Salvadoran Man Given Maximum Sentence for Sexual Violence in El Salvador

September 2022

Santa Ana, El Salvador – On 26 September, a local IJM partner in El Salvador obtained a 21-year sentence against a man who repeatedly sexually abused an 11-year-old girl.

When Martina* was 11, her stepfather began to abuse her. For six months, Martina suffered from sexual and emotional violence. It wasn’t until her mother noticed that her partner was particularly rude to Martina that she began to call out this behaviour. Martina’s mother asked her partner to leave the house, eventually giving Martina the courage and space to admit to her mother everything that had happened. As Martina described the abuse, her mother listened to every single word and broke down in tears.

Martina’s mother reached out to the local police for help. They were referred to The Salvadoran Association for Rural Health (ASAPROSAR), an IJM trained implementing partner for legal and psychological support.

ASAPROSAR took on the case with a victim-centred and trauma-informed perspective. Every legal strategy prioritised the survivor’s needs and concerns and considered the effects of trauma and the impact it could have on Martina. Every step was intentionally taken to provide responses that minimise the risk of re-traumatisation.

One of the biggest challenges in this case was supporting Martina through all of the interviews necessary within the criminal process, due to the high level of trauma she was experiencing. Each interview required her to retell how the abuse happened. In addition, Martina had to participate in an instance called the identification parade, which required her to identify the perpetrator among ten other individuals with similar physical characteristics. All these requirements were triggering for Martina.

Fortunately, ASAPROSAR’s team was trained to recognise and respond to these effects due to IJM’s training on Trauma Informed Care. They employed a strategy and requested the use of the Gesell Chamber to gather Martina’s testimony. This safe space is a one-way mirror room which allows survivors to testify with only a psychologist in the room whilst the perpetrator and other relevant parties of the case can listen to the testimony in real time but from the other side of the mirror, where Martina cannot see them.

Testifying in court is one of the hardest and scariest moments of the survivor’s journey for justice. Martina’s testimony in the Gessell Chamber was also recorded and used as evidence throughout the entire process, thus reducing the number of times she needed to testify in front of her aggressor.

The legal battle ended 15 months later, when the court declared the man guilty and sentenced him with the maximum sentence allowed by local law and civil compensation for Martina.

Martha Morales, Partnership Manager for the IJM El Salvador Field Office shared:

“Investing in working with partners and ensuring that trauma-informed approaches permeate every intervention we do, whether we work with Public Justice System officials, community-based partners, churches or survivors is crucial because we understand the profound impact that trauma effects have on those longing for justice and restoration within the criminal process and on the Public Justice System official’s work. We do this for people like Martina, who is now safe and secure at home. We invest in training our implementing partners, like ASAPROSAR, so they can provide legal and psychological support to women, children and adolescents and accompany them to their way to restoration.”

*pseudonym used

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