October 29, 2010
Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” —Luke 18:7
Long before the sun rose on a morning in late November of 2005, 13-year-old Laura* shouldered a tub of corn and headed down the street from her house to a mill, where the corn would be ground into meal from which Carolina, her mother, would make tortillas. The mill she usually went to was closed, but Laura knew her mother was depending on her, so she ventured out farther to another mill.
On her way back home, Laura aroused the attention of three vagos, young men who passed their days in the street drinking and using drugs. It was still early in the morning and the streets were deserted.
The young men took advantage of the solitude. All three attacked and raped Laura, then told her they were members of the feared 18th Street Gang and threatened to kill her and her family if they called the police.
Laura was emotionally destroyed. She felt she was no longer worth anything—a feeling reinforced by neighbors who insulted and taunted her for being a rape victim. She wanted to die or disappear. She wanted to quit school, sure that all her classmates would look at her funny and tease her behind her back. She blamed herself for walking farther from home instead of waiting for her customary mill to open and blamed her parents for sending her on an errand so early in the morning.
Thankfully, a neighbor told Laura’s family about a Gideon Center located in Laura’s neighborhood. Gideon Centers are part of an Association for a More Just Society-supported project that provides free or low-cost legal aid and psychological counseling to poor Hondurans. Laura began therapy with the Gideon Center psychologist, who patiently helped her to begin healing emotionally.
The Gideon psychologist also passed on information about the case to co-workers working in another Association for a More Just Society-supported project, Peace & Justice.
Acting on a hunch that this was not the first rape Laura’s attackers had committed, an AJS-supported investigator tracked down photos and police files on a dozen repeat rapists known to live in the area. Sure enough, Laura identified one of the men who had assaulted her among those in the files. This enabled the investigator to identify the first attacker’s home and help police organize an operation that led to his arrest.
To capture the second attacker, the Peace & Justice team prodded police into joining them, and Laura, in an exhaustive three-day search in which they cruised every alley and back street for miles surrounding the scene of the crime. Finally, on a Saturday afternoon, Laura let out a soft cry: just steps away from their vehicle, one of her attackers was buying cigarettes from a corner store. A police officer immediately got out of the car and arrested him.
Peace & Justice Project staff continue helping police track down the third attacker, implementing witness-protection measures to keep Laura and Carolina safe, and coordinating with government prosecutors to work for convictions and just sentences for the attackers. The Gideon Project psychologist continues to help Laura heal emotionally.
“Without [AJS’s] help, I don’t know what we would have done,” says Laura’s mother. Fear and poverty would probably have kept them from seeking help, she says.
“Laura tells me, ‘I can’t even describe what I suffered. The people who did this to me need to pay for it,’” she says.
Thankfully, because of ASJ’s help, justice will be done. And for Laura, though she will never forget, fear is gradually being replaced by hope.
In October 2007, the AJS-supported Peace & Justice Project helped police locate and arrest the third and final man who allegedly raped Laura. The men accused of violating Laura are reported to have raped up to eight other women in the same impoverished neighborhood—but of these survivors, only Laura has dared to break the silence and recount her experience repeatedly to police, prosecutors, and in court. Thanks to Laura’s bravery, and to AJS support, justice is being done not only for Laura but also for many other women in her neighborhood who were terrorized by these gang members.
Today all three rapists were unanimously declared guilty by the three-judge tribunal that oversaw their trial! Each faces 15 – 20 years in prison. Meanwhile, AJS has helped Laura relocate to a new neighborhood and enroll at a new high school—steps that have allowed her to continue her life without worrying about gossip from neighbors or threats from the perpetrators’ family members. Praise God that justice has been done for Laura, and pray that He will continue to work healing in her life.
*Name changed and photo blurred to protect individual’s privacy and security.