LA PAZ, BOLIVIA – Belen's* mother sat quietly on the wooden bench. She stood out against the drab courtroom in her brightly colored shawl and heavy skirt – traditional clothing for an indigenous woman in Bolivia. She had been waiting for this moment for three years, since that day when she received a call urging her to come quickly to her daughter's school.
Three years ago, 13-year-old Belen was assaulted by her physical education teacher. He had instructed Belen to go into a small room used for measuring students' height and weight, then covered her eyes and sexually abused her.
As soon as she learned the awful truth, Belen's mother took her to a forensic medical examiner. Then she scraped together what little money the family had and hired a lawyer, determined to get justice for her daughter and make sure the man could not hurt her – or any other students – again. For nearly two years, the lawyer helped move the case forward through the over-crowded system. The teacher was eventually arrested and incarcerated, but then later freed under a legal technicality. As the case dragged on, Belen's family was simply unable to keep up with the lawyer's fees.
A partner organization contacted IJM when they learned that Belen's case had been assigned to a public prosecutor, concerned that it would fall through the cracks. As an IJM lawyer started digging into the evidence, the aftercare team started providing counseling for Belen and support for her family. Carina, one of the IJM social workers, helped Belen prepare to share the truth in court.
On April 19, 2013, in a nearly empty courtroom, the judge made the ruling: the teacher was convicted and given a standard sentence of eight years in prison. Belen's mother started to cry. She said she was going straight home to tell Belen the news she could hardly believe herself. After three long years of waiting, justice had finally been done.
"It didn't matter to me how many years they gave him," Belen's mother said, adding, "I just wanted them to recognize that he was guilty."
*A pseudonym has been used for the protection of this IJM client.