Picture: Tribeca Film Festival
Picture: Tribeca Film Festival

1980s America saw a moral panic about satanic ritual abuse as a wave of alleged crimes swept across the English-speaking world.

Deborah S Esquenazi's film (see below), Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four has excavated the details of their persecution and investigated the homophobia behind the jailing of these women, innocent and aged 19 and 20 at the time of their conviction for child abuse.

The group from San Antonio, Texas- Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Kelly Michaels and Cassandra Rivera - were accused of gang-raping Ramirez’s nieces, who were seven and nine years old at the time they accused the women.

They were dubbed the "San Antonio Four", for crimes based on insubstantial evidence.

Three of the women were jailed for over two decades before their eventual release.

Anna Vazquez was paroled via Texas’s “junk science” statute - one which allows for appeals on the basis that the methodology for the original accusations have been debunked.

Vazquez told the Guardian about the prejudice they experienced during the time they were accused in 1994:

When we were being questioned by police, they made a point to put it out in there – that we were gay.

Their trials relied on statements which changed as the accusers retold the stories to authorities.

Prosecutors in Ramirez's case made frequent references to her sexuality, according to a San Antonio Express-News investigation in 2010.

Court transcripts showed how phrases like “cult-type” and “sacrificed on the altar of lust” helped to perpetuate a myth that the women were part of a lesbian coven.

The film argues that prosecutors invested into the moral panic of the time, for which wrongfully they spent decades in jail until their eventual release in 2012 and 2013.

The Texas court of criminal appeals is still considering whether to declare the women "innocent" - which would enable them to claim compensation.

Watch the video, below:

indy100 has contacted Deborah S Esquenazi for comment.

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