October 29, 2015
Fifteen-year-old Stephanie* cried in her small, dark room in Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa. She was only eight hours away from her small town, but it seemed much farther. Stephanie had left her home a few months earlier after an acquaintance promised her a good job as a maid in her home. Stephanie had some developmental disabilities and never went to school, so she thought this job would be a great opportunity to help support her parents and six siblings.
But, what really awaited Stephanie was hard physical labor from sunup to sundown, sexual abuse by her “boss,” and no paycheck.
Stephanie felt trapped, until one day a kind neighbor, who was suspicious about how Stephanie was being treated, helped her to escape from the house and took her to a children’s home.
That’s when AJS got a call. The home’s staff knew that AJS lawyers, investigators, and psychologists worked with authorities on particularly difficult cases of sexual abuse and trafficking, especially when survivors can’t pay for a lawyer themselves.
Soon, an AJS psychologist, Ada, visited Stephanie in the children’s home, and when Stephanie was ready, Ada introduced an AJS lawyer, Cristian.
Together with the team’s investigator, Joel, and the police detective assigned to the case, they put together enough evidence to get an arrest warrant issued.
The arrest of the woman who had brought Stephanie to Tegucigalpa was relatively easy, but her husband, who had sexually abused Stephanie, quickly went into hiding. Joel had to work overtime on stakeouts to finally catch the suspect on a busy street in Tegucigalpa.
Once he was arrested, it was Cristian’s turn to build up the case for the sexual abuse trial in May 2014. During the trial, the suspect pled guilty and was sentenced, much to the relief of Stephanie and her family. The trial for the woman charged with trafficking is scheduled for later this year.
In the meantime, Stephanie is back with her family, and, according to Ada, “She is doing great! And she is so happy to be back with her family.”
Ada added with a smile that Stephanie’s family has become advocates in their community to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. Stephanie’s dad told Ada, “Our neighbor’s daughter was invited to go to Tegucigalpa for a maid’s job. I told her to be really careful — that things often don’t work out as you think. And you know what? In the end, she didn’t go!”
When Stephanie was crying in her room, she never thought she would see justice. But thanks to her bravery and AJS’s support, traffickers and abusers received a clear message: vulnerable people will not remain silent!
*Name changed and photo blurred to protect the individual’s privacy and security