Awakening to a new life after being sexually abused
By Maite Garmendia
Julia* is a very articulated young girl. She moves her hands constantly as she speaks, and her feelings are conveyed through her big brown eyes. She is very cheerful and open as she shares her experience.
How did you arrive in Casa Alianza? “I was mistreated and sexually abused by my father”. That is the straightforward answer of this 14-year old girl born in San Benito, Petén.
Similar stories could be told of other girls living in the Women’s Centre of Casa Alianza, in Zone 2 of Mixco, which assists 19 girls, 15 young mothers and 14 babies.
In Casa Alianza you come across cases involving mistreatment, abandonment and abuse. Julia is special, she feels at ease talking about her experience which is not the case with other girls. “So I can move on”, she says.
Abused since she was seven years old
“I was sexually abused by my father since I was seven years old. He used to hit me constantly. He also sold me to other men because he owed them money. I was sexually exploited and my mother was unaware because she left for work early in the morning and returned home in the evening. I did not tell her about it because my father had threatened to kill me if I did”, she adds.
At that time, Julia wondered why his father treated her like that because he never mistreated any of her siblings – another girl and three boys. “I had done nothing wrong”, she said.
As years went by, she continued to suffer his father’s unrelenting mistreatment and humiliation. One day Julia began to feel that this was not right. “When I was 7 years old I did not know that what he was doing was wrong but as I grew older I realised that this situation should not be happening to me. When I started to reject him, he used to hit me very hard to get what he wanted”, she adds.
Less than a year ago this situation began to change since our neighbours denounced him before the authorities. “A legal process was initiated against him and a judge sent me to Fundación Remar –a foster care home– in San Benito, where I remained for one week. Thereafter, on 6 April, the judge decided to send me here, to Casa Alianza”.
A new home
Surrounded by other girls –who have been mistreated and gone through similar situations– and the staff from Casa Alianza, Julia has found a new home: “a great mansion”, in her own words. “We are really a family and they all support me. Now I am happy, I have left violence behind me”.
She easily became adjusted to her new life in Casa Alianza, an institution funded by donations. She got involved in new routines, activities and community sessions. “I was able to finish fifth grade and will be on sixth grade next year because I want to finish primary school. While on vacation school I took a bakery course and helped in the kitchen, and this week I will help out at the front desk”, she proudly announces, while mentally going through her schedule of activities.
Despite her outgoing personality, at times she seems to be shy. Such is the case when she is inquired about her family in Petén. Even though she is allowed visitors, her mother has only visited her once since she moved to the capital city. Why don´t you call her? Julia answers: “In the first place because I do not feel like talking to her, and in the second place because I do not know where I left her phone number”. In the meantime, her father is under a criminal process based on the neighbours´ testimony.
In 2003, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), started a project with the Italian Cooperation to define and implement a Central American strategy to fight against abuse, sexual exploitation and human trafficking through the promotion of adequate legal frames; strengthening the capacity of national institutions responsible for these issues; developing local protection systems and participating in awareness campaigns around these issues.
Julia is happy and optimistic about the future: “I do not have to endure past experiences”. She knows that remaining in Casa Alianza is subject to the judge’s decision. “I want to stay here. I do not want to leave this place until I grow up because I have my whole life before me”, says Julia.
It does not take long to perceive that things will go well for her. Her determination and optimistic attitude have allowed her to participate on behalf of other children in various activities and forums on children’s rights. In the future Julia would like to become a journalist or perhaps dedicate her life to her great passion … music.
“Ricardo Arjona’s friends mocked him and did not believe him when he said that one day he would be a successful singer. Look at him now …Why wouldn´t I be able to accomplish my dreams? she seems to be asking herself.