On March 17, 2022, as she waited for the judges to read their verdict, Eva Analía de Jesús, also known as Higui, heard her friends playing a football match outside the Court. Chanting in support of her, hundreds of activists had gathered in hopes that it was the day she would win her freedom back.
And she finally did. While the match unfolded outside, her six-year nightmare ended inside the Court, as she defended herself against assault for being a lesbian.
In the Bella Vista neighborhood, in the northwestern area of the province of Buenos Aires, Eva Analía de Jesús is known as Higui. That’s because she bears a resemblance with the Colombian goalkeeper René Higuita: she even has curly hair, like him. But Higui, in spite of being a huge football fan herself, is different to Higuita in many aspects: she’s a woman, she’s a lesbian, and she’s poor. She’s almost 50 years old, sibling to seven sisters and a brother, a Boca Juniors football team fan, a lover of beer, and has spent most of her life cleaning other people’s houses, trimming their gardens and fixing their homes.
But, on Mother’s Day in 2016, Higui walked outside of her sister’s house, where she had had lunch with her family, holding a knife in her pocket. She had done so for years, since the day a gang of men had tried to rape her and stab her and set her house on fire for no apparent reason. Those same men had thrown rocks at her when she was a child back in 2002. And now there they were, standing on an alley, and went back home after her family lunch. It was October 16, 2016.
Ten of them ambushed Higui. “Now you’ll know what’s good for you”, they told her as they beat her and tried to abuse her. “We’ll make you feel like a woman." With the strength she had left, she remembered the knife. She stabbed Cristian Rubén Espósito, one of her aggressors, in the chest. She immediately fell to the ground, unconscious from the beating.
When Higui woke up, she was in a police department. She was in pain. She had been charged with “simple homicide” by a judge in the district of San Martín. She never made it home, as she was put in jail for eight months.
Imprisoned for being a “butch lesbian, black and poor”
Awareness of the Higui case rose quickly in Argentina, where social movements and LGBTQ* organizations started to protest and advocate for her release under slogans such as “I would defend myself too” and “self defence is not a crime.”
“Higui was charged for murder for having tried to defend herself from a corrective group rape, which is a typical form of abuse that lesbians are subjected to with the intention of ‘taking the lesbianity out’”, wrote the journalist and lesbian activist Adriana Carrasco at the time of her arrest in 2016.
“It’s something that happens to a lot of lesbians, because it has to do with the embedded hate that this society has for anyone that’s different”, said Gabriela “Chiqui” Conder, human rights lawyer and activist, part of Higui’s defense team. “Higui acted in self defense. If she weren’t carrying a knife, today she’d be another victim."
Higui was released after serving eight months in jail. The decision came a year ago: on March 17th, 2022, Higui was acquitted in a unanimous vote from Judges Gustavo Varvello, German Saint Martin and Julián Descalzo, of the San Martín Criminal Court 7. The ruling takes into consideration that Cristian Rubén Espósito was in an “altered mood” because of alcohol intake and a previous fight he had been in earlier that day.
All testimonies showed that Higui was calm and tried to avoid confrontation and leave before the attack happened. The judges argued that the insults and slurs that Higui heard during the attack could not be proved beyond her own telling of the story, but they note that her sexual orientation “is a common factor of discrimination, which generally translates to sarcasm, insults and in some cases physical aggression”, and that “high alcohol intake exacerbates aggressive conducts.”
“Higui defended herself as a football player does”
“The team plays on the field, but it’s a different thing if there are supporters present. Higui needs the support of all of us.” That was the call to action from “Chiqui” Conder to the activists and social organizations when the trial started, in March 2022.
On that March 17th, Higui overheard the voices of her friends and allies that weren’t allowed inside the courthouse. After hearing the sentence, she left the courthouse with a ball under her arm. That ball was a gift from the girls of Club La Nuestra, a feminist football team from the slums. “The news of Higui’s absolution felt like that rush of joy that happens in a football match when you score a goal after a good series of passes with your teammates”, said Mónica Santino, a feminist football pioneer. “It has to do with the collective building of a play."
“We say that Higui defended herself as a football player does because it has long been believed, in a patriarchal and macho culture, that women lack the strength to kick and that we don’t get the game”, Santino explains.
In the end the Court ruled that “when she inflicted the wound, the accused acted in response to an illegitimate aggression that she did not call for, appealing during that emergency to a rational means to repel it, given the inequity of the forces, relieving her of responsibility in the death of Cristian Rubén Espósito.”
One year from Higui’s acquittal
Even though Higui was acquitted last March, it was only in December that her freedom was confirmed. “The prosecutor had appealed the sentence, so we had to wait for the confirmation of the ruling from the Appeals Court”, Chiqui explains. “Only then was Higui able to breathe. She cried tears of joy, she couldn’t believe that she was leaving all of that behind. She was in prison for eight months, kept in jail when she was innocent, and that is very hard."
Since she got back her freedom, Higui started to support feminist causes, marches every Thursday in the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo’s Thursday’s march, received recognition for her struggle from the National Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity, and played football on many occasions. She also got back to class to get her high school diploma, and she’s looking for a stable job.
“She’s alright”, said Chiqui, “she cares after her dogs and kittens, she tries to improve her house, all in all, she wants to be okay.”