October 29, 2015
Fifteen-year-old Ana* suffered in silence for nearly four years while an errand boy at her elementary school named Wilmer sexually abused her. Wilmer, in his early twenties, was an acquaintance of Ana’s mother Linda, and he walked her to and from school each day. Sadly, instead of bringing her safely from school to home, he often brought her to his house where he forced her to take her clothes off and touched her. Ana was terrified to tell her mother, Linda, about the abuse because Wilmer threatened her with violence, even making threatening signals to her during the school day. The abuse took an emotional toll on Ana; she did poorly in school and refused to take baths or do other things “that little girls like to do”, according to Linda.
One day, when Wilmer was briefly arrested for another charge, Ana finally got the courage to confess the abuse to Linda. Linda too, was afraid to bring charges, because Ana’s abuser sent gang members to threaten her against telling the police. As Linda notes “Everyone is afraid to denounce crime because they are afraid that they will do something to their families.”
Finally, though, Linda had had enough, and she went to an Association for a More Just Society (AJS) -supported Gideon counseling center in her neighborhood to ask for advice. When the Gideon psychologist heard her story she asked colleagues working with the AJS-supported Rescue project to take over the case. The Rescue project bridges the gap of trust between the Honduran judicial system and sexual abuse survivors by seeking out trustworthy justice officials and taking measures to protect the survivor with psychological counseling and a protected witness program.
With the help of the Rescue lawyer and investigator, Linda and Ana pressed charges the same day they came to the Gideon Center. During the investigation, the Rescue team discovered that Ana’s aggressor had abused three other young girls at the school as well, and took on their cases. With the help of the Rescue team, the justice system worked for all four young survivors; in April 2010, a year after the Rescue project started with the cases, Wilmer was found guilty on all counts and will be behind bars for 30 years. Linda is very grateful for the legal and psychological support provided by AJS saying “If AJS hadn’t helped us, the case would still be in the Public Prosecutor’s Office. They help the process move along.”
Ana’s healing process took another large step when she, and 24 other survivors of sexual abuse, including the three other survivors of Wilmer’s abuse, participated in the first Rescue graduation in July. The graduates have completed the legal processes in their cases, and have also completed a two-year psychological counseling process with the Rescue psychologist. Rescue lawyer Ludim Ayala mentions that “All of the legal cases ended with condemnatory sentences, from 7 years to 30 years, and Rescue psychologist Ada Doblado adds, “All of these children are champions; they show us that we can overcome the problems in our lives.” Linda is a witness to the changes in Ana; she now likes to “dress-up like normal teenage girls” and will continue her high school studies soon.
The graduation which was called “Celebration of the Bravery of our Children” was aimed at rewarding the strength and bravery that the children showed during their two-year healing process. The Rescue team gave each child a diploma as a symbol of their achievement, in the presence of their family members and collaborators from the Honduran police which works closely with the Rescue project.
As Ludim notes, “For the members of the Rescue team and AJS in general, this is a very important achievement because it confirms that God has done justice for these families”.
Alexis Castillo, coordinator of the Rescue project addressed the survivors and their families at the graduation saying that the process “has not finished; we have made a commitment to be collaborators with the system…so that other boys and girls benefit from justice…We will not remain silent”. This commitment from the Rescue team to make the system work for some of the most vulnerable members of Honduran society has achieved justice for 24 Honduran children who now are new collaborators with the Rescue team and Honduran justice system, promising to “not remain silent” in the face of abuse.
*Names changed to protect beneficiaries’ safety and privacy.