GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA – Earlier this week, after a hearing had been cancelled and rescheduled five times, the man who abused Samanta* when she was 5 years old was sentenced to 9 years and 3 months in prison for continued sexual aggression. Her brave testimony was the final piece of evidence that solidified the case – and the justice secured was an important step in her family's restoration.
Samanta delivered her testimony in the Gesell Chamber, a special interview room set up in the court so young children can share about the abuse in a more comfortable environment – and to ensure they only have to give testimony once. As a camera recorded, Samanta answered questions from a psychologist, who received the questions through an ear bud from the judge and lawyers standing on the other side of a two-way mirror.
During the questions following her testimony, "the Defense tried to confuse her," explained IJM Guatemala lawyer Rudy Fuentes, who watched as now-7-year-old Samanta testified against her abuser. Despite the defense's efforts, Samanta told exactly what had happened to her.
Two years ago, 5-year-old Samanta's mother and grandparents discovered that Samanta´s 22-year-old cousin had been abusing the small girl. The family filed a criminal complaint, and the Public Ministry referred Samanta's family to IJM. Samanta has been receiving therapy from IJM social workers as the lawyers developed the strong case against the perpetrator.
IJM will continue to support Samanta and her family.
MORE BREAKING NEWS FROM GUATEMALA: The following day, in the same child-friendly room in the court where 7-year-old Samanta had shared details of sexual abuse, another one of IJM's clients, Elany*, testified. The perpetrator admitted to sexually abusing the Elany and was sentenced to 17 years in prison for continuous aggravated rape.
Elany is 12 years old, and just like Samanta, her brave testimony was key to securing justice.
Elany is 12 years old, and just like Samanta, her brave testimony was key to securing justice. A judge and three lawyers watched and listened on the opposite side of a two-way mirror as a psychologist asked the girl questions. IJM staff and a psychologist at the children's home where she now lives had helped Elany prepare emotionally for this moment, but the staff was not sure if she would be able to share much detail, knowing how difficult this can be.
Elany answered questions and the details of abuse emerged. An IJM lawyer who was present in the court was proud of Elany who she said, "spoke simply, clearly and spontaneously. She told us everything we needed to know."
Another surprising twist came when the suspect was permitted to testify. "He suddenly admitted his guilt," said the IJM lawyer. "We were all shocked. No one has pleaded guilty in a single one of my previous cases." In addition to the two testimonies, medical evidence and a DNA test corroborated the perpetrator's guilt. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison for continuous aggravated rape.
Elany will receive therapy and support from the children's home where she lives with her siblings.
*A pseudonym has been used. Real name and casework documentation on file with IJM.