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ARGENTINA: Nine women sue a state institution abusively calling them ‘victims of sexual abuse’

ARGENTINA: Nine women sue a state institution abusively calling them ‘victims of sexual abuse’

A controversial law leading to prosecutors’ abuses of authority and a fabricated case against a yoga school

By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers


The European Times NewsThe European Times (23.06.2023) – Five women older than 50, three in their forties and one in mid-thirties are suing on appeal two prosecutors of the state agency PROTEX on unfounded claims of their being victims of sexual abuse in the framework of a yoga school. Their complaint had previously been turned down by a court of first instance.

Beyond this case, it is obviously the Buenos Aires Yoga School (BAYS) that is targeted. According to a complaint by a person whose name was not disclosed, the founder of the BAYS recruited people through deceit in order to reduce them to a situation of servitude and/or sexual exploitation. The purpose was allegedly to put in place an illegal business structure in Argentina and the United States under the umbrella of a cult-like yoga group for the laundering of funds obtained as a result of their activities.


The lawyers of the nine women consider it is a new attempt made by the same anti-BAYS activist 30 years ago who unsuccessfully lodged a similar complaint against the yoga school and its leadership. The charges were then declared unfounded and the accused were all cleared.


In the aftermath of the adoption of the law on the prevention and punishment of human trafficking (Law No 26.842), PROTEX started to misuse two concepts introduced in amendments in December 2012: the promotion of prostitution without coercion (Article 21), which is a crime, and the ambiguous idea of vulnerability (Articles 22, 23 and 26) as a form of coercion. On the one hand, the purpose of PROTEX is the instrumentalization of the BAYS case to increase its statistics and give an image of growing efficiency, which will allow it to demand a bigger budget. On the other hand, the accuser’s objective is to try to destroy the BAYS on personal grounds.


A hurdle race for access to justice on appeal


It has been a hurdle race for the female plaintiffs to have access to the appeal procedure. The complaint was first rejected by the judge for non-existence of a crime committed by the PROTEX prosecutors. The nine women were refused to be considered plaintiffs but their lawyers insisted, basing their arguments on two legal provisions:


Art. 82 of the Code of Criminal Procedure – “Any person with civil capacity particularly offended by a crime of public action shall have the right to become a plaintiff and as such to promote the process, provide elements of conviction, argue about them and appeal with the scope established in this Code”.


Art. 5 of the Victim Law – “The victim shall have the following rights: …. h) To intervene as plaintiff or civil plaintiff in the criminal proceeding, in accordance with the constitutional guarantee of due process and the local procedural laws”.


As of mid-June, the case is pending.


Some accusations against the PROTEX prosecutors


According to the lawyers of the plaintiffs, the PROTEX prosecutors have reportedly failed to denounce certain criminal acts that have occurred during the raids carried out by fully armed SWAT team police in the BAYS building in August 2022: robbery of items not mentioned in the search records, mistreatment, harassment, threats and damages to the residents’ properties by the personnel in charge of the search. The victims of facts stated that prosecutors Mángano and Colombo, in spite of being aware of the facts denounced, omitted to report them.


During the investigation and court proceedings, the right to privacy of the nine female plaintiffs was outrageously violated as their names were disclosed by PROTEX to all the people handling the file and even to the press. The media and social media published some of them with the socially negative connotation of prostitution but there is worse.


Interviews between one of the plaintiffs and a psychologist of PROTEX victims’ assistance program conducted in an isolated environment that the prosecutors and lawyers watched without being seen – the Gesell Chamber* procedure – finally happened to be streamed in a TV show! On the one hand, the confidentiality of such a procedure is the responsibility of PROTEX and on the other hand, it is absolutely illegal to stream such interviews on TV, all the more so since the nine women had explicitly asked their identity not to be disclosed.


Moreover, the prosecutors are also said to have disproportionately abused their power by extending the investigation on the plaintiffs to the international sphere, as cooperation was requested abroad to collect bank and financial data and information on the assets that the plaintiffs might have had in Uruguay and the United States. This resulted for three plaintiffs in the denial of access to the territory of the United States.


Not credible claims of sexual abuse


While prostitution is not illegal in Argentina, exploiting prostitution is criminalized. However, the plaintiffs strongly deny having been involved in prostitution.


PROTEX recognized in a workshop in 2017 that most victims of sexual abuse are young women who have rarely completed primary education and have no or hardly any livelihoods. In addition, it asserted that 98% of the seven thousand victims assisted by PROTEX did not consider themselves victims although they were.


In the current case of the nine female yoga practitioners, they are educated and have means of existence coming from their professional activities as teachers, artists, real estate agents or company managers. They do not have the profile of the victims assisted by PROTEX and the statistics of the state agency are not an argument to forcefully put the ‘victim label’ on them.


During the procedure, the plaintiffs declared that PROTEX considered them in a false and arbitrary manner as victims of a coercive cult-like organization allegedly “brainwashing” and abusing the vulnerability of its female followers (Source: Judge Ariel Lijo’s dismissal of the complaint in May 2023).

The term “cult” that was extensively used by the media to characterize the BAYS is not a valid category but a label used to slander unpopular minorities. As to the concept of “brainwashing”, it is a pseudo-scientific theory weaponized for the same purpose and it is rejected by serious scholars on religious issues.

The plaintiffs consider that they were not in a “cult” and were not “brainwashed”.


The expansion of the PROTEX controversial theory of the enforced status of victim


In the aftermath of the adoption of Law 26.842, PROTEX intensified its training program of “Workshops on Gender Perspective and Trafficking in Persons for Sexual Exploitation” launched in 2011 and started diffusing the idea that victims of prostitution rings were not any more able to think freely and to choose because if they could, they would make other choices. The new controversial philosophy of PROTEX is to rethink prostitution in the light of vulnerability.


In that year, Assistant Prosecutor Marysa S. Tarantino attended the Training Program organized by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation – through its Women’s Office – and the Attorney General’s Office – through the then called UFASE (an anti-trafficking prosecutor unit nowadays turned into the Attorney General’s Office under the name PROTEX). She shared her critical thoughts about PROTEX philosophy in a 13-page paper titled “La madre de Ernesto es puro cuento/ Una primera crítica a los materiales pedagógicos de la PROTEX” and published in Revista de Derecho Penal y Procesal Penal, Nr. 3/ 2018, Buenos Aires, Abeledo Perrot. I extract a few of the author’s ideas hereafter.


The Program was designed jointly by the two agencies to be given to officials and employees of the National Judicial Branch and the National Public Prosecutor’s Office. Its purpose was to train legal operators (especially judges, prosecutors and other legal officials) so that they could acquire “the” gender perspective necessary to deal with cases of trafficking in persons, with special emphasis on cases of sexual exploitation.


Once the participants successfully completed the course, they could become trainers and disseminate their new knowledge and sensitivities in their different territorial jurisdictions, throughout the country. The objective was to create a snowball effect: the expansion of the theory that people can be qualified by PROTEX as victims without their consent and even against their will. This dangerous trend observed in Argentina may inspire other countries and urgently needs to be publicly questioned and debated not only in the country itself but also on a global level.


Concerning the experience of the nine female yoga practitioners at BAYS, their case has obviously been fabricated at various levels to make it a case of prostitution exploitation to be dealt with by PROTEX with the aim of feeding an indictment against the BAYS.

Photo: Entrance of PROTEX Building and entrance of the building hosting the Buenos Aires Yoga <school (BAYS)

Further reading about FORB in Argentina on HRWF website

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ARGENTINA: A yoga school in the eye of a media cyclone and police abuse

ARGENTINA: A yoga school in the eye of a media cyclone

A case of abuse of power by prosecutors and the police

Spanish version

By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

The European Times NewsThe European Times (08.06.2023) – Since last summer, the Buenos Aires Yoga School (BAYS) has been pilloried by Argentinian media outlets which have published over 370 news and articles vilifying the school for allegedly trafficking in people for sexual exploitation.

The reality of a big show staged by prosecutors on the basis of false testimonies made by a person whose name was not disclosed is now emerging from serious investigation recently carried out on the spot by foreign scholars. One of them, Massimo Introvigne, the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars studying new religious movements, has just published a thirty-page report about the BAYS saga.

Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), a Brussels-based NGO in the heart of the European Union district, which defends press freedom but is also known to debunk biased and fake news, has also started its investigation from a human rights perspective.

The 12 August 2022 police crackdown

On 12 August 2022, in the evening, about sixty people in their sixties were attending a quiet philosophy class in a coffee shop located on the ground-floor of a ten-floor building in the State of Israel Avenue, in a middle-class district of Buenos Aires when suddenly all hell broke loose.

Fully armed SWAT team police broke the door of the meeting place and by force entered the building which was the seat of the yoga school, 25 private apartments and professional offices of a number of its members. They went up to all the premises and without knocking or ringing the bells, they violently opened all the doors by force, seriously damaging them. Some residents running after them tried to give them the keys so that they could enter without destroying the entryways but their offer was ignored.

The purpose was obvious: the police wanted to film every part of the operation that was ‘useful’ to justify the crackdown ordered by the prosecutor of PROTEX, a state agency dealing with human trafficking, labor and sex exploitation of persons.

For six-seven hours, they searched all the premises, putting everything upside down. When the police left, almost all residents complained that money, jewels and other items such as cameras and printers were missing but were not mentioned in the search records. As the victims of the raid were never interviewed by the media, the various excesses committed by the police were not publicly reported.

Outside, reporters were taking pictures of the handcuffed people dragged one by one out of the building. It can be assumed that the prosecutor’s office had leaked some information to a few journalists about the raid some time before taking place.

A one-sided video with a statement of the prosecutor carefully staged was quickly leaked and uploaded on YouTube.

Similar needlessly violent raids were carried out in about 50 places around the capital city during all the night.

The media in Argentina labeled the yoga school BAYS “la secta del horror” or “the horror cult” that had allegedly been operating an international prostitution ring for 30 years. In fact, in 1993, the stepfather of a female BAYS member lodged a complaint against Juan Percowicz, the founder of the yoga school, and other people managing the school. He was accusing them of operating a prostitution ring to finance the BAYS but what the media failed to check and to say is that all the defendants had been declared not guilty of all the charges in 2000.

In 2021, war was once more waged against the BAYS and its leadership with the same sort of complaint and accusations as 30 years ago although they had already been judged and declared unfounded.

Accused, arrested and detained

All in all, arrest warrants were issued against 19 persons, 12 men and 7 women. They were all imprisoned and submitted to a very harsh jail regime.

Twelve persons spent 85 days in prison from 12 August to 4 November 2022. In two cases, the Court of Appeals revoked the indictment for being unfounded.

Three others were detained during the same period of time but under two different regimes. After about 20 days behind bars, they were placed under home detention. Among them, Juan Percowicz (84) spent 18 days in prison sharing a cell with nine other prisoners, and 67 days in home detention.

Four defendants were released after 28 days of detention.

On 4 November 2022, the Court of Appeal freed all the remaining defendants from jail. In the meantime, their businesses had either been closed by the authorities or cannot function any more because of the negative media publicity. Almost all of them are now jobless.

Two judges of the Appeal Court still believed there was evidence justifying going on with the case against 17 defendants. Another judge wrote in partial dissent that the court should also have considered whether the case should not have been simply dismissed.

About the legislation

The arrested persons were accused of criminal association, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and money laundering on the basis of Law No 26.842 on Prevention and Punishment of Human Trafficking and Assistance to Victims which on 19 December 2012 amended Law No 26.364 dealing until then with this sort of issue.

Argentina does not criminalize prostitution but it criminalizes the behavior of those who economically benefit from the sexual activity of another person.

A new tougher law, adopted in 2012 under international and domestic pressures, has provisions about victims of human trafficking which are questionable and questioned by legal experts with regards to the norms of international conventions. For example, Law 26.842 puts in the category of victims prostitutes working in prostitution rings, although they deny their condition of victims, but are qualified as such, against their will, by PROTEX.

That controversial law along with its implementation was criticized by assistant prosecutor Marisa S. Tarantino in a book she published in 2021 under the titleNi víctimas ni criminales: trabajadores sexuales. Una crítica feminista a las políticas contra la trata de personas y la prostitución”/  Neither victims nor criminals: sex workers. A feminist critique of anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution policies. (Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica de Argentina).

About the case of nine BAYS female members

In the BAYS case, nine female members of the yoga school lodged a complaint against two prosecutors of PROTEX for abusing their power and naming them victims of sexual exploitation by the BAYS, which they strongly deny.

During his investigation in Argentina in March 2023, Massimo Introvigne, the aforementioned founder and managing director of CESNUR, met some of them and wrote in his reportThe alleged ‘victims’ or ‘possible victims’ I met or interviewed showed no signs of having been exploited.”

Moreover, it would be ridiculous to consider this group of women as a gang of prostitutes exploited by the BAYS when you see their profile:

  • a 66-year-old social psychologist and professional singer;
  • a 62-year-old visual arts teacher and painter;
  • a 57-year-old actress, member of the 1997 world champion stage magic team;
  • a 57-year-old elementary school teacher and philosophical business coach;
  • a 50-year-old woman who was already considered a “victim” and was subjected to an expert opinion in the previous case, which proved that she was neither a victim nor exploited;
  • a 45-year-old management graduate;
  • a 43-year-old real estate agent;
  • a 41-year-old digital marketing professional;
  • a 35-year-old real estate agent, macromedia designer, and web designer.

If there are no prostitutes, there is no case and no sexual exploitation. If it was discovered that one or more BAYS members happened to trade sex for money, it would still be necessary to prove that it was based on coercion by BAYS leaders, which the judges recognized there was not in BAYS.

The whole issue looks like a fabricated case targeting the BAYS and the judicial system should easily establish justice but will it?

According to PROTEX records, 98% of the female victims supposedly rescued by them claim not to be victims. Many of them can therefore be considered fabricated cases and there is a reason for this: Special Prosecutor’s office gets a bigger budget and more power as it prosecutes more people.

The complaint of the nine ladies has been turned down by a court of first instance and an appeal court will soon examine it. Let us wait and see.

Article in Spanish:



Further reading about FORB on HRWF website

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