LA PAZ, BOLIVIA – This August, after terrible abuse, a hidden pregnancy and a complicated birth, Denise* finally got the closure she longed for: Her rapist was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
A Violent Attack, A Hidden Pregnancy
When IJM first met Denise in 2010, she was eight months pregnant. Denise had just recently learned about her pregnancy—the result of a violent attack.
For months, she had dared not tell anyone about the night that her neighbor had attacked her.
But when the 13-year-old girl started putting on weight and experiencing unusual abdominal pain, her family took her to the hospital. The doctor told them that Denise was 26 weeks pregnant. After so many months of trying to keep the secret, Denise finally broke down and told her mother the horrible truth of what had happened.
The family was desperate for help. Like most of the families IJM works with in Bolivia, they are very poor and could not possibly afford to pay for a lawyer to take up the case. And without a lawyer, getting justice would be impossible. The public prosecutor who received Denise's case knew that the family needed support, so she referred them to IJM.
As IJM worked on gathering evidence that would help prove Denise's neighbor had in fact abused and impregnated her, Denise started to receive therapy from Analia, IJM Bolivia's Director of Aftercare.
When Denise gave birth to a baby boy, IJM staff members were there at the hospital with her family. Because Denise was so young, there were complications with the delivery. She still feels pain from time to time, and IJM continues to help her meet with doctors to try and alleviate some of her suffering.
The challenges have continued, but thankfully Denise is no longer walking alone. Soon after her baby was born, Denise moved out of her mother's apartment and into her grandparent's home. It was a hard decision because she loves her mother, but her mother struggles with alcoholism and wasn't able to provide a consistently safe environment for Denise and her son. Last year, Denise had also dropped out of school due to conflicts at home; after some mediation, IJM worked with Denise, her family and teachers to make sure she could finish the year.
Like most legal cases in Bolivia, the case against Denise's aggressor developed slowly, despite plenty of evidence. Denise was eager to participate in the justice process, and she attended several hearings. Her IJM social worker, Analia, and the IJM attorney were always careful to shield Denise from having to see the aggressor.
Making a Better Future
On August 7, Denise got permission to leave school to attend a hearing, which the team believed could be the last in her case. Denise chose to wait outside the courtroom with her grandmother, anxious but eager to hear the outcome.
Inside, Denise's mother sat next to the IJM attorney and public prosecutor. She was in the room to hear the man admit to raping her 13-year-old daughter. And she listened quietly as the verdict was read out for all to hear: He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The IJM attorney was one of the first out of the courtroom. She went right up to Denise and told the girl that everything was finished and she could finally move on. Denise responded and said, "I am just so glad that this is over and that this man is going to be in prison for a long time." With a gentle smile she added, "Now I can focus on my studies and on making a better life for my son."
The very next day, Denise was back in class.
Denise is in high school now, and her grandmother and aunts take turns caring for her son so she can study. Her IJM social worker, Analia, says she is amazed by Denise's strength and resilience: "Since I have been working with Denise, I have seen her laugh. I have seen her cry. But I have never seen her lose faith in a better future, a future that she wants to reach to demonstrate to her son that it is possible to keep going, even amongst the adversities that life brings."