Churches in Guatemala are uniting to stop child sexual assault, and their first lady wants to help. This week, IJM and partner organizations will begin training Guatemalan church leaders to mobilize their communities against sexual violence, part of a nationwide prevention and intervention program that has been endorsed by Guatemala’s first lady.
The program is a project of the Christian Movement Against Sexual Violence Against Children—known better by its Spanish acronym, MOCVIN—a coalition of organizations led by IJM and other international NGOs.
The campaign, launched earlier this month, is an important step in the fight to curb sexual violence in a country where it has become epidemic. An estimated 40,000 children or more suffer sexual violence each year in Guatemala, while only a fraction of those crimes are reported to police.
“It is sad and deplorable the quantity of little ones who have been abused,” First Lady Patricia Morales told a crowd of more than 200 at a church just outside Guatemala City during a kickoff event on May 3. “We should have a heart and spirit of service…we must fight against this evil, and for that we need your help.”
At the heart of the prevention campaign are 5,000 educational toolkits being distributed through churches and NGO networks throughout the country. The kits are designed to raise awareness about children’s rights and the illegality of sexual abuse, while equipping ordinary Guatemalans to recognize signs of abuse and offer victims appropriate forms of help. The booklets also include guides for group discussion and for mobilizing local advocacy events.
More than 200 church leaders signed up to participate in training that begins this week on how to effectively use the toolkits. The idea for the campaign was born two years ago in response to churches reporting large numbers of abuse victims coming forward and seeking pastors’ help. Nearly half the cost of the toolkits is being paid for not by foreign NGOs, but by a Guatemalan church.
IJM has rescued and restored hundreds of victims of sexual violence in Guatemala in collaboration with local authorities, said IJM Guatemala Field Office Director Brad Twedt.
“But those who need rescue, protection and restoration total in the thousands, not just hundreds,” Twedt said. “Who will help them? I’m sure there is someone who can sufficiently respond: the church.”
IJM works in Guatemala to improve how police, prosecutors and the entire justice system respond to child sexual assault. For more than a decade, IJM has also worked with local authorities to investigate and prosecute individual cases of child sexual assault and help restore survivors.