LA PAZ, BOLIVIA – Last week, a man who was caught in the act of raping a 13-year-old girl was convicted and sentenced to 22 years in prison for his crime. It took two long years to bring him to justice, but now Ines* knows he cannot hurt her again, and what happened to her was wrong.
A Neighbor's Attack
The man was a trusted neighbor who offered Ines and her young siblings a ride home. On the way, he told Ines he needed her help with an errand and dropped the younger children off at an internet café. Then he drove Ines to an empty parking lot and raped her inside the 16-passenger van.
A car full of police happened to drive by and noticed the suspicious van in the vacant lot. The police were able to rescue Ines from the violence and arrest the man.
But in Bolivia, the justice system is so clogged and broken that victims of crime must be able to pay for a lawyer and other support if they want to see justice in their cases—impossible for Ines' impoverished family. The case was referred to IJM, where the family found the kind of support they would have never been able to afford. IJM's attorney supported the public prosecutor assigned to the case and the team's social workers ensured Ines received the therapy she needed.
The Broken System
Despite the incredibly powerful evidence—including the eye-witness testimony from a police officer who had been at the crime scene—the trial lasted two years. Shockingly, two years is actually fast for a trial in Bolivia to come to a close.
Even clear-cut cases in Bolivia often take years to come to a conclusion, because of delays caused by the defendant, jurors or even the judges and defense attorneys not showing up to court.
The morning of the final hearing in Ines' case looked like it would be one more delay like this: IJM learned that the official memo requesting the prison to bring the perpetrator to the courthouse had a typo. The perpetrator's last name was misspelled, off by one letter—and, as a result, the prison was not planning to escort the perpetrator to the courthouse—meaning that justice for Ines would be delayed again. Thankfully, one of IJM's investigators was able to persuade the prison that the spelling error was not cause to postpone the hearing.
Justice Made Possible
During the final hearing on September 23, 2013, Ines' mother spoke directly to the panel of judges that would render judgment against the man on trial for raping her daughter. She said she was seeking justice for Ines, because, simply, "she deserves justice."
Justice was done that day, and the man was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
IJM's Senior Vice President of Field Operations commended the IJM investigators, lawyers and public prosecutor who "refused to give up" and made justice possible. He added, "If our team hadn't been there to stand up for Ines, honestly, this would have been impossible. But now Ines knows that the man who hurt her can't hurt her again, and what happened to her was wrong. She knows that people love her and care for her and will fight for her."