GUATEMALA CITY – Before heading to court this March, the odds seemed to be stacked against 11-year-old Cassandra*: Two trials of the man accused of sexually abusing her had been postponed, key witnesses had failed to comply, and five years had passed since the abuse took place. But after months of IJM advocacy on her behalf, justice was granted with the sentencing of her perpetrator to 12 years in prison for sexual abuse.
Cassandra had been sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend beginning at age six. When she made the brave decision to tell her mother about the abuse, her mother didn’t believe her. When her mother eventually questioned the perpetrator – who lived with the family – about the abuse, he physically assaulted her, and Cassandra’s mother did not pursue the issue.
Fortunately, in 2005, one of Cassandra’s teachers filed a police report about the abuse and, upon investigation, Cassandra was placed into a loving children’s home. Although an arrest warrant was issued for her perpetrator, no arrests were made. Though Cassandra’s mother would occasionally visit her daughter, she was unwilling to cooperate with authorities in order to reclaim Cassandra. Her mother continued to live with the abusive perpetrator – it seemed that Cassandra had no ally.
Though Cassandra was safe at the children’s home, the case against her abuser continued to stagnate for several years until International Justice Mission received it in 2008 after referral from the Public Ministry. IJM’s investigation team immediately began searching for the perpetrator, who had evaded justice for years. Within four months, he was arrested and awaiting trial behind bars.
But even after the arrest, the case seemed doomed to failure when key witnesses were not willing to testify at court. As trial day finally rolled around, the legal team was amazed when every witness came to testify: the teacher, the doctor, the director of the children’s home, and, most importantly, Cassandra’s mother. Cassandra herself courageously took the stand and was cross examined by the defense attorney.
After the clear presentation of evidence, the judge granted justice as he sentenced Cassandra’s perpetrator to twelve years in prison. Finally, Cassandra has a voice. IJM aftercare staff will continue to work with her and her family to ensure she is equipped with the support she needs to heal.