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Strong Sentencing for Bolivian Uncle Indicates Crackdown on Family Abuse

After two years of relentless effort by the IJM team, a Bolivian man has been sentenced to 22.5 years for abusing his 7-year-old niece. Throughout the legal process, the family faced multiple roadblocks, including threats to their safety and an uphill battle in the Bolivian justice system. However, they and the team were determined to seek justice for Irene*.

Abuse Within the Family

The uncle’s abusive acts were first discovered by Irene’s brother, 12-year-old Federico* who reported what he saw to his mother.

The shock was so great that she fainted.

Although Federico and his mother did not know it then, this was the fifth time that Antonio* had raped Irene.

Irene’s story is consistent with sexual abuse statistics both in Bolivia and globally: most perpetrators are family members or friends—people trusted by the survivors. According to some reports, the figure is as high as 80 to 90 percent. The existing relationship between perpetrator and survivor is a reason many instances of child sexual abuse are “forgotten,” endured in silence. Tens of thousands of cases are never reported, leading to a situation of impunity.

“If Federico hadn’t said anything, I wouldn’t have told anyone,” admitted Irene. “I was scared.”

The Truth was Clear, but the Way Forward was Not

Since Irene and Federico’s father had been killed a few months earlier in a road accident, the mother was on her own. She was afraid of her violent brother-in-law and of the potential consequences of reporting the crime. But she said she knew she had to defend her daughter.

She called the police and help came swiftly. The officers arrested Antonio and he was refused bail. That was the easy part of the legal process, which later proved to be an uphill battle.

Irene’s mother contracted a lawyer to help her through Bolivia’s complex legal system. Things seemed to be going well. But she soon realized what so many people living in poverty around the world come to know: If you don’t have money, you can’t afford justice. She was expected to pay her lawyer for every appointment, every document, every hearing, in what would be a grueling criminal process. The fees stacked up quickly, and the single mother of three simply couldn’t make ends meet.

It was then she was referred to IJM. IJM lawyers and paralegals worked tirelessly with police and public prosecutors to build the case. They arranged witnesses, forensics and other evidence. When Federico decided to testify, they helped him prepare to share the truth. Slowly but surely, they pushed the case forwards through Bolivia’s congested criminal justice system.

Meanwhile, Irene and her family hit another roadblock: they began to receive threats from Antonio’s family who insisted they drop the case. For their safety, Irene, Federico, their little sister and their mother were forced to move out of their own house.

Many survivors’ families buckle under such pressure from perpetrators, but Irene’s didn’t back down. The IJM team was just as committed to keeping the family safe and making sure they did not have to live in fear forever. “We were going to fight until the end,” said IJM lawyer, Daniela Nieto.

A Two-Year Battle Finally Ends

Two years later, this determination paid off. On May 21, Antonio was sentenced to twenty-two and a half years in jail for raping Irene.

Irene, now 10, is on the road to restoration. She has commenced therapy with IJM’s team of social workers, and she is learning to play guitar. The family is now back in their own home.

Irene’s social worker, Analía Velásquez, says, “Despite everything that happened, she still has the desire to move on with her life. When she grows up she wants to be a teacher and look after her mum.”

*Pseudonyms

Help IJM rescue other vulnerable children from violence. To learn more, meet Clarisa*.


(Español)

Una Fuerte Sentencia Encontra De Un Tío En Bolivia Indica Respuesta Fuerte Contra el Abuso Familiar

Después de dos años de esfuerzos incesantes por parte del equipo de IJM, un hombre boliviano ha sido sentenciado a 22.5 años por abusar de su sobrina de 7 años. A lo largo del proceso legal, la familia se enfrentó a múltiples obstáculos, incluyendo amenazas a su seguridad y una batalla cuesta arriba en el sistema de justicia boliviano. Sin embargo, ellos y el equipo estaban dedicados a buscar justicia para Irene.*

Abuso dentro de la familia

Los actos abusivos del tío fueron descubiertos por el hermano de Irene*, Federico*, de 12 años, quien informó a su madre lo que vio a .

La sorpresa fue tan grande para la progenitora que se desmayó.

Aunque Federico y su madre no lo sabían, esta era la quinta vez que Antonio* había violado a Irene.

La historia de Irene es consistente con las estadísticas de abuso sexual tanto en Bolivia como a nivel mundial: la mayoría de los perpetradores son familiares o amigos, personas en quienes confían las víctimas. Según algunos informes, la cifra es tan alta como 80 a 90 por ciento. La relación existente entre el perpetrador y la víctima es una razón por la que muchos casos de violencia sexual infantil se "olvidan" y se soportan en silencio. Decenas de miles de casos nunca son denunciados, lo que lleva a una situación de impunidad.

"Si Federico no hubiera dicho nada, no le hubiera contado a nadie", admitió Irene, "estaba asustada."

La verdad era clara, pero el camino a seguir no lo era.

Como el padre de Irene y Federico había muerto unos meses antes en un accidente de tránsito, la madre estaba sola. Tenía miedo de su cuñado violento y de las posibles consecuencias de denunciar el crimen. Pero ella dijo que sabía que tenía que defender a su hija.

Llamó a la policía y la ayuda llegó rápidamente. Los oficiales arrestaron a Antonio y el Juez le dio detención preventiva en un centro penitenciario. Esa fue la parte fácil del proceso legal, que luego resultó ser una batalla cuesta arriba.

La madre de Irene contrató a un abogado para ayudarla a través del complejo sistema legal de Bolivia. Las cosas parecían ir bien. Pero pronto se dio cuenta de lo que tantas personas que viven en la pobreza en todo el mundo llegan a saber: si no tienes dinero, no puedes pagar la justicia. Se esperaba que pagara a su abogado por cada cita, cada documento, cada audiencia, en lo que sería un proceso penal agotador. Las tarifas se acumularon rápidamente, y la madre soltera de tres hijos simplemente no podía llegar a fin de mes.

Fue entonces cuando fue referida a IJM. Los abogados y procuradores de IJM trabajaron incansablemente con la policía y los fiscales para construir el caso. Organizaron el tesimonio de testigos, análisis forenses y otras pruebas. Cuando Federico decidió testificar, lo ayudaron a prepararse para compartir la verdad. Poco a poco, empujaron el caso hacia adelante a través del congestionado sistema de justicia penal de Bolivia.

Mientras tanto, Irene y su familia se encontraron con otro obstáculo: comenzaron a recibir amenazas de la familia de Antonio que insistieron en que abandonaran el caso. Para su seguridad, Irene, Federico, su hermana menor y su madre se vieron obligados a mudarse de su propia casa.

Muchas familias de sobrevivientes ceden bajo tanta presión de los perpetradores, pero Irene no retrocedió. El equipo de IJM estaba tan comprometido con mantener a la familia segura y asegurarse de que no tuvieran que vivir con miedo para siempre. "Vamos a luchar hasta el final", dijo la abogada de IJM, Daniela Nieto.

 Una batalla de dos años finalmente termina

Dos años después, esta determinación valió la pena. El 21 de mayo, Antonio fue sentenciado a veintidós años y medio de cárcel por violar a Irene.

Irene, ahora de 10 años, está en el camino de la restauración. Ella comenzó la terapia con el equipo de trabajadores sociales de IJM y está aprendiendo a tocar la guitarra. La familia ahora está de vuelta en su propia casa.

La trabajadora social de Irene, Analía Velásquez, dice: "A pesar de todo lo que sucedió, todavía tiene el deseo de seguir adelante con su vida. Cuando crezca, quiere ser maestra y cuidar de su madre".

 * Pseudónimos


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