IJM Guatemala Seeks Justice for Young Mother, Helps Her Find Strength

Iris, now 17 years old, holds her daughter at the zoo. IJM organized a “Day of Joy” in January 2014 for girls who are survivors of sexual violence and are receiving care from our social workers.
Iris, now 17 years old, holds her daughter at the zoo. IJM organized a “Day of Joy” in January 2014 for girls who are survivors of sexual violence and are receiving care from our social workers.

GUATEMALA CITY – When Iris* speaks about her daughter, she can’t help but smile with pride. At 17 years old, Iris is a young mother.

Her baby was born as a result of rape, but Iris refuses to let that violence define her or her daughter’s life. She says, “[My daughter] gives me the strength to go on and I have the desire to improve my life.”

Living in Fear

When Iris was 15, she moved into her father’s house. Her parents split up when she was a child, and it was the first time she was living with her dad. His home should have been a place of safety, but instead, it became one of terror.

Iris remembers the first time her father raped her—it was a Saturday evening and the rest of the family had gone to church. Her father threatened to beat her or even kill her if she told anyone what had happened. He worked as a private security guard and had a gun, and she took his threats seriously. The violent attacks continued.

Iris became pregnant as a result of the abuse, but even then she was too afraid to tell anyone. The truth was finally revealed during a weekly visit from Iris’ mother: she felt the baby kick as she hugged her daughter. Iris could not keep the secret any longer, and she told her mother everything.

Immediately, her mother took Iris to get medical help and report the horrific crime. They learned that Iris was due in less than a month.

Not Fighting Alone

The Public Prosecutor’s Office referred Iris’ case to IJM, and soon the family had the advocates they desperately needed. IJM social workers started providing critical counseling and support to Iris, her baby, and her mother.

IJM investigators helped authorities search for Iris’ father, who had fled once he learned police were looking for him. With no photographs and only a physical description provided by various family members, IJM investigators visited every place Iris’ father had previously worked. They followed every lead.

They visited more than forty gas stations when they learned he might be working at one. Just as they were running out of options, they experienced a stroke of providence: “We spoke to the manager of the last gas station in the district, but he told us nobody worked there by that name,” explained an IJM investigator, “but as we were leaving, the security guard approached us asking us to move our car.” The guard matched the description of the man they were looking for. Police returned and arrested Iris’ father.

Truth Declared

With the perpetrator in custody, the trial could begin. Iris shared the truth from the safety of the Geselle Chamber, a special room set up in the court where children can testify without having to face their perpetrator. Between her recorded testimony and the DNA evidence, the case was strong. After a two-month trial, in March 2013, her father was convicted and sentenced to 18 years and 6 months in prison.

“When I delivered the news of his conviction to Iris and her mother, they were so happy and couldn’t stop crying,” said Delmi Ramirez, Director of IJM Aftercare.

Ongoing Healing and Support

A year after that ruling, IJM continues to support Iris and her family. Iris has received psychological counseling for the trauma she endured, and IJM social workers have accompanied Iris to every appointment for her baby and made sure she has necessities like diapers.

Iris’ mother wanted a job that would allow her to live with her children, so IJM invested in the supplies she would need so that she can cook and sell traditional Guatemalan food. “Iris and her mother took advantage of every type of assistance our aftercare department could offer her,” explained Miriam Cruz, an IJM psychologist.

IJM helped Iris enroll in an accelerated elementary course where she is learning to read and write, and she hopes to one day become a nurse. The process of healing for Iris and her baby is ongoing, but they are growing up with support and love.

 

*A pseudonym.