LA PAZ, BOLIVIA – Micaela* has endured more suffering in her 18 years than most will experience in a lifetime. Half her young life has been marred by a neighbor who repeatedly assaulted her and forced her to have two abortions. This month, that man was finally found guilty and sentenced to prison.
Secret Abuse, Hidden Pain
Micaela grew up in the chilly mountainside town of El Alto. Home was not a stable place, and Micaela was often left alone during the day while her parents struggled to provide for the family. When Micaela was only 6 years old, the neighbors' son, Ricardo,* took advantage of the vulnerable girl. He forced her into his tiny bedroom and raped her.
It was the beginning of a nightmare that would last nine awful years.
Micaela never knew when Ricardo would show up. She lived in constant fear. He sometimes waited for her outside her school, sometimes even inside her home. Twice, she became pregnant from the abuse. Twice, he forced her to get an abortion.
No one around her could tell that Micaela was crumbling inside. Ricardo intimidated her after every attack and threatened to harm her friends if she ever told. When she turned 14, she became pregnant a third time. When Ricardo found out, he demanded another abortion.
Terrified, Micaela fled. She did not want to undergo another abortion, and she figured she was safer out on her own.
No Longer Alone
After a few nights sleeping in public plazas, Micaela hired herself out as a maid. After several weeks in hiding, Micaela decided to call tell her mother and tell her the truth. Together, they went to the police station to file a complaint.
The police arrested Ricardo and charged him with rape, but they knew Micaela would need specialized care and a good lawyer. The impoverished family had no chance of affording either. The police department had worked with IJM Bolivia in the past, and they put Micaela's mother in touch with IJM.
Micaela was no longer alone. IJM lawyers started building a strong legal case, and social workers started providing trauma-focused therapy to Micaela. When her son was born, IJM staff were there to celebrate and bring gifts and supplies she needed to care for her newborn.
There was plenty of evidence against Ricardo, including DNA evidence, but the trial dragged on. It took a year and a half for the first hearing to actually take place. At another point, the prosecutor missed a deadline and the entire trial was nearly restarted.
As the trial proceeded slowly but surely, Micaela and her son grew close to the IJM staff supporting them. Through therapy, Micaela started to understand that what had happened to her was wrong—and it was not the thing that defined her.
Then in August 2011, another tragedy struck. Micaela's one-year-old son became gravely ill. Quite suddenly, he passed away. Micaela was devastated. But even as she mourned the loss of her son, she kept persevering. She told IJM: "I keep fighting to move forward and study...I don't give up easily."
Closure Brings A New Beginning
On August 21, 2013, the final hearing took place. It was almost two years to the day since Micaela's son had passed away.
After a three-year trial, Ricardo was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison. In addition to being found guilty for raping a minor, he was convicted for forced abortion. It is the first time in IJM Bolivia's history that a perpetrator has been convicted for this crime.
Micaela, now 18, and her mother met up with IJM staff for lunch to discuss the verdict and celebrate the end of a very difficult season. Through tears, Micaela's mother thanked IJM for being trustworthy and said, "Before I didn't have any support," adding, "I am glad that Micaela is finished with all of this trouble; she has had many problems in the past. She is my joy."
Micaela is in her final year of high school, and she is on track to graduate in December. She continues to meet with her social worker Analia, who says: "After having experienced so many difficult things I see that Micaela still has hope for the future, with much desire and strength to keep fighting. Even though there is still a lot of pain in her heart, she is capable and able to feel love for herself and for others."