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Anti-bullying Program is Toothless in Massachusetts

Anti-bulling program works in Massachusetts?




Photo: New England Center For Investigative Reporting

Photo: New England Center For Investigative Reporting

By Daniel Adams, Sarah Black, Rory McCann, Ruby Scalera, and Sarina Tracy

The Massachusetts anti-bullying law, hailed in 2010 as model legislation, is toothless and often ineffective, underfunded, hobbled by a lack of oversight and lacking requirements for tracking the number of bullying incidents, an investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

While some school districts responded with strong anti-bullying initiatives after passage of the legislation, many other schools, with no money for programs and no enforcement of the law’s mandates, have done little more than file a plan and hold occasional school assemblies, say parents and groups working with students. They say the promise to address bullying, prompted by the suicides of two Massachusetts’ youths, has gone unfulfilled.

“So we have the law in place, but there’s no monitoring going on by the state or by anyone that can say, ‘Let’s see the data. Let’s see what’s going on,” said Sirdeaner Walker, an advocate for anti-bullying programs who was at Gov. Deval Patrick’s side in 2010 when he signed the much-ballyhooed legislation.

She is the mother of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, who killed himself at age 11 in 2009. Walker says her son told her other students “were threatening to beat him up, threatening to kill him.”

“ He couldn’t even eat lunch in the cafeteria, he had to eat lunch with the guidance counselor. He loved school. He was very, very smart. And I think that, in the right setting, he would have excelled and done very well,” she said.

His death spurred her to take action. But there is “resistance from superintendents to actually have an anti-bullying law in place,” she said from her home in Springfield. “I think it kind of ties into the fact that people did not want to track the incidents of bullying in their schools because for some schools, they see it as reflecting negatively.”

One rough measure of the law’s effectiveness can be gleaned from responses to two questions on a confidential “risk behaviors” survey of youth taken at random schools in odd years. The questions—have you been bullied at school in the last year, and have you been cyber-bullied— show 18 percent of high school students and 36 percent of middle school students report having been bullied in 2011. That is almost identical to results in 2009 — a year before the law was passed. (The question on cyber-bullying was not asked in 2009.)

While data can be interpreted in different ways –-many experts suggest reporting of bullying would rise with an increased awareness—some who work with youth feel the problem is growing, not diminishing.

“Personally, I think bullying is up. Look at the technology—there’s a lot more cyber-bullying than there ever was before,” said Jodie Elgee, director of “Saturdays for Success,” a program run by the Boston Public Schools in Roslindale for bullies, victims and by-standers. “Reporting is up. Awareness is up. But we don’t have a baseline to say.”

Boston’s innovative efforts are mirrored elsewhere. Newton’s anti-bullying program also has been praised. Some individual schools have incorporated anti-bullying efforts in their curriculum, in regular teacher and guidance counselor activities, and in energetic student-led programs.

But the law does not require schools to gather statistics on bullying incidents and report them to the state. School staff must report individual bullying incidents to a principal, but school districts rarely compile, tabulate or analyze bullying data, making it impossible to determine the success of their programs.

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting filed formal requests of eight school districts asking for the number of students who were disciplined for bullying or the number of bullying incidents since September 2010.

NECIR submitted the requests under the state’s public records law to the Attleboro, Lawrence, Lowell, Nauset, New Bedford, Pittsfield, Springfield, and Worcester school districts. Of the eight, only Attleboro and Nauset provided the data. Attleboro reported a decrease of 50 bullying incidents—to 240 from 290—between the 2010-2011 school year and 2011-2012. Nauset reported 5, 3, and 11 bullying incidents respectively in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 school years in elementary and middle schools. The district did not break down high school incidents by year.

New Bedford did not respond. Lawrence and Springfield said they could try to compile the information, but for a fee. The remaining districts said that, because the law imposes no such requirement, they do not compile such statistics.

“We don’t keep data like that,” said Ann Marie Carpenter. She is the head of school psychologists and counselors for Pittsfield Public Schools and the bullying program coordinator for the district.

“We keep the number of people who were disciplined for teasing and taunting, those kind of things, but we don’t have a central place for bullying. The only way to do that would be to ask each individual building for their records. But the bullying law does not require us to keep records like that,” Carpenter added.

Some argue such statistics are not necessary. “The school districts are asked to compile an awful lot of statistics. Adding one more is not, maybe, going to change the approach and how we’re dealing with it,” said Mary Lou Bergeron, assistant superintendent of the Lawrence Public Schools.

But a state attorney general’s commission set up in 2010 to review the law’s effectiveness has suggested that the absence of reporting requirements be corrected. It proposed legislation now before the state Senate and House to require that schools compile and file bullying incident statistics with the state, and conduct an anonymous survey among students every three years.

“The combination of school-reported and student-reported data will help us better understand the prevalence and nature of bullying in our schools,” Attorney General Martha Coakley told the legislature’s Joint Education Committee in May.

When the 2010 law was passed, Massachusetts was one of the last states to enact such legislation. The suicides of Walker-Hoover in Springfield and Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old who was hounded by peers after she entered South Hadley High School, spurred an outcry that propelled the bill through the legislature. Proponents hailed it as “landmark” and “model” legislation.

Former state Sen. Martha M. Walz, a sponsor of the bill, said she initially thought the law was unnecessary. “Schools should be taking action because it’s the right thing to do,” she said recently. “In many ways it’s a commentary that we had to pass a law that said school districts should prevent bullying in schools. We got to the point in Massachusetts that it became clear that at least in some school districts the actions were inconsistent.”

The law required the state education department to publish a model program, with sample teaching curricula and resources, which it has done on-line. But school districts were not required to adopt the model program. While some districts have taken the model and modified or expanded it in their schools, others have offered up homegrown programs of uncertain value.

“My real question is do they know this works?” asked the mother of a Lexington 12-year-old, after her son’s school showed a video about the Columbine High School massacre. She asked not to be identified so her son would not be singled out. “It was a kind of shock and awe campaign,” she said. “Do they know that when you introduce kids to this kind of scary but true picture of life that you’re tenderizing them and sensitizing them in the right ways to messages of being nicer, kinder? It didn’t work for us.”

“Schools need more support to make better decisions. I think the current system, where they’re sort of left at the mercy of the marketplace, is not a good system,” said Elizabeth Englander, who runs the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University. “The issue isn’t just that they’re choosing more homegrown things, though that’s definitely a problem. But even when they pick evidence-based programs, they may not use them the way the authors intended.”

All 403 Massachusetts school districts were required to file an anti-bullying program with the state, and with much publicity the state pressed the districts to meet deadlines for those filings. Since then, the plans have largely sat in a file cabinet or electronic queue. There is no requirement for state enforcement.

“We actually did not even have a requirement to review the plans,” said Jonathan C. Considine, a spokesman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “We took it upon ourselves to sort of do a cursory review of the plans to make sure all the required elements were included in the plans. It was a courtesy we did for the districts.”

Considine said the state agency’s staff has helped conduct regional, professional and parent workshops and conferences with prosecutors. But mostly the issue of how vigorously the schools implement the programs is left to the schools themselves.

“Obviously, folks who know the students best, who can respond to any kind of incidents, are on the ground,” Considine said. “Whether it’s providing math curriculum or some sort of program for school safety, the experts are the ones in the building.”

The legislature, wary of costs, also did not provide money to the school districts to carry out the anti-bullying law. Some critics say that omission doomed the effort; others say it prompted administrators to work creatively within the schools or to seek outside grants.

“This is an unfunded mandate. If you’re not giving [schools] money, you know they’re not going to do anything,” said Nan Stein, a school violence and bullying researcher at Wellesley College, who testified against the passage of the law. “They passed the law because two kids committed suicide. You could drive a truck through the holes in this bill.” Stein still questions whether it was politics, not concern for the children, that produced the law. “I think it’s intended to placate the public. I think all these laws across the country are intended to placate the public as if this is the way to deal with school violence, which is a sham.”

According to state officials, 20 Massachusetts school districts were able to use some part of grants intended for safety and anti-drug programs to develop anti-bullying programs. And some of the nine Massachusetts school districts that received $19.4 million in federal Safe Schools/Healthy Students grants in the last decade may have had leftover money they applied to bullying programs. But most school districts had to meet the requirements of the law with their own resources.

“There is a lot of money that is being used under the name of bullying that isn’t being spent the best way,” said Robin D’Antona, a Falmouth education consultant whose own son took his life in 1993 because of bullying. She said schools “will hire someone to come in and do a program with the kids—say, a juggler who is going to come in and juggle and talk about bullying. They will pay him and have an assembly. But that’s not prevention.”

The law “was a good first step… but it did not go far enough,” Deborah Peeples, president of the Greater Boston Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, told the legislative committee. She and others want those who are at high risk — such as immigrants, gays, and the handicapped– to be a focus of attention in school anti-bullying programs. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youths are too often the target of bullying and are seven times more likely to have attempted suicide, she said.

The 2011 risk survey found no improvement in their vulnerability to bullying, Peeples noted. When her own son was cornered in a locker room by teammates, “there was no way to report that bullying, certainly without repercussions,” she said. She said the law is not specific enough. We can’t address bullying if we are afraid to ask the questions to learn what it looks like.”

“Although we have an anti-bullying law there is no one making sure it’s actually happening and happening effectively,” agreed Kim Storey, a consultant with the Education Development Center in Waltham. “It’s hard to require something without putting the funding behind it.”

Bergeron, the assistant superintendent of Lawrence schools, believes the law has helped to change attitudes. “It’s really heightened everyone’s awareness of watching for and monitoring issues that might be bullying,” she said. “In the past if you saw something happen you might go, ‘oh, they’re just fooling around.’ Now you’re going to say, ‘Wait a second, that’s not acceptable.’”

Source: New England Center For Investigative Reporting


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English Edition

The Governorship Elections in Venezuela. The PSUV Wins By a Landslide, Opposition in Disarray

A political Analysis on the recent electoral victory for State governorship by the governing party of Venezuela, the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela




The closing of the campaign for Constituent Assembly elections, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 27, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

By Nino Pagliccia and Armold August

The governing party of Venezuela, the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), has recently obtained a resounding electoral victory for State governorship. The election was called by the CNE (National Electoral Council) at the instance of the ANC (National Constituent Assembly). Soon after, the opposition group MUD (Democratic Unity Coalition) seemed to be in disarray. Enrique Capriles of Primero Justicia (Justice First) party, for example, resigned from the MUD coalition questioning Henry Ramos Allup of the AD (Democratic Action) party who in turn expelled the four AD governors who dared to be sworn-in in front of the ANC in acceptance of the election results.

I asked Canadian author Arnold August to give his assessment of the political significance for the Bolivarian process.

Question: In the last elections of October 15 for the 23 state governorships in Venezuela, the governing party won 18 states. What is your analysis of this result in the context of the political process in Venezuela?

Arnold August: Not only did it win the 18 states, but the PSUV substantially increased its popular vote compared with the National Assembly elections held in December 2015, when the opposition won by a wide margin. Thus, in a short period of time, the Bolivarian Revolution reversed the situation. These latest October 2017 state elections, therefore, are of great historical significance not only for Venezuela but for the whole region. The U.S. is hoping to subvert the Bolivarian Revolution and use it as a springboard to weaken, and even destroy, other left-wing movements and governments in the area. The latter represent an alternative to capitalism and they, along with other powers such as Russia, China and Iran, flourish as a major multi-polar challenge to the U.S. goal of world hegemony.

Thus, because of the domestic and international importance of this resurgence in the last elections, the analysis is still ongoing. Any serious observer is obliged to continue to reflect upon and investigate the upset victory, as you are striving to do now with this interview.

Nevertheless, there is one ongoing conclusion that I have been exploring since the elections. The election results marked a watershed in Venezuelan democracy. The majority of the people and the Maduro government crossed the Rubicon from participatory democracy toward protagonist democracy. They may not have yet reached terra firma on the other shore of the Rubicon, but Venezuelan democracy is firmly on the path toward protagonist democracy as the main feature of its political system.

Some Bolivarian Revolution sympathizers and activists in Venezuela and outside may raise their eyebrows in surprise, and even suspicion, with regard to my view. The analysis may seem, if looked at superficially and dogmatically, as an underestimation of the outstanding Bolivarian experience in participatory democracy.

However, this is far from being the case. For example, in my 2013 publication Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion, there is a section dealing with Cuba’s neighbour titled “Venezuela: New Experiments in Participatory Democracy” that provides a very positive analysis.

And, more importantly, consider this. Hugo Chávez very clearly stated that “socialism means participatory democracy but above all protagonist democracy” (Comandante Chávez, “El Socialismo es la Democracia Participativa y sobre todo la Protagónica,” posted March 19, 2013).

Protagonist democracy means that the people are reaching the stage of consciousness and action – individually and collectively – to exercise on a daily basis their rightful protagonist role in their own revolution.

We saw this in the massive uprising by the Venezuelan people. A civic–military alliance overturned the U.S.-supported April 11, 2002 coup d’état against the Chávez government only two days later on April 13. This is how the now legendary Chavista slogan came into being: “Every 11th has its 13th!” The people themselves are able to overcome even the most adverse situation and seemingly hopeless obstacle by taking affairs into their own hands.

This growing protagonist feature of the Bolivarian Revolution’s democracy goes hand in hand with its development of socialist measures. It has been evolving over the years at a steady pace despite the economic war waged by the U.S. against Venezuela. Alongside this evolution, protagonist democracy has deepened and broadened to increasingly become a daily feature in the lives of the people. The Chávez thinking on this progression, as expressed above, is crucial to viewing today’s Venezuela from his perspective: socialism cannot be defended nor, even less, be developed without a political and electoral system based on protagonist democracy. Nonetheless, this developing level of consciousness is not tied to elections. On the contrary, the electoral process is just part of the battle of ideas that is being waged nationally and internationally in favour of socialism.

Out of necessity, this political movement in Venezuela increasingly becomes “daily” – perhaps not literally but very close to it since the death of Hugo Chávez. Ironically, Obama and Trump, by striving to subvert the participatory and protagonist people’s political defence of its Bolivarian Revolution and the biggest oil reserves in the world, have contributed to pushing the revolution to convert democracy toward, as Chávez said, “above all protagonist.” Thus, the paradox: Venezuela is now anchored in an even more favourable position to defend and expand its revolution, as the state election results glaringly exposed.

The 2002 American policy of blatant interference, as exemplified in the coup d’état, has become a daily staple in other more “smart power” forms feeding the unrest and crisis in Venezuela. This approach began to take shape after President Obama refused to recognize Nicolás Maduro as the constitutionally elected successor to Chávez on April 14, 2013. There has been virtually no let up since, with Obama handing the U.S. Venezuela game plan over to Trump on a silver platter. Only the form of the 2002 attempted coup has changed. It has become a slow-motion coup but with the same intent: to smash the socialist program. The response is that, metaphorically, every day in Venezuela is lived with the slogan “every 11th has its 13th” at the forefront.

However, unlike the military coup d’état attempt in 2002, now the “11th” is represented by the slow-motion coup that the U.S. has been fomenting since April 2013 to date, while the “13th” is the day-to-day people’s revolutionary struggle during this time to maintain political power. It was – and is – either that the Venezuelans will be the authors of their own revolution or that the revolution will be subverted.

Question: And what was the role that the National Constituent Assembly plays in the country?

AA: On May 1, 2017, the Maduro government announced the daring convening of elections to the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) to be held on July 30, 2017. The country was in the throes of the U.S.-provoked crisis. This was the only way out for the well-being and peace of the entire nation. The time had come to “re-found” the Bolivarian Revolution, just as in 1999 with the new Constitution after the election of Chávez, who founded it as a first step.

Please allow me to pursue the “crossing of the Rubicon” metaphor. The successful NCA elections, its dramatic convening and the results work together to represent the first plunge into the Rubicon: the protagonist feature of the Bolivarian Revolution overtook its complementary participatory characteristic to become what Chávez said was “above all” the need for being protagonist and not only participatory.

The NCA itself constitutes the highest expression of a protagonist system whereby the people themselves govern. It thus provided the orientation and confidence for the state elections only two-and-a-half months later in order to propel the Bolivarian Revolution further toward crossing the river to the shore. This new form of people’s power is the basis for safeguarding and further developing Venezuela’s socialism.

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English Edition

Thousands march in Seattle to denounce white supremacists

When Seattle anti-fascists of many political persuasions massed to protest a “Patriot Prayer” rally on Aug. 13, police prevented them from marching to the site of the far-right gathering. But they made their message heard regardless.




March Anti-racism. Photo: Freedom Socialist Party

Police attack protesters trying to counter far-right rally

SEATTLE, Washington.- Downtown Seattle was awash with opponents of white supremacy on Sunday, August 13 as a diverse crowd of 2,000 marched in opposition to a rightwing “Patriot Prayer” rally at Westlake Park. Participation swelled dramatically as the counter-protest also became a response to the August 12 car attack on anti-racist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia. Although police blocked the main protest from entering the park, the demonstrators’ message of solidarity reverberated through downtown canyons. In addition, several hundred protesters managed to enter the park and shout down the rally attended by 75 or so Trump supporters, Proud Boys, and militaristically clad allies.
The “Patriot Prayer” gathering was planned weeks earlier by Joey Gibson, of Vancouver, Washington, who claims to oppose racism, but whose events consistently draw white supremacists and neo-Nazis. He previously visited Seattle on June 10 as part of an anti-Muslim rally in Seattle that drew hundreds of counter-protesters.
Many of the organizations that came together in an ad hoc coalition to defend the Muslim community in June joined forces again for the August 13 march. Organizers and endorsers included Greater Seattle IWW General Defense Committee, Freedom Socialist Party, Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, Veterans for Peace Chapter 94, Seattle Solidarity Network, Radical Women,, SAFE in Seattle, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Clifton Wyatt, former president of the International Association of Machinists Local A 751.
The M.L. King County Labor Council encouraged unionists to attend with a note stating, “If we are not fighting racism, sexism, homophobia we are not really fighting for workers’ rights.” Speaking for an endorsing union, Washington Federation of State Employees Local 304, Steve Hoffman addressed the key role of the labor movement in opposing the far right and roused the crowd before the march began with the slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all!”
Approaching the city core, marchers became frustrated as Seattle police repeatedly blocked their access to Westlake Park. Scores of police in riot gear, with bicycles, batons, tanks and other vehicles, blocked all intersections and alleyways leading to the park. They lobbed flash-bang grenades and pepper-sprayed protesters in unprovoked attacks on a crowd that included elders, children, and people with disabilities. In response, protesters chanted, “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” and “Cops and Klan work hand in hand!”
“We need to protest to Seattle’s mayor and police chief for essentially taking the side of the racist reactionaries by teargassing locals who came to take a stand against them, while providing a military-type escort for the bigots,” said Patrick Burns, a union carpenter who was a marshal for the counter-protesters’ march.
“I urge everyone to call the City Council and demand that the police be brought under control,” said Annaliza Torres of Radical Women. Torres said sixty organizations and community leaders signed onto a letter protesting “biased policing” at the June anti-Muslim rally. She said police allowed the Proud Boys to repeatedly attack the anti-racist rally, but then pepper-sprayed and arrested the people who attempted to defend themselves. “We haven’t yet had a reply to our complaint. Instead, we got intensified police harassment today,” said Torres.
Su Docekal of the Freedom Socialist Party, one of the march organizers, said, “The police and the city absolutely violated our constitutional rights to protest and free speech. We know from experience with the Aryan Nations and others here in the Pacific Northwest that the way to prevent fascism from taking root is through direct, disciplined confrontation when they come out in public to recruit. Our goal is to build a broad, democratic united front able to stop them in their tracks.”


Source: Freedom Socialist Party LA

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English Edition

I Am the World’s First Abortion Refugee: a woman Salvadoran

Maria Teresa Rivera is the first Abortion Refugee from El Salvador




María Teresa Rivera. Photo: Jorge Rivas

By Jorge Rivas

In 2011, María Teresa Rivera was arrested in El Salvador. She was accused of having an abortion and sentenced to 40 years in prison on the charge of “aggravated homicide.” Rivera claims she had a miscarriage and did not even know she was pregnant. Attorneys were able to free her, but not before she served four and a half years of her sentence. She fled the country when a prosecutor appealed the judge’s decision to a higher court.

On March 20, the Swedish Migration Agency granted Rivera and her 12-year-old son political asylum. She is believed to be the first person in the world to be granted asylum for abortion persecution.

Splinter spoke with María Teresa Rivera in her new home near Stockholm in June. Interview has been edited and condensed.


The nightmare started in November 2011 in San Salvador, El Salvador. It was the night before my son’s elementary school graduation and I went to bed late preparing food and ironing his outfit. A few hours later I woke up with stomach cramps. I went to the outhouse because I felt like I needed to go poo-poo. I just remember feeling like something in my stomach collapsed. When I went to clean myself I noticed I was bleeding. I walked back to the house and my mother-in-law called the ambulance for help. I was losing blood and it took so long to get me to the hospital that I fainted. I don’t remember anything after that.

I mentioned to a co-worker in January 2011 at the factory I worked at that I was worried my period was late. Later she came to testify in court to say I knew I was pregnant. But the prosecutor claimed I had an abortion in November. That’s illogical because it would have meant I was 11 months pregnant at the time of the abortion.

I’ve always said that if I wanted to have an abortion I would not have waited 11 months. It just makes no sense to condemn me for an 11-month pregnancy.

I was sentenced to 40 years in prison for a homicide I did not commit.

When the judge gave me the sentence, I felt like it was all over. The first thing I thought was, “How old is my seven-year-old son going to be in 2052 when I leave prison?” I did the math and told myself, “He is going to be 47 years old and he’s going to hate me. He is going to blame me for missing his life.” I thought about all the things that can happen to my child in that amount of time. It was very difficult.

The truth is I’ve had a hard life, but that’s also what gives me strength. I was five when my mother disappeared during the civil war in El Salvador. We never heard from her again. My grandmother raised my brother and me. She used to take us to work with her. We helped clean vegetables at the market. But when she got sick family members juggled us around. I was eight when I was raped on my way home from school. I had to walk through a dark road and my aunts blamed it on me. My brother and I ultimately ended up in an orphanage for children of the disappeared.

I never watched the news on TV, much less read newspapers. I didn’t want to poison my mind with bad stories. I’ve had to live through my own stories. So when I got to prison I assumed I was the only women in prison for having an abortion or miscarriage.

I was all over the news, so the women in prison recognized me. It turned out there were a lot more women in prison who were accused of having abortions. Some of them had 30-year sentences, others were sentenced to 35 years. But I got the most severe sentence. I was the first to get a 40-year sentence, so my story made international headlines.

In prison it just takes one person to recognize you and then word travels. Rumors spread.

The women in prison called me the “mata niños”—the baby killer. They threatened to kill me just like I had killed my son. Luckily they never physically attacked me; it was all just emotional stress.

But I met other women in prison, some as young as 18, who were incarcerated for having an abortion. All of them were poor. The women who have money pay private doctors for the procedures or they fly out of the country for an abortion.

Women would come to me and tell me they were in there for an abortion. I’d get their names and share them with my lawyer.

[At least 129 women were prosecuted for abortion-related crimes in El Salvador between 2000 and 2011, according to Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizens’ Coalition for the Decriminalization of Abortion), an advocacy group that also helped fight Rivera’s case. Of these, 23 were convicted of receiving an illegal abortion; 26 were convicted of homicide. There are at least 21 women in Salvadoran prisons serving time for abortion related charges.]

I met 11 of these women during my four years in prison. We all had similar stories. We came from poor and working-class families. Some of them had little schooling. Some of the women were raped. There were cases of incest and miscarriages.

We all lived through this very difficult experience and only we know how we feel.

We made a pact and promised each other that the first one to be freed was going to become a spokeswoman for all of us. There were 11 of us who made the agreement. We all thought the other person would be freed first. But it turned out to be me.

Now I have that responsibility, and I cannot break that commitment. I don’t speak out so people know who I am—I speak out so that people learn what’s going on. My commitment to the women who are still incarcerated are what give me power to keep going now.

When I heard the judge say he was overturning my case I felt like I was dreaming.

María Teresa Rivera (center) hugs her attorney Vítores Hugo Mata moments after a judge declared she was free. Credit: courtesy of Jorge Menjívar/ Agrupación Ciudadana

The judge ruled there was not enough evidence to prove the charges against me. He annulled the sentence and ordered the State to pay damages for sending me to prison for almost five years.

The judge’s decision made headlines again, but the stories focused on how the prosecutor would appeal the ruling. One of the largest newspaper included graphic details in the story about the annulment. They said I had cut my own umbilical cord, removed the newborn and threw it into the latrine while it was still alive. They never quoted the judge who freed me.

I tried to get work immediately but I quickly realized I wasn’t really free. I’ve had to work since I was a young girl. I’m a hard worker and willing to do anything so I could provide for my own son. I’ve never had fear of any work. In prison I would stick my hands in toilets to clear them up. I’m not afraid of an honest job.

But I’d walk into businesses that had hiring signs on their windows and they’d look at me and tell me the position has been filled. People recognized me and didn’t want to hire me.

I told myself I wouldn’t speak to reporters again. The media in my country only used my story against me. They never printed anything in my favor.

Then officials announced they were going to appeal the judge’s decision to annul my case. That’s when I knew I had to leave.

I was invited to speak at a conference in Stockholm. That was my way out. People in Sweden who I’ve never met raised money and paid for the flight for my son and me.

I feared they wouldn’t let me fly out of the country because the prosecutor was after my case. I knew my sentence was annulled and felt more secure when I was able to get a passport without any issues. But at the airport I was still anxious. I was shaking when they scanned my boarding pass to enter the plane. In the end we didn’t have any problems getting out of the country.

The first flight in my life I went from El Salvador to Panama, Panama to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Stockholm. I didn’t know anything about Sweden before I got here. All I was able to gather when I looked at a map is that were a lot of lakes.

María Teresa Rivera lives in a small town outside of Stockholm. The two-hour trip involves two bus transfers and a train ride. Credit: Jorge Rivas/Splinter

I arrived in Stockholm in October last year in the evening and the next morning I applied for asylum. They were very kind to me. I know that other women like me have fled to the United States without authorization. Some of them are undocumented or still going through the asylum process.

There was a sense of relief when I arrived here but it’s also been very difficult. I can communicate with very few people and all I have here is my son.

I live in immigration housing provided by the Swedish government. It’s in a rural town and two bus rides and a train ride away from Stockholm. But I’m walking distance from a lake. We’re the only Spanish-speaking family around here. I knew we were going to struggle and have to fight to start our lives here but sometimes I feel like I don’t even know where to start.

I’ve met other Salvadorans who have asylum here. Many of them fled during the civil war in the 1980s and early 1990s and some of them are missing limbs. They’ve formed a community here and have been supportive, even extending invitations to dinners.

Right now I’m learning Swedish using the internet. My son has started school and he teaches me words, too. We don’t have internet at home. When I can afford cell phone service we use my phone but sometimes we have to go to shopping centers with free wifi to get online. I’m not allowed to work until I get my work permit.

People who heard I was coming to Sweden through advocacy groups have donated a few things. My neighbor also let me have his old TV. He’s from Syria, a single dad with three girls.

I’ve also done a little shopping myself. When I went to the immigration office I was walking by and saw a big ad on the side of a retail building. I looked at my son and I said, “Let’s go in there.” It’s a place called Ikea. I got my dishes there. I had never heard of Ikea but I saw people going in and out and I just went inside to see what we’d find. The first thing I said was, “Wow this place is big. We don’t have anything like this in El Salvador.” But you know, the most important thing for me right now is price.

It’s been five years since the judge declared I was guilty of aggravated homicide. That was in July 2012. And this is still happening.

[On July 5, a Salvadoran judge sentenced 19-year-old Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz to 30-years in prison for giving birth to a stillborn baby in a toilet. She was at home on April 6, 2016 when she felt sharp pains in her stomach and went to the restroom. She later fainted and woke up in the hospital. Medical staff at the Hospital Nuestra Señora de Fátima in Cojutepeque reported her to law enforcement officials.

Prosecutors could not provide evidence to determine whether the fetus died in utero or moments after delivery, but she was still charged with aggravated murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.]

I’ve told my son that when the time is right I want to him to share his story with reporters, too. I want the world to know what these laws and the stigma are doing to the families of these women. I’m not afraid to speak out anymore. I don’t care what people say about me. I’m going to speak and talk about the lives that Salvadoran women are living.

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