GUATEMALA CITY – Almita* and her mother came to IJM's office to visit with Delmi Ramirez, IJM Guatemala's Director of Aftercare.
Delmi had news to share: After a month-long trial – a relatively fast trial in Guatemala – Almita's uncle had been convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison for aggravated rape. Delmi has been walking with Almita and her family since IJM received her case last year. She has helped Almita get therapy and begin to process the abuse she endured. Delmi has also helped address other practical needs, like getting Almita medicine since she suffers from epileptic-like seizures.
Devastating Abuse Divides A Family
Almita, now 14, says that her uncle started abusing her when she was just 7 or 8 years old. After he sexually assaulted her, he would hit her and threaten her not to tell anyone what was happening. When her parents finally found out about the years of hidden abuse, perpetrated by a close family member, they were devastated. And they wanted justice for their daughter.
But getting justice would not be easy. They could not afford a lawyer. Further, they faced disbelief and even pressure from Almita's father's side of the family to drop the charges altogether. As Delmi explains, "They are a poor family, and the family was very divided by the abuse."
In Guatemala, it is common for judges to divide a trial into multiple hearings, with days passing between each date. The more hearings there are, the more chances there are that witnesses or overbooked lawyers simply won’t show up, delaying the trial.
The Public Ministry referred the case to IJM, and suddenly the fragile family was not alone. IJM's lawyers collected evidence and got expert witnesses to testify about the effects of the abuse – physical and psychological. When Almita decided to give her personal testimony, Delmi and others helped her prepare to share the truth. Almita spoke clearly and candidly about the abuse, from the safety of the Gesell Chamber – a separate room set up in the court so children can answer questions from a psychologist without having to face the suspect.
The judge decided to consider all of the evidence at once, a somewhat rare but commendable decision that meant the trial would conclude quickly. In Guatemala, it is common for judges to divide a trial into multiple hearings, with days passing between each date. The more hearings there are, the more chances there are that witnesses or overbooked lawyers simply won't show up, delaying the trial.
Justice Is Possible
The trial concluded within a month. On October 23, 2012, the judge delivered the verdict and convicted the 59-year-old man for raping his niece.
The conviction sends an important message to Almita – and her entire family. The just ruling sheds light on Almita's innocence, and it illuminates the possibility for justice within her community. Delmi said that when she went to tell Almita's family about the conviction, her mother said "that without IJM, justice would not have been possible."
Almita will keep attending therapy, and IJM will keep supporting her family. But because Almita has the medicine she needs, she is attending school regularly again. She loves to study, and Almita says she wants to be a lawyer when she grows up. But first, she's looking forward to her quinceanera birthday celebration next month.
*A pseudonym has been used and images have been obscured for the protection of this IJM client.