Adjudicating Morality: Estupro in Veracruz, Mexico, 1925–50

Friday, January 6, 2012: 10:30 AM
River North Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Gregory John Swedberg, Manhattanville College
Despite nascent feminist movements and progressive legal changes that elevated women’s status in society, the Mexican post-revolutionary period marked continuity with, rather than a complete break from, colonial and early republican perceptions of sexual violence. Both conservative and liberal post-revolutionary officials were more concerned with monitoring women’s sexual practices and maintaining the integrity and legitimacy of the family unit than they were with addressing violence against women. Officials, who championed the need to educate and protect women and girls, were often reluctant to impede on men’s cultural rights to control women’s bodies, which is especially evident in cases of estupro involving girls with dubious reputations.

By focusing on the state of Veracruz, this paper seeks to expand previous analyses of violence against women and girls to regions outside of Mexico City. Communities in Veracruz, long noted for labor unrest, also had many areas that were conservative strongholds during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The confluence of Catholic conservatism, masculinity, and the state’s anti-clerical moralization campaign led by governors such as Adalberto Tejeda (1920-1924, 1928-1932) informed communities’ perceptions of sexual violence that continued to emphasize women and girls’ morality and sexual probity. Both penal and civil law maintained the state’s need to safeguard families, but young women or girls who were not “chaste and honest” were usually outside the auspices of state protection. While men were at times convicted for committing estupro, decisions were based largely on a plaintiff’s public reputation without regard to the victim’s well-being. Veracruz’s communities provide a fascinating glimpse into the clash between tradition and modernity as both shaped local culture and legal process.

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