GUATEMALA CITY – An elementary school principal has been sentenced to nearly 90 years in prison for sexually assaulting seven fifth-grade boys under his care. The verdict was announced on December 29, 2014, and it brought IJM’s 200th trial to a close in Guatemala.
Principal abuses his authority to assault fifth-graders
The abuse took place over several months in 2013—sometimes on campus, other times on field trips. The principal threatened the boys to keep them quiet about the heinous assaults.
At school, the principal would call the boys—between 11 and 13 years old—into his office to show them pornography and abuse them. One 12-year-old boy named Wilson* shared that the principal raped him in the elementary school office. On a class trip to a water park, the principal invited several of the boys into a sauna with him and raped a twelve-year-old boy named Javier,* threatening to do something to Javier’s family if he said anything about what had happened.
Despite the principal’s threats, one of the children mustered up the courage to tell his grandmother about the abuse. The grandmother defied cultural norms and took the complaint to the school. Her willingness to challenge this topmost authority figure ultimately exposed the truth about the principal to everyone in the tightknit community.
IJM responds to the call for help
The city’s Public Prosecutor’s office contacted IJM for assistance with the case in July 2013. The families could not afford to hire private lawyers, and the case required expert counsel.
Even though seven children came forward as witnesses and the evidence was strong, it was a battle to hold this powerful authority figure accountable for his crimes. The majority of sexual assault cases stall out before they ever really get started in Guatemala: in one IJM study, we discovered that only 3 out of every 10 cases received a full investigation. Most cases never make it to court.
IJM lawyer Juan Manuel Aquino explains that the sheer number of victims, evidence and expert testimony made this case an exceptional challenge. He worked closely with the public prosecutor to uncover the full nature of the crimes committed against each boy, then ensured the indictment was written powerfully and included all of the critical details. Juan presented the compelling case in court.
Special support for the survivors
Social workers and aftercare staff from IJM came alongside the young boys and their mothers immediately. In Guatemala, boys who suffer sexual violence are often stigmatized and carry a unique and heavy shame. IJM provided trauma-focused therapy for the boys and formed a special boys’ support group. IJM staff also spoke at their school and with their teachers to raise awareness about sexual violence and counter any stigma created by the trial.
In addition, social workers provided psychosocial services to the boys’ mothers and siblings who were affected by the abuse. The families are living in poverty, and the IJM team provided purchased school supplies, school uniforms and shoes for some of the boys who needed them.
IJM social worker Lisbeth Perez says that all seven children, including Javier and Wilson, have completed their therapy and are doing well.
The principal was found guilty on two counts of aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated sexual assault, and seven pornography-related charges.
“The conviction was a resounding victory,” says IJM Guatemala Field Office Director Brad Twedt, “Justice has been secured not only for the seven boys involved in the case, but also for all of the students in the school who were put at risk. The entire community has seen that the law can work to protect the poor—even from well-connected, high-positioned men.”