Being Women at ESMA. Testimonies to Look Again.
From March 14 to June 14 2019
Being Women at ESMA Testimonies to Look Again is a temporary exhibition based on the survivors’ court testimonies about violence against women and several sexual crimes committed by the ESMA Task Force.
Set in a dialogue with the new sensibilities awakened by the women’s movement today and their street demonstrations, the exhibition takes a new look into the functioning of the ESMA clandestine center through the gender perspective, an aspect that so far had been absent in the Museum’s permanent exhibition.
Violence against women within the clandestine centers was yet another expression of the widespread violence against popular activists by the Armed and Security Forces. It was also an expression of the violent practices women have historically suffered in society. During their captivity, violence was exercised against kidnapped women not only because they were political activists but also, and specifically, because they were women. Still, women developed individual and group strategies in order to survive, which allowed them to take care of themselves and others, and even break the rules of the clandestine center.
“The guards used to say us women were much more dangerous than the men”.
Kidnapped between December 6th, 1978 and August 30th, 1979
Testimony at the ESMA Trial, Unified Case, 20/3/2013
“Us women were their spoils of war. Our bodies were regarded as spoils of war. This is something pretty common, or even very common, in sexual violence. And to use and see women as part of the loot is a classic feature in every repressive history of war. There are endless cases, they are part of the culture of war and here there was no exception. There were many different varieties. And yes, there was clearly a differential treatment between kidnapped men and women”.
Kidnapped between December 29th, 1976 and June 16th, 1978
Testimony at the ESMA Trial, Unified Case, 18/11/2013
The exhibition includes silent interventions in different spots of the Museum and an area featuring graphic and audiovisual testimonies that address different perspectives on the concentrationary universe through the female condition. With the goal of creating a trans-generational perspective on this history, the exhibition picks up main ideas from current slogans of the women movement –The Personal is Political, or We Want to Be Alive, as well the notion of sorority– in order to go through the different dimensions of violence, the strategies for survival, the narratives used by women throughout the years, and the difficulties of the judicial process to recognize and judge them. The exhibition also features photographic material from Pandilla Feminista’s collaborative coverage, carried out in 2017 and 2018 across the country.
The process of justice for sexual offenses and abuses at ESMA
The women who survived ESMA started reporting the crimes committed by the Task Force during the dictatorship. They spoke about the torture, the killing, the stealing of babies, the everyday violence and inhuman treatment. However, it took them longer to talk about the sexual violence and other forms of violence against women.
It wasn’t until 2001, with the reopening of the trials for crimes against humanity, the specific consideration of violence against women slowly made its way to the courtrooms, pushed forward by the work of human rights lawyers and prosecutors seeking to punish these violations and abuses as a part of the State’s reparatory obligations. It also took substantial time for the courts to hear these testimonies. During the Trial of the Juntas in 1985, the court considered the assaults and rapes as an integral part of torture. In 2010, for the first time a repressor was convicted of rape.
In 2011, judge Sergio Torres, who oversaw the ESMA case, established that sexual subjection in the Navy’s clandestine center was a part of the State Terrorism’s repression and extermination plan. According to the records of the Public Ministry’s Prosecution Office for Crimes Against Humanity, between 2010 and December 2018, 107 convictions were delivered in 26 sentences for sexual abuse, rape, and forced abortions, all regarded as crimes against humanity. Despite the numerous denunciations and facts established in each of the trials, no member of the ESMA Task Force has yet been convicted of sexual crimes.
“I think the most perverse thing that happened –and only now, after many years, I see women have started to reflect and denounce it– is that each and everyone of us who went through the Navy School of Mechanics were victims of sexual harassment, and many were sexually abused and raped”.
Kidnapped between March 25th, 1978 and January 10th, 1979
Testimony at the ESMA Trial, Unified Case, 6/2/2014
“I think back then we didn’t have the awareness of the mistreatment of women like we do today. There were things we considered normal and also in those conditions we didn’t talk about it, or were ashamed to do so”.
Kidnapped between August 16th, 1977 to mid-1978
Testimony at the ESMA Trial, Unified Case, 12/12/2013