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IJM Bolivia Secures its 150th Conviction

On 17 June, a Bolivian court sentenced a sexual aggressor to 25 years in prison after declaring him guilty for raping two young girls, who were just 11 and 13 when police learned of the abuse.

This strong sentence brought an end to a challenging case IJM Bolivia had been supporting for over three years, and marked the 150th case our team has supported since starting our work to protect children from sexual violence in the country.

Back in August 2016, the two girls had met up in a local public plaza to work on a school project. This man—who was a family friend and former tenant in one of the girl’s houses—came across the girls and invited them to see a movie. Instead, he took them to his house, offered them a drink, and began taking photos of them. Unbeknownst to both girls, he had drugged them and they both quickly lost consciousness. Then, the aggressor raped them both.

Later that day, one girl's mother (pictured above) found her daughter's friend crying near her house. The girl was still in shock but, with tears in her eyes, she told the truth about the horrible rape they had suffered that morning. This mother immediately called the other parents to inform them of the inconceivable violence their children had endured at the hands of someone they knew. Both families then went to local authorities to file a formal complaint.

During her police testimony, the 13-year-old survivor revealed this wasn't the first time this aggressor had abused them. He had actually sexually abused both of them years before when he was renting a room at one of their homes. He also took sensitive photos of them and threatened to publish the pictures if they didn’t keep the abuse a secret.

Local authorities referred the case to IJM for assistance, and our team immediately began providing legal representation in court and months of therapy for the survivors and their parents to heal from trauma.

We were especially encouraged by the police investigator assigned to this case, who was committed to achieving justice for these two survivors. In the first crime scene inspection, officials found the suspect's camera but no memory card—which they believe he may have hidden to withhold evidence. However, this police investigator persisted in his search for the next three months, finally finding the card hidden in a drawer in the suspect's home. The card contained several sensitive photographs of the victims and thus provided strong evidence in the trial.

As the case moved through court, the survivors and their families faced many frustrating challenges in securing justice, particularly when many hearings were suspended over and over. When hearings have to be rescheduled, parents often have to miss another day of work and can lose their pay, survivors miss school and can get behind in their studies, and many families lose the overall morale to continue pursuing justice and finally stop attending court.

Even as they arrived at court for the final hearing on 17 June, the parents weren't expecting to see the case proceed—let alone achieve a conviction. This time, however, all of the necessary parties were present and the case proceeded on schedule. The judge finished reviewing all evidence and declared a 25-year sentence, and the aggressor was sent to prison immediately.

It was a thrilling end to a long and emotional trial, and a powerful reminder to these two young girls that they—like all children in Bolivia—deserve to be safe.

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