GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – Only seven years old, Haana* found that the most dangerous place for her was one where she should have been the safest – her own home. Her father, a violent and abusive man, began subjecting her to regular sexual assaults. Fearful and confused, Haana eventually ran away from her home to escape the abuse to live with relatives. When she was 15 years old, she returned to find that her father had not changed his abusive tendencies – instead he had redirected the psychological threats and sexual abuse to her younger sister, Ariana*.
When she was eleven years old, Ariana's father started referring to her as "his woman." He gave her a cell phone and demanded she answer whenever he called, even during school, flying into a rage if she did not respond. At age 12, Ariana became pregnant as a result of the ongoing sexual assaults and suffered a miscarriage.
Determined to put an end to the cycle of systematic degradation and humiliation that had characterized her childhood and threatened to overtake her sister, Haana bravely made the decision to report her father's abuse. With the help of the trustworthy couple who owned the small store where she had begun working, Haana filed a complaint against her father for sexually abusing her sister Ariana. The court responded quickly by removing Haana, Ariana and two more siblings from their violent home. Haana's employers willingly became her foster parents, and the other siblings were moved into a safe children's home.
IJM intervened by filing a complaint on Haana's behalf, allowing judges to take the father to trial for the abuse perpetrated against both Haana and Ariana.
Over the course of seven hearings, IJM presented a wealth of evidence to judges: psychological and medical reports, DNA results from Ariana's lost pregnancy, 16 experts, and more than 15 witnesses – including the brave sisters. Both Haana and Ariana boldly chose to testify to the abuse they had endured from their father, substantiating the solid evidence provided and even moving the defense counsel to tears.
"I thought I'd be bound to him my whole life....I can't believe it." – IJM client Haana, upon her abuser's conviction
On May 26, 2011, the sisters' father was sentenced to 124 years in prison for rape, sexual aggression and threats against both Haana and Ariana. The conviction was a landmark for IJM Guatemala – the longest sentence in an IJM case since the office opened in 2005. When Haana heard about the conviction she broke down and cried in disbelief: "I thought I'd be bound to him my whole life," she said, "I can't believe it."
IJM social workers continue to support the girls and their siblings. Haana lives with the same supportive foster family, where she works in the store and receives schooling on the weekends. She visits Ariana and two younger siblings at the children's home where they live, a place where they are free to be kids.