Sexual violence at the heart of the third ESMA trial

23 July 2014 by Luciana Bertoia, Buenos Aires (Argentina)

More than 37 years after being abducted, Graciela García Romero looked around the court and said: “Time does not help. The pain does not subside.” She is one of around 200 survivors of Argentina’s notorious ESMA concentration camp, known in English as the Navy Mechanics School. In May last year, she appeared before the Federal Criminal Oral Court, which is prosecuting crimes committed at the clandestine detention centre in Buenos Aires that operated during Argentina’s last dictatorship, from 1976 to 1983. A verdict in this trial is expected before yearend.

García Romero was one of the first to come forward as a victim of sexual abuse during the state terror era. A death squad kidnapped her in October 1976 and took her to ESMA, where approximately 5,000 people were detained and forcibly disappeared. In her testimony she described how one night, a navy officer at the centre offered her a piece of cake, a treat for the prisoners who were used to eating stale bread. After she had eaten it, Jorge “Tigre” Acosta, head of the ESMA death squad, told her: “We’ll go sightseeing tomorrow.” She had no doubt what those words meant; the following day, García Romero was taken to a room outside the camp and raped. She continued to be raped again and again while captive at ESMA.

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