Work in Huanuco, Peru
Tina S, Paz y Esperanza, Peru
THE PROBLEM: THE ABUSE.
In Latin America, women are very much objectified, not as respected as in the U.S. Men have "machismo" – which is the belief that they are more important than women and women are here to serve them. Common in Lima and in Huánuco is sexual and domestic abuse. Both of these cities have a "main" part of town, and houses up on a hill. The main part of town has dirt roads, streetlights, and security. The houses higher up on the mountain many times don't have running water, some don't have electricity, and there are few, if any, roads or sidewalks, and therefore few, if any, streetlights. Young women walking home in the dark are especially prone to being assaulted, as the sun goes down at 6pm. I look out my window at the houses on the hill and although I hear sounds of children laughing and playing "futbol" across the street and music that's reminiscent of happiness, girls out there are being assaulted; some have no support from family. Those who can overcome the feeling of guilt or shame to speak of their abuse are sometimes faced with mothers or family members who place the blame on them or accuse the girls of lying.
THE LEGAL SYSTEM: MY MOTIVATION FOR COMING HERE
Peru is ALL one legal system for the whole country. And as luck would have it, the criminal penal code is actually changing as of June 1st. The whole country is preparing for a transition. As of today, there are no trials by jury, and that is one of the changes being implemented. Judges here are not impartial; many medical examiners, police, judges, lawyers, and prosecutors are corrupt. If you have "plata" (money), you can buy the justice you desire. Public defenders or free lawyers are provided to the accused, but although there is a state's attorney ("fiscal"), that state's attorney does not fully represent the victim in the way they represent the victim in the U.S.. For instance, if a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence would like her victim to be prosecuted, she would have to hire a lawyer for money, or the perpetrator goes free and does not face prosecution. There is no such thing as a "victimless crime" here. Justice won't be served unless someone pays money.
The legal system is an unfair one to the victims, SO, that's where my work comes in. The company I've been given the privilege to work with is called Paz y Esperanza, which translates into "Peace and Hope." A Christian organization with a mission to promote justice, the 501-3(c) organization provides a variety of services. Lawyers and Psychologists work together to help the victim from the moment she decides she wants to press charges, throughout the trial, and for the rest of her life and the healing process.
Also in the office is a communications specialist whose job it is to get the attention of local reporters and newspapers to publish the identity of the perpetrator to help bring justice for the victim. The first day I got here and looked around the office, I saw a box of files which said "capturadas" – which I know to mean "captured." I was like, "woah! Those are the fugitive files! Tell me more!" But, sadly, I've been told, 98% of the perpetrators flee!! Part of what slows down the process of justice is that these perpetrators flee. No one surrenders.
When a victim comes to the office, it's usually right before or after she makes the complaint with the police station. Paz y Esperanza does an intake and decides whether or not to take the case.
Tuesday: I accompanied an attorney to the police station to check the status of a complaint. The way it works here is that the complaint gets sent to the fiscalia (prosecutor's office) and the investigation begins. The police station looked abandoned inside. Three officers sat in one room, and another officer in the other room flipped through a giant record book, which holds all the complaints. Turns out the victim had gone to make the complaint, but it was never recorded. The lawyer wanted to physically see the officially recorded complaint, but it was non-existent. Apparently police officers here will not record the complaint right away (or at all), to avoid having to begin the investigation. Unfortunately, many women never return to the police station because they changed their minds, they come from too far away, or whatever reason. This particular woman had been badly physically beaten by her husband, and was supposed to return to Paz y Esperanza that afternoon so we could take her to the shelter, where she and her children would be safe, and given an opportunity to live without fear, but she never returned…and an opportunity for justice was lost . . .
Paz y Esperanza has a shelter and a farm, and all the volunteers and workers here work together for the common goal of helping abused women and children find justice and peace. Yesterday, we got out of the office and hopped on a bus to the farm where the farm and the workers were celebrated, we played volleyball, soccer, ate delicious food, and prayed for justice for the victims.
Although this country's legal system is gradually improving, the United States' advanced technology and laws are unmatched.
by: Tina Segura, May 31, 2012