SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR – On March 1, after eleven months of hearings and against all odds the Salvadoran Association for Rural Health (ASAPROSAR), IJM’s implementing partner, achieved its first conviction. The court ruled in favour of two young sisters and sentenced the aggressor to 26 years for the crime of sexual assault - the maximum sentence possible by local laws.
Nancy* and Liseth* live with their mother and stepfather in a community subject to such extreme levels of violence that even the police typically can’t enter. “[They] should have lived safely at home, but they didn’t. They lived with a person who was hurting them; the man their mother trusted to build a life with, to be a family, to be a father for her children despite no blood relations Instead, he took advantage of the trust he had gained and sexually assaulted them multiple times,” said Roxana Salazar, ASAPROSAR’s Project Coordinator. Nancy and Liseth were only 9 and 14 years old at the time the abuse started.
Once their mother discovered the abuse she went against the cultural norms of their community and with ASAPROSAR support filed a formal complaint and begin the hard journey of seeking justice. The case was taken by investigators from the National Civil Police (PNC, for its acronym in Spanish) who received mentorship from IJM El Salvador’s rule of law experts as part of an interinstitutional security roundtable created to support them with complex cases.
Added to the stress of countless hearings and the personal and collective trauma lived by the family, was the lack of community support as their neighbours blamed Nancy and Liseth for what had happened and called them liars.
Despite the high rates of court backlog due to, among other things, the pandemic closure of courts. ASAPROSAR and IJM stood by Nancy, Liseth, and their mother since their very first interaction with the justice system until a decision was made in court. After nearly a year of investigation and court hearings, the perpetrator was declared guilty.
“I can’t even believe it. I have never thought that I will find people who believe us. Everybody in the neighbourhood was blaming my children. Justice has been done and now we will walk the streets fearless. May God bless you all. I know He placed you all on my way,” declared Nancy and Liseth’s mother after hearing the court's verdict.
“It takes a village to protect a child from violence. It takes a village to achieve justice and support the healing process of children who survived violence. Healing from trauma and ensuring your case doesn’t get lost in court is a journey no one should have to do alone. This is the reason why IJM is collaborating with community partners, like ASAPROSAR. Local organizations who work in some of the most dangerous communities in the country” said Marla Gonzalez, IJM El Salvador Country Director.
A drawing made by a survivor of violence in a training with community leaders in El Salvador
Salvadoran Association for Rural Health (ASAPROSAR)
Since 2019, IJM in El Salvador and ASAPROSAR have partnered to empower ASAPROSAR´s staff on implementing best practices of legal and aftercare accompaniment to women and children like Nancy and Liseth.
ASAPROSAR helps victims of violence in two ways:
- By encouraging and accompanying victims to access and interact with the justice system, providing free legal advice and psychological support to face the trial in the least burdensome way possible and
- By creating a network of female survivors of violence to support other women and girls who suffer violence and advocate for them.
Nancy and Liseth are now safe at home with their mother, and they are continuing with their therapy process. The strong sentence in their case is evidence that investing in interinstitutional collaboration results in justice even in communities where it looked impossible at first.