4 May, 2023
A historic verdict in the global fight against child sexual abuse
Prevent Child Sexual Abuse Programme / Partner story
“In one word it means “HOPE”. Hope that change is possible. Hope that they, the children, will grow up in a safer world.” – Brisa De Angulo, A Breeze of Hope
This is the story of Brisa De Angulo, her family, and all those who support them. When she was 15, Brisa was sexually abused by a member of her family. She suffered through eight months of abuse before being able to break the silence. Afterwards, as she and her parents sought justice, she continued to face continual re-victimisation and lack of support for many years.
In 2010, after three trials in Bolivia failed to deliver justice, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded that Brisa’s internationally protected human rights had been violated. Then, in 2020, the commission referred her case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), and, following a hearing in March 2022, the IACtHR issued one of the most significant verdicts for the prevention of child sexual abuse in the region’s history. The case is historic because this was the first time the IACtHR had heard a case pertaining to the human rights violations of an adolescent victim of incestuous rape. It showcases how tragedy can be transformed into hope.
“For children, especially girls, this ruling means that what children suffer in their family environment is an urgent and public matter…” – Barbara Jimenez-Santiago, Equality Now
The impact of this verdict, which was decades in the making, will affect millions of children. All of these measures will have significant influence in Bolivia and across a very wide region stretching from the Americas to the Caribbean. They will set a precedent for cases involving child sexual abuse in the wider region, thus helping to prevent cases of sexual violence from ever happening, and helping to keep children safe.
Thanks to the efforts of Oak partners, A Breeze of Hope and Equality Now, along with the various legal teams that supported Brisa, the court’s verdict secured several victories. Firstly, the Court’s decision is binding, which means it will improve access to justice and prevent discriminatory practices and revictimisation for millions of children during judicial processes in the region. The decision also guarantees non-repetition, meaning that measures will be taken to prevent what happened to Brisa happening to other children in Bolivia. This includes legal changes, investigation and medical protocols, training, and prevention in comprehensive sexual education.
Improvements in laws include the refocusing of rape statutes on consent and eliminating archaic and discriminatory sex crime legislation. The court ruled that the definition of rape be based on lack of consent, not simply on the use of force or intimidation. The court also decided that the archaic and discriminatory criminal category of estupro (which is when an adult has sexual relations with a minor who is above the legal age of consent but does so through seduction or deceit), should be eliminated, as it often hides the actual crime committed—rape—and results in a lighter sentence for the perpetrator. Additionally, going forward, incest will be identified as a crime when perpetrated within the family by an adult against a child under 18. The court’s decision also paves the way for increased efforts to eliminate the statute of limitations for sex crimes committed against children.
“This will substantially challenge the culture of impunity and how sexual violence is perceived and addressed by the criminal justice system, especially for children.” – Barbara Jimenez Santiago, Equality Now
Brisa has dedicated her life to eradicating sexual violence against children and adolescents and, in doing so, has taken her personal tragedy and turned it into a powerful, lasting breeze of hope, not only for herself, but for millions of children.
“For me, the Court’s judgement means that victims’ voices matter, that girls’ voices matter, that survivors’ voices matter, that my voice matters. Even if it takes years, 21 in my case, our voices will be heard. For us survivors of childhood sexual violence, there is a feeling that our aggressors robed us of everything–our childhoods, our futures, our bright perspectives on the world. But this judgement is a reminder that the aggressors did not steal our voice, our truth, our strength. And just like the cicada, we arise with the strength and power to transform the world.” – Brisa De Angulo, A Breeze of Hope
This grant falls under Oak’s Prevent Child Sexual Abuse (PCSA) programme, and within that our priority funding area of justice for survivors, that works to support efforts that hold individuals and institutions accountable for inaction towards, and crimes of, child sexual abuse.