convicted for aggravated homicide after she had a stillbirth. Her recent acquittal, however, didn’t come easy. Earlier this month, she was headed back to the courtroom to be tried once more for the same crime.
Evelyn isn’t the first woman to be accused of murder by El Salvador after having a miscarriage.
According to BuzzFeed News, she’s one of the dozens of women accused of murder and “her case will be the first of its kind tried under recently inaugurated President Nayib Bukele, who has spoken out against the punishment of impoverished women who have suffered ‘spontaneous abortions,’ putting the new administration’s stance on women’s rights to the test.” Although it’s a significant step in the right direction, there’s still so much more to be done in regards to fighting for these women’s rights to choose and have ultimate control and agency over their bodies.
Evelyn, who served 33 months of her initial 3-year sentence, always maintained her innocence. She repeatedly has said that she didn’t know she was pregnant until the delivery happened. The young woman had been raped by a local gang member while she was still a teenager, and didn’t know she was pregnant until 32 weeks later.
According to CNN, Evelyn told reporters last month that if she had known she was pregnant, she would have “awaited the baby with pride and joy.”
Evelyn’s case has not only drawn a lot of media attention because of the nature of it but has also drawn major spotlight to El Salvador’s abortion laws which are known to be some of the strictest in the world.
The country imposed a total ban on abortions since 1998, according to ThinkProgress. It’s one of the 16 countries in the world with these strict regulations—other countries including Egypt, Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua, among others. In El Salvador, women who are even suspected of having an abortion could be prosecuted for a crime.
For example, if a woman even seeks abortion treatment and is reported to the authorities, she could face being prosecuted for that crime. Pregnancy terminations of any kind are simply illegal in El Salvador, including when the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother or like Evelyn’s case, even if the woman was raped.
After the verdict of her acquittal was announced on Monday, Evelyn can be seen smiling jubilantly with tears in her eyes in images circulating on social media. “Thank God, justice was served,” the young woman told reporters after her ruling.
“I thank all of you who have supported me and thank everyone from around the world who has shown support,” Evelyn said, according to CNN. “It was tough to be locked up, especially when I was innocent. There are others who are still locked up and I hope they are freed soon.”
Dozens of women in El Salvador have been prosecuted for murder after suffering miscarriages and stillbirth’s and given sentences between 30 and 40 years.
After this pivotal moment for women’s rights of El Salvador and other countries with similar abortion laws, we hope more individuals will make the choice to support other cases and women like this one.