A survivor of incest, who was failed and revictimized by the State and still awaits a fair trial at the national level, is now as a lawyer working to end sexual violence while her own case is pending before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR). This story was shared as part of the launch of Failure to Protect: How Discriminatory Sexual Violence Laws and Practices are Hurting Women, Girls, and Adolescents in the Americas.
I was 15 years old the first time my 27-year-old cousin Eduardo molested me. I was petrified, totally numb. I couldn’t react. I didn’t understand what was going on. After that, he raped me daily for eight months and brainwashed me into not telling anyone. He knew exactly how to control and manipulate me into staying silent, threatening to rape my little sisters and telling me it would destroy my parents if they knew what was happening.
I developed eating disorders and passed the days crying alone in my room. I attempted suicide. My parents knew something was wrong, but never suspected sexual violence. They took me to a special psychology center and that is where I disclosed what had been happening.
My parents and siblings were devastated. My parents were dismayed that they hadn’t realized what was happening right in front of them and grieved that they hadn’t been able to protect their daughter. After I broke the silence, a whole new world of self-blame opened up, which there shouldn’t have been. My parents did the best they could. None of this was our fault, but the guilt persisted.
My parents became diehard champions of getting justice for me.
Because I was one of the first adolescents to take a rape case to trial in Bolivia, we faced a lot of resistance. In Bolivia, victims of sexual violence are often blamed, and it is assumed that they had done something to deserve it. My parents begged dozens of lawyers to represent me and were repeatedly told, “I won’t shame my name defending a rape victim.” People said my case was a lost cause.
The judges didn’t want to take my case either, which was shuffled from court to court over 20 times. That gave us great insight into how rape victims were and still are seen in Bolivia – as totally worthless.
When I eventually approached the prosecutor for help, she blamed me for the rape and humiliated me. She made me tell my story over and over again and subjected me to a grueling interrogation. She said she wouldn’t stop until she discovered the lies, and that once she found them, she would put me in jail. After hours of questioning, she told me, “You are a very selfish person. Don’t you think about your family? Don’t you feel bad that the man you are accusing could go to jail for seven years?”
My forensic exam was a nightmare. A male doctor accompanied by five male medical residents conducted my exam. They made fun of me as I stripped naked. They ordered me to lie on the exam table and then forced my legs open as the doctor probed in my vagina. This horrific exam occurred in a room with open windows. I was exposed to onlookers in the hall.
During the next few months, I went to various psychologists and attended so many meetings with lawyers and prosecutors that I lost count. My parents cried almost every evening and spent countless hours doing legal research and gathering evidence. They did the work that the prosecutors and lawyers failed to do.
After years of this horror, I decided to become a lawyer to take my own case, as nobody else would help.
I have dedicated my life to advocating for survivors of sexual violence and reforming the legal system so that it holds perpetrators accountable rather than revictimizing survivors. I’m working to shape a society where sexual violence doesn’t happen anymore; where girls are safe and don’t have to fear their fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, cousins, teachers, doctors, priests, pastors, or neighbors. It has to stop.
*Though Brisa wanted to bring rape charges against her cousin, the judge in her case used his discretion to reduce the charge of rape to one of estupro. Having failed to obtain justice before the national courts, Brisa has taken her case all the way to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, where it is still pending. But, at the time of this report and almost two decades after she first reported the abuse, Brisa’s abuser has still not been brought to justice.