Conflict & Justice

Argentina sex trafficking case continues in court of public opinion


Susana Trimarco (C), mother of disappeared Maria de los Angeles 'Marita' Veron, holds her portrait as she enters the Court in Tucuman, Argentina, on December 11, 2012. The 13 people accused of the kidnapping of Veron were found not guilty, prompting mass protests and at least one political resignation.



Her mother says Marita Veron was sold into sex slavery when she went missing in 2002. Evidence suggests that the 23-year-old could have been shipped all the way to Spain, but in the end, no one was convicted in a major human trafficking case that has gripped Argentina. 

Violent protests erupted in the streets for days last week after 13 people were aquitted Dec. 11 of kidnapping Veron and selling her into prostitution.

Demonstrators smashed windows and lit cars on fire to show their outrage at the verdict. On Twitter and across social media, sadness was palpable for what many called “prostitution justice," according to the Daily Beast. As in, there's no justice when the victim is a sex worker. 

The victim's mother, activist Susana Trimarco, who has spent the last decade searching for her daughter and rescuing other women from brothels and freeing them from slavery, alleged that the three deciding judges were bribed. The public, too, was similarly surprised by the decision, and marches in support of Trimarco erupted across the country after the verdict was read.

“What happened...was a total disgrace, the decision is total and utter fraud,” Trimarco told reporters, according to Merco Press. “This just shows you the level of justice in Tucumán province."

Trimarco then denounced the state security and police apparatus for not doing enough for her daughter, specifically targeting Tucumán province's Security Minister Mario López Herrera, who resigned on Thursday, the first political head to roll since the end of the trial. 

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“Security in this province is an embarrassment,” Trimarco reportedly said. “Herrera is useless. The law against prostitution is an embarrassment, all the brothels are open for business, but I’m not going to stop fighting. I’m going to give my life because it can’t go on like this.”

Trimarco has devoted herself for the past decade to finding her daughter's kidnappers, even going as far as going undercover as a madame and approaching traffickers claiming to be interested in buying women, the BBC reported. She has also survived death threats and arson, but Trimarco won't stop. Her foundation has exposed human trafficking issues, an ongoing and massive problem in Latin America.

Some of the women Trimarco rescued while searching for her daughter testified that they suffered alongside Veron in brothels and described changes made to her physical appearance, such as dyed hair and contact lenses. One witness said she was "kidnapped at gunpoint and forced into prostitution by the same organized crime ring, and testified that some of the accused said Marita had been sold off to brothels in Spain," according to the Daily Mail.

In total, over 130 witnesses testified that Veron was kidnapped and forced into prosecution.

However, this was apparently insufficient to convince the judges to hand down a guilty verdict. They cited a lack of physical evidence for their decision.

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A number of politicians have come out in support of Trimarco, echoing her accusations of corruption, including President Christina Fernandez, who phoned the anti-trafficking crusader after the verdict was announced saying she couldn't believe the outcome.

The Daily Mail also reports the president said she was "sure that judicial corruption influenced the verdicts, showing the need to reform how judges are picked and allowed to remain in their jobs."

Despite the failure to get a conviction in the case of her daughter, Trimarco has become an international spokesperson against trafficking, and has been honored with awards from the US State Department, the Argentine government, the Canadian government, and she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.

The case was meant to be a landmark case with the 13 convictions, but it may be anyway. 

President Fernandez has promised to review 2008 legislation on human trafficking inspired by Trimarco by convening a special session of Congress, reports the Daily Beast. A new law would make it easier for victims to prove they were held against their will and prostituted. And the continued fight against forced prostitution has brought the issue into the limelight in a country where there are still no comprehensive statistics on how many women are trafficked each year.