GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA – Late last month, a man was sentenced to nine years in prison for rape and violence, after the survivor of his assault courageously recounted the violent attack in court. The testimony was key to securing the conviction, and it highlighted Pilar's* amazing transformation.
IJM Guatemala's psychologist Miriam Cruz was with Pilar when she delivered her testimony in court. "Pilar spoke so bravely and convincingly that neither the public prosecutor nor the defense asked any questions. They told Pilar that she had said everything they needed to know" said Cruz.
Four years ago, 14-year-old Pilar was walking into her home when she heard a loud noise on the patio. Her neighbor had jumped over the back wall. Pilar turned to run inside, but the man grabbed the girl by the arm. He then pulled her inside and raped her in her own home.
Devastated by the violence, Pilar became depressed. She confided in her mother, who immediately wanted to file an official complaint. At first, Pilar refused. She was terrified. The perpetrator was a gang member and had threatened to kill Pilar if she told anyone of the abuse.
But the man continued to intimidate Pilar whenever she met him in the streets, and she and her mother decided that filing a criminal complaint was worth the risk.
The family was very poor and could not afford a lawyer, so the Public Prosecutor's office referred Pilar's case to IJM in August 2009.
"The amount of years doesn't matter to us, what is important is that they believed Pilar."
Pilar's family responded to IJM staff upon receiving news of the conviction
"She was so affected that she couldn't even speak," recalls Cruz, from her first meeting with Pilar. Cruz arranged for Pilar to start receiving intensive therapy while IJM investigators worked with police to track down and arrest perpetrator.
Pilar completed the trauma-focused therapy last year. "She was completely changed," said Cruz. "She had a different vision of the world, and she told other girls how she had overcome her fears, and worked hard in school."
Pilar's testimony was crucial in securing the conviction against the perpetrator, who was sentenced to 9 years in prison on October 27, 2011.
When Cruz called Pilar's family to tell them that the perpetrator had been sentenced to nearly a decade in prison they said, "The amount of years doesn't matter to us, what is important is that they believed Pilar."
Pilar graduated from a vocational course in computer science last year. Today she works as a secretary to help make ends meet and provide for her four siblings. Her family is hard-working and supportive of their 18-year-old daughter's dreams to someday attend university.
Pilar's value has been affirmed not just by her family and IJM – but by her country's justice system. Watch a short video with IJM's Vice President of Field Operations, Sean Litton, to learn more about why IJM holds perpetrators accountable.
*A pseudonym has been used. Real name and casework documentation on file with IJM.