GUATEMALA CITY – This week, three men were convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison for raping Stella*, a 14-year-old Guatemalan girl.
Stella was in a convenience store buying medicine for her headache when three men started heckling her. She left the store, but the men followed her. Stella was beginning to panic when they grabbed her and brought her to an abandoned house. There, she was held at gunpoint and raped by each of the men.
One of the men was the father of a little boy who Stella sometimes helped care for. All of the men are known to be part of a gang. They threatened Stella to stay silent about the abuse.
The men's threats did not silence her: She ran as fast as she could back to her home and told her mother everything that had happened. That same night, her family took Stella to the Public Ministry to report the abuse.
In June 2011, Doctors Without Borders referred her case to IJM Guatemala. IJM social workers started meeting with Stella and her family, providing counseling and even helping them find a new house so they could move out of the dangerous neighborhood. At the same time, IJM investigators helped Guatemalan national police locate and arrest the dangerous men who had attacked her.
Together, the family supported Stella's decision to testify in court against the violent men. "Her parents have been very supportive, and this is very important for her," says IJM Guatemala's Director of Aftercare, Delmi Ramirez.
IJM lawyer Mabel Gutiérrez helped Stella prepare for the trial, explaining the legal procedures and encouraging her to simply speak the truth. Testifying would require bravery. The perpetrators would be in the room when she spoke, separated only by a thin screen. But Stella demonstrated immense courage. "She's still only a child, but she testified well," remembers Mabel with great admiration.
On April 30, 2012, the court declared the three men were guilty of aggravated rape.
Stella is in school, and she continues to receive therapy from an IJM psychologist.
*A pseudonym has been used for the protection of this IJM client.