On October 8th, 2016, Lucia Perez Montero’s body was taken to a Playa Serena hospital in Argentina. The 16-year-old was still alive but would not be for much longer. Earlier that day she had been plied with drugs and violently raped. Initial reports said she had been “impaled,” though this was later contested by forensic specialists. After the assault, the three men involved in her death washed Lucia’s body, dressed her, and brought her to a rehabilitation centre, where staff began to treat her case as a drug overdose until they discovered the sexual trauma.
The femicide shocked the nation, and the Latin American region more broadly. At the time, Lucia’s brother, Matias Perez Montero, wrote a public letter asking the public to revolt against the wave of violence against women and girls that had just claimed his sister’s life:
“We have to be strong and take to the streets. So that we can all together shout out, now more than ever, ‘Not one less.’ Only this way can we prevent the murder of thousands of more Lucias. We should be aware that, [while] this time, Lucia was the victim of such brutal gender-based violence, [but] the next one can be you, or the person you love the most. We must strengthen up and take to the streets in order to shout out together: Not One Less.”
On October 19th, more than 100,000 people did take to the streets of Argentina to protest Lucia’s murder. Feminists called the event — the first mass protest against violence against women in Argentina — “Black Wednesday.”
Matias Farias, Juan Pablo Offidani, and Alejandro Maciel had been charged with “sexual abuse aggravated by the use of narcotics followed by death in an ideal contest with femicide, concealment aggravated by the gravity of the preceding event, and possession of narcotics with the intent to sell.” But despite the fact Argentinian law has included the concept of “femicide” in their penal code since 2012, on November 26th, the day after International Day to End Violence Against Women, three male judges — Facundo Gomez Urso, Aldo Carnevale, and Pablo Viñas — found the three suspects not guilty of the first two charges. During the oral defense, the judges claimed the sexual assault and murder “could not be proved.” Lucia’s family had pushed for the men to be charged with “sexual abuse followed by death,” but Farias and Offidani were only found guilty of supplying drugs to a minor in a school zone; sentenced to eight years behind bars, plus a fine. Maciel, who had been charged only with concealment of the crime, was absolved.
The judges heard that Lucia met Farias the day before she was murdered, when she allegedly bought a joint from him. The next morning — a Saturday — Farias and Offidani picked Lucia up at her house and took her to Faria’s residence, which would become the crime scene. The autopsy revealed that Lucia’s body contained so much cocaine that she was incapacitated, and died of a heart attack caused by “excessive pain.”
During the trial, half a dozen crime specialists testified that there has been no impalement, and, in the sentence, the judges argued this “rumour” was a malicious lie invented by district attorney Maria Isabel Sanchez, who was assigned the case in October 2016. “She caused commotion in a country, through pain and horror, that originated in a lie,” they wrote. The family agreed that there was no impalement, blaming the district attorney for proliferating the claim in the initial days of the investigation. They reiterated, nonetheless, that, according to the autopsy, their daughter was sexually abused and the sentence therefore represented a miscarriage of justice.
Despite this, the judges’ verdict — which discussed Lucia’s alleged sex life, drug use, and promiscuity at length — determined that the events which took place on October 8th were consistent with “consensual sex.”
Guillermo Perez, Lucia’s father, called the sentence “an embarrassment.” The day of the final hearing, he said:
“I am surprised, but why wouldn’t I be? I never expected a sentence like that, it makes no sense. My daughters autopsy revealed everything they had done to her. The fact that she had bruising in her vagina, all sorts of things. And they claim they couldn’t prove it? This is nonsense.”
In response to a question about the perpetrators being absolved of sexual abuse and femicide charges, Marta Montero, Lucia’s mother, said:
“So they didn’t rape her, they didn’t kill her, they didn’t drug her? What was my daughter’s death? A gift? They are going to do it again. There are many other girls hanging around…
… The fact that a court only cares about the drugs and does not acknowledge the life of a person, Lucia’s femicide, is shameful. The message they are sending to society is: continue [killing girls], it’s alright. Nothing’s going to happen to you. Lucia’s death didn’t even exist.”
The sentence determined Lucia’s private life to be more relevant to the case than the violence inflicted on her body. In their verdict, the judges ruled that the drugs found in Faria’s house was more important than Lucia’s life.
The family’s lawyer, Gustavo Marcelliac, argued that the question of whether impalement happened was irrelevant, because this is case about male violence, either way. Outside court, he told the media:
“This is a case of extreme violence against women. It is irrelevant whether they impaled her. This is a case of extreme violence because adult men were capturing girls outside their schools and selling them drugs to satisfy their lowest sexual appetites”.
The family plans to appeal the sentence.
Local feminists are indignant. Diana Maffía, director of the Argentinian Gender Observatory, tweeted:
“One of the patriarchal ways to deliver justice is to ‘read’ the crime scene. In the femicide of Lucia Perez, a 16-year-old, her physical injuries were considered compatible with a consensual sexual relation. She wasn’t alive to testify. Her body spoke, though.”
Through their sentencing, these three male judges essentially declared Lucia Perez Montero “unrapable.” They argued that they don’t discard “the existence of so-called gender-based violence,” but “that doesn’t mean that this should be used as a shield to hide facts that go diametrically opposed to that.” The sentence reads:
“Everything was normal and natural, it was all perfectly wanted and consented to by Lucia Perez. In this case there has been no physical or psychological violence, subordination or humiliation and least of all, objectification.”
The dehumanizing sentence portrayed Lucia Perez Montero as a promiscuous drug addict and claimed that her “strong personality” immunized her from becoming a victim of sexual assault. The judges determined that “Lucia was assiduous of having sex with men she barely knew, but this was her choice and only when she wanted to.” They added:
“We can attest clearly the level of self-determination that Lucia had. She had a personality that is anything but submissive. Her own brother testified that she had a strong personality and that she hid details of her sex life from her own mother. She was not the sort of person that could be easily pressured into having sex without her consent. Even though she was young, she had enough capacity to say no.”
One of the judges, Carnevale, wrote that, although he didn’t want to talk about Lucia’s sex life, “it is important to reinforce the idea that she would never be with anyone without her consent.” In the sentence, he reproduced multiple texts taken from her cell phone, showing her talking about sex, refusing sexual advances from men, as well as sending suggestive pictures. “From these chats, we can see clearly that her experiences in this subject dispel completely the possibility that she could have been sexually assaulted,” he said.
Another nationwide strike is in the works to protest the sentence. Even the Organization of American States (OAS) repudiated the verdict, arguing that the sentence showed prejudice towards Lucia and violates women’s human rights. Susana Chiarotti, who represents Argentina on the OAS’s Gender Specialists Committee, told Pagina 12:
“It is clear that according to the judges, Lucia was not the perfect victim. How should she have behaved? At the very least, they wanted her a virgin, shy and timid… and possible from the XVIII century. There was a double standard used to analyse the victim versus how the accused were analysed. The judges studied the victim meticulously and it was her entire private life that was being judged: the testimony of her friends and family, her WhatsApp, messages and chats. There’s no right to privacy for her. Her private, sexual and affective life was displayed without restriction. However, when the prosecutor tried to question the porn use of the main defendant, the judges became indignant and argued for his right to article 19 of the Constitution. Meaning, he had a right to intimacy. Unlike her.”
This miscarriage of justice reveals something else that must be confronted as well. We cannot simultaneously legitimize violence against women as erotic, as liberal arguments in defence of porn do, then act outraged when that message filters through into “real life.” The judges in Lucia’s case chose to believe an argument that fits patriarchy like a glove: that no form of violence against women is too aggressive or brutal to be reinterpreted as “consensual sex.”
The absolution of the men who killed Lucia Perez Montero and the misogynist sentence that saw her dehumanized and reduced to an object demonstrates that the notion that violence against women can be a kink harms women and girls directly, while acting as a cultural sanitizer that legitimizes their abuse.
Lucia Perez Montero’s death sparked outrage and anger in a continent that is finally working to address the reality of male violence against women and girls. Although the slogan attached to the fight to end male violence has become “Ni Una Menos,” (not one less), Lucia’s femicide is only one among countless cases. In truth, what we are witnessing is the opposite: “Otra Mas” (another one).