Things That Matter

She Didn’t Know Her Rape Led To A Pregnancy. Now, Her Stillbirth Has Landed Her A 30-Year Jail Sentence In El Salvador

National Geographic / @agrupacion_ciudadana / Instagram

A teenage rape victim from El Salvador has been sentenced to 30 years in jail for aggravated homicide. Evelyn Beatriz Hernández Cruz was 18 and in high school when she was raped and became pregnant. Hernández Cruz says she didn’t know she was pregnant, and after she delivered a stillborn baby in the bathroom unexpectedly, Salvadoran authorities arrested her for aggravated homicide. El Salvador has some of the most strict and complicated abortion laws in the world.

According to The Guardian, Hernández Cruz’s pregnancy was the result of repeated rapes from a gang member in a forced sexual relationship. The now-19-year-old was convicted because she failed to seek prenatal care for the fetus, reported The Guardian.

Hernández’ story is one in a larger narrative of women and girls who have gotten pregnant, had a miscarriage, and been sentenced to 30+ years in jail for aggravated homicide.

El Salvador’s strict abortion laws have led to authorities to arrest, charge, and convict numerous women to long sentences after suffering miscarriages.

“This is really complicated as the miscarriage is not a crime as such,” Dennis Muñoz, a defense attorney who represented Hernández, told National Geographic about El Salvador’s anti-abortion laws. “Despite it not being technically penalized, it is in fact penalized in practice.”

Defense attorney Dennis Muñoz told National Geographic that in El Salvador, women are immediately presumed guilty in the case of miscarriages and stillbirths.

According to Amnesty International, El Salvador has some of the most strict abortion laws in the world. In 1998, the government passed a total ban on abortion under any circumstances with jail sentences as the punishment for breaking that law. A woman who has a miscarriage and is found guilty of aggravated homicide can be sentenced to up to 50 years in prison. Amnesty International reports that because of the restrictive abortion laws, many women and girls in El Salvador take matters into their own hands by “ingesting rat poison or other pesticides, and thrusting knitting needles, pieces of wood and other sharp objects into the cervix, and the use of the ulcer treatment drug misoprostol.” Eleven percent of women who perform these abortions end up dying.

Earlier this year, a bill to decriminalize abortion was considered. However, nothing has come of the bill.

In April of this year, Newsweek reported that a bill was being considered to finally reverse the decades-long total criminalization of abortion. As of the time of this article, the bill had not made progress in Salvadoran politics and the law of the land continues to be a total ban on all abortions.

(H/T: The Guardian)


READ: Latina Texans Have Limited Access to Abortion Thanks to This Law

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Presidential Hopeful Kamala Harris Wants To Invest $1 Billion To Test The Shameful Backlog Of Rape Kits In The US

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Presidential Hopeful Kamala Harris Wants To Invest $1 Billion To Test The Shameful Backlog Of Rape Kits In The US

Paras Griffin / Stringer / Getty Images

Ahead of her scheduled appearance on the Rachel Maddow show, Kamala Harris made a huge announcement on Thursday. The 2020 Democratic presidential nominee and former District Attorney said that if she wins the White House, she wants to invest $1 billion to eliminate the rape kit backlog nationwide. 

Kamala Harris’ plan is the “first of its kind of a 2020 Democratic candidate, the California Democrat’s plan would invest the money into states, allowing them to close their rape kit backlogs and prevent further buildups, within her first term” if elected into the Oval Office, according to CNN

The 2020 Democratic presidential nominee tweeted that her plan to close the nationwide rape kit backlog “would cost about $2 million less each year than what taxpayers have spent on Trump’s golf trips.” 

According to CNN, “the campaign linked this rollout to the news of Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire indicted this week on charges of sex trafficking and sexually assaulting teenage girls.” Earlier this week, when news broke, Harris also called for U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta –– who served as Miami U.S. Attorney and cut the plea deal for Epstein –– to resign. 

“It’s time we had someone in the White House who is committed to fighting for survivors, not protecting predators,” she tweeted.  

According to END THE BACKLOG, a national non-profit organization founded by actress and activist Mariska Hargitay with the mission to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, “every 92 seconds, someone is assaulted in the United States.” 

END THE BACKLOG also reports that it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested in the police department and crime lab storage facilities across the country. This is what’s known as the rape kit backlog. But since most jurisdictions do not have systems in place for counting or tracking rape kits tested, END THE BACKLOG says “we cannot be sure of the total number of untested rape kits nationwide.” 

Rape kits are used by medical professionals to collect evidence while they examine survivors of sexual assault. The DNA extracted from rape kits is a useful tool to solve and prevent sexual assault crimes as well. Refinery29 reports that in the past decade, “about 225,000 known untested rape kits have been uncovered.” 

And while a growing number of states across the U.S. are fighting toward ending the backlog, there’s more work to be done. Since it costs an average $1,000 to $1,500 to test one rape kit, Harris’ plan to invest $1 billion to end rape kit backlog nationwide would hopefully make a powerful difference.  

In a statement to CNN, Harris said, “The federal government can and should prioritize justice for survivors of sex abuse, assault, and rape. As California’s Attorney General, I committed resources and attention to clearing a backlog of 1,300 untested rape kits at state-run labs, and we got it done within my first year in office. We need the same focus at the nationwide level to pursue justice and help hold predators accountable.” 

She also took to Instagram to announce her proposal of investing $1 billion to end rape kit backlog nationwide. In her caption, she wrote:

“In the last decade, roughly 225,000 untested rape kits have been uncovered. Too many survivors aren’t getting the justice they deserve. As president, I will close the nationwide rape kit backlog by the end of my first term.” 

According to USA Today, Harris’ proposal “states would receive additional funding for testing if they conduct an annual count and report of untested rape kits. The plan also would require law enforcement agencies to submit rape kits ‘within a short time frame,’ update victims who want to know about the status of testing of their rape kits and would increase the availability of rape kits for law enforcement, particularly in remote and rural areas.”  

CNN also interviewed RAINN President Scott Berkowitz said that Harris’ new proposal “would do wonders for ongoing efforts.”

“The backlog has been a huge and ongoing problem, we’ve been making progress on it over time, but having that large of a federal commitment would do wonders for testing the rest of the cases that haven’t been tested yet,” he said. 

“From the survivors’ standpoints, these kits are the result of really long, really unpleasant rape examinations where soon after the assaults, they are poked and prodded and they gather everything from the victim’s body and the clothing. It’s the last thing anyone wants to go through and to put yourself that and not have evidence even tested is a terrible statement and demoralizing,” he adds. 

Many women on social media were also open about how necessary and overdue this investment on the rape kit backlog would be. 

The Salvadoran Rape Victim Who Was Sentenced To 20 Years For Delivering a Stillborn Child Is Up Against A New Trial

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The Salvadoran Rape Victim Who Was Sentenced To 20 Years For Delivering a Stillborn Child Is Up Against A New Trial

Update: Evelyn Beatríz Hernández’s controversial court case was reopened in El Salvador on Monday. It was swiftly suspended after a decision was made that a new trial date would be announced on July 26.

Evelyn Beatríz Hernández was just a student in high school when she was raped in 2016. As a victim, Hernández, who is from El Salvador, said that she was unaware that the assault had resulted in pregnancy when she went into labor in a bathroom in her home and gave birth to a stillborn. Still, despite the tragedies that befell her, Hernández found herself in even worse conditions when she was arrested, put on trial and ultimately sentenced to 30 years in prison for the alleged aggravated murder of the stillborn.

Now, 21, Hernández is due for a retrial.

In February, Hernández’s sentence was annulled, thanks to efforts of civil rights groups.

During her trial in 2017, Hernández was sentenced to a 30-year prison sentence by a female judge who ruled she had induced an abortion. The young woman’s home country of El Salvador has one of the world’s most strict abortion bans where abortion is also illegal in cases of rape, incest, or even when the mother’s life is in jeopardy.

Now, civil rights groups are pushing for Hernández’s release.

“We’re convinced that Evelyn is innocent,” Ana Martínez, a lawyer part of the advocacy organization Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion and one of Hernández’s lawyers explained to Reuters in an interview. “We hope that on Monday the rule of law and justice wins in this country.”

The CDFA has said that there is no proof that Hernández had actually sought to abort her child.

They also found that she had experienced pregnancy complications. Hernández has said that she was unaware of her pregnancy and confused symptoms for stomach aches and cramps and “experienced intermittent bleeding which she presumed to be her menstrual period.”

El Salvador is one of six countries in the world with complete abortion bans. It’s conviction rates are high and today they have nearly 20 women in jail for abortion crimes after experiencing miscarriages and stillbirths.

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