LA PAZ, BOLIVIA – A year after a man broke into his neighbors' home and sexually assaulted 6-year-old Vivi* and her 8-year-old sister, Mery*, he pled guilty and confessed to the violent crime. He was sentenced to a decade in prison in a plea bargain settled on March 7, 2014.
Seeking Justice for Vivi and Mery
During that final hearing, the public prosecutor retold the traumatic story of what had happened to Vivi and Mery last February while their mother was away at work: A neighbor broke in through their bedroom window, pulled them out from underneath the bed where they were hiding, and was starting to assault them when the doorbell rang. The man fled, but then came back—this time unclothed—and sexually assaulted both girls.
Their mother reported the horrific abuse right away, and a government agency had reported her to IJM for legal guidance. It was clear that the evidence against the neighbor was quite strong, and the man's defense counsel asked for a plea bargain. The family accepted; the plea bargain would cut years off a lengthy trial, and they were eager to see justice done for Vivi and Mery.
The justice system is so slow-moving, that a man who sexually assaults a child in Bolivia is more likely to die slipping in the shower than to go to jail for the crime.
Persevering Through Trials
IJM Bolivia lawyer Vanessa Saravia worked closely with the public prosecutor assigned to the case. Vivi and Mery's mother was extremely dedicated and eager to attend the hearings—even when it meant traveling a far distance. The family has moved a couple times over the past year to find jobs that allow one parent to be home with the girls when they are not in school.
The public prosecutor and the perpetrator's defense attorney finalized the plea bargain last year; the final step was simply having it read aloud before a judge and having the perpetrator verbally confess the crime. That final hearing had already been postponed twice, and the judge indicated she was going to suspend the March 7 hearing as well.
But thanks to strong arguments articulated by the public prosecutor, she agreed to conduct the hearing as planned. That afternoon, she issued the ten-year sentence.
A Hard-Won Fight
Vivi and Mery's mother was very emotional throughout the trial, especially when the public prosecutor re-told the detailed account of abuse. Vanessa was the first to embrace the mother and remind her that this would be the last time she had to relive the abuse. Justice was done.
"The strong advocacy from both the public prosecutor and our senior attorney [Vanessa Saravia] was inspiring to watch," said IJM Bolivia Field Office Director Greg Tarrant, who was present for the final hearing. He added, "They fought tenaciously so that this family could end the legal process today and take an important step forward in their recovery."