IJM Guatemala Celebrates Justice For Youngest Client

IJM social workers have provided trauma-focused therapy for Norma, who was only 3 years old at the time she was sexually assaulted.
IJM social workers have provided trauma-focused therapy for Norma, who was only 3 years old at the time she was sexually assaulted.

GUATEMALA CITY – This summer, a Guatemalan man was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for sexually abusing a 3-year-old girl. Norma* is one of IJM's youngest clients ever.

A year earlier, Norma's mother had noticed that something was different with her 3-year-old daughter, Norma – the little girl's behavior was changing. Her daughter has epilepsy and does not speak yet; though her mother sensed something was wrong, Norma could not communicate what. But Norma's mother's suspicions turned to fear when she changed her daughter's clothing one day and saw signs that indicated to her that her child had been abused. She took Norma to a doctor, who confirmed her worst fears: her little girl had been sexually assaulted.

Norma's mother went straight to the Guatemalan Public Ministry. The government agency contacted IJM for assistance, and police started an investigation, which determined that Norma's great uncle, with whom she and her mother shared a house, was the assailant. During the investigation, police confiscated a computer from their house. Later in the trial, lawyers would prove that the man had used it to view child pornography.

In April 2012, a trial began. One of IJM Guatemala's lawyers represented Norma. The evidence was solid, but there were still obstacles in the trial. Norma communicates mostly through signs and gestures. The child's testimony in court would have strengthened the case, but IJM staff believed Norma was too young to testify. A doctor's note confirmed their opinion and excused her from having to testify, and the trial moved forward. Without her daughter's testimony, Norma's mother helped the lawyers and judge understand what had happened.

Despite the challenges, Norma's great-uncle was convicted on June 14, 2012. Because Norma is so young, the judge doubled the regular sentence; the perpetrator will spend twenty years in prison. He was also fined and ordered to pay Norma $40,000.

"I am very grateful to God that there was a conviction in this case," said Delmi Ramírez, IJM Guatemala's Director of Aftercare, "because there were many obstacles in the process." Now four years old, Norma is living with her mother, who is working regularly to provide for her daughter. Delmi and other IJM staff will continue to support the little girl and her mother so that Norma can grow up with a strong future.


*A pseudonym has been used and images have been obscured for the protection of this IJM client. 

Conviction, Field Office, Latin America