Brisa’s Fight for Justice
Bolivia has one of the highest rates of sexual violence against women and children in South America, but one of the lowest reporting rates. Together with our partners in the region, Equality Now is fighting for justice for Brisa and other women and girls who have been sexually abused and we need your help!
Living A Nightmare
When Brisa was 15 years-old, an adult cousin came to live with her and her family and immediately began to isolate her. Over time he began to rape her, and used further violence to keep her silent. He blamed Brisa for the abuse he inflicted upon her, beat her, threatened to rape her sisters, and tortured her pets while making her watch. Brisa attempted suicide twice and did everything she could to push her family away in the belief that it would keep them safe. Finally, after eight months, Brisa’s family discovered the abuse and reported it to the police. But Brisa’s nightmare didn’t end there.
Brisa was re-victimized by medical personnel during her numerous physical exams, by the prosecutor during the investigation, and by judges who questioned her about her sexual history during the trial. In one instance, a judge even implied that she could not have been raped because she had not screamed! Although Brisa originally brought a case against her cousin for rape, the judge used his discretion to charge Brisa’s cousin with estupro -- damaging legislation that imposes lesser penalties for the rape of an adolescent girl than of a young girl or adult woman.
Not obtaining justice in Bolivia, Brisa got her law degree and took her case all the way to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). But, almost two decades after she first reported the abuse, Brisa’s abuser has still not been brought to justice.
To help ensure that other children would not have to endure what she went through, Brisa established A Breeze of Hope (Fundación Una Brisa de Esperanza) when she was just 17 years old. The organization provides interdisciplinary and integrated services to girls, boys, and adolescents who are victims of sexual violence - comprehensively providing for all the needs of a victim, and is seen as an example of best practice in Bolivia and across region. Cases of sexual abuse of very young children continue in overwhelming numbers in Bolivia. According to a report presented by the country’s Ombudsman, in the first half of 2015 alone, there were 569 reported cases of sexual violence against minors; 94 percent were against young or adolescent girls. This directly contradicts Bolivia’s many international commitments to ensure women and girls are free from sexual violence.
What We’re Doing
Equality Now has joined Brisa, A Breeze of Hope, the Human Rights Advocacy and Litigation Clinic at Rutgers Law School and the law firm of Hughes Hubbard & Reed to pursue litigation and advocacy in support of Bolivia’s girls.
In March 2017, we held a thematic hearing on sexual abuse with the Government of Bolivia at the IACHR. Bolivia pledged to work with us to amend its penal code and a process was started to approve a new set of laws that would have incorporated some of our recommendations, but unfortunately, the new laws have not been approved. The estupro article remains in place, as does the requirement for sexual assault survivors to prove intimidation or physical or psychological violence. Nor is there any definition of consent in the law.
Brisa’s case is now before the IACHR for consideration, where the Commission is assessing the merits of her case and whether or not they will refer her case to the Inter- American Court of Human Rights which is responsible for making a final ruling on the facts and law relating to her case.
In addition to Brisa’s legal case, Equality Now has supported the Breeze of Hope Foundation and the Network of Girls, Boys and Adolescents Against Sexual Violence (Red NNA-COVISE), to advocate at the national level for access to justice for themselves as survivors of sexual violence, and for the rest of the girls in the country. To broaden this effort, in February 2019 Equality Now convened various human rights organizations in Bolivia to create a coalition to push for changes in law, implementation of protocols, and for services to allow survivors to live safely and in peace.