MEXICO CITY.- After 20 years of fighting for justice, Brisa de Angulo not only obtained it in her case: she assures that the judicial decision will have a positive impact for millions of children and adolescents in the continent, since It could change how people of any age who are sexually assaulted in Latin America are treated.
Her case came before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CoIDH) last year, with a lawsuit against Bolivia for how it handled the criminal complaint filed by this woman after being raped by a cousin between 2001 and 2002, when she was 16 years old.
Brisa de Angulo, at the 2019 Dave Kotinsky/World of Children Awards via Getty Images
The court, in its opinion published on January 19, determined that Bolivia is "internationally responsible" for violating De Angulo's human rights.
He stressed that the young woman was revictimized and mistreated, and criticized the slowness of the criminal process, which is still open two decades later, with the defendant on the run.
The court ordered Bolivia to carry out judicial reforms, and suggested that other Latin American countries adopt similar measures.
“For me it's very exciting," De Angulo said, "it was almost worth all this suffering.
I didn't get justice, but in part it's like it's good that I didn't get it, because now I see that there is an impact not only for Bolivia but for 23 other countries" that are also parties to the American Convention that governs the court.
Latin America is one of the regions with the
for gender violence in the world
, according to the UN, and Bolivia is one of the nations on the continent with the highest rates of femicide and sexual assault.
The court ordered Bolivia to change the criminal definition of
so that the lack of consent is key to prove it, instead of only taking into account if there was intimidation or physical aggression before a "carnal access", as the Penal Code currently defines it in that country.
It's very encouraging to see that all those victims who were lonely and scared...[now] can say, 'I don't have to walk with my head down.'"
He also said that Bolivia must develop new protocols to investigate and act on reports of sexual violence against children and adolescents, including training judges, prosecutors, forensic doctors and others to grant appropriate treatment to victims during medical examinations and testimony taking without causing more trauma.
He also demanded that De Angulo's case be kept open and work to resolve it, and that Bolivia investigate the officials who have worked on it to determine if there were procedural irregularities.
Bolivia must also publicly apologize to De Angulo.
De Angulo celebrated that several of these measures were recommended by her to the court in the hearings, having developed them for years after becoming a
neuropsychologist and lawyer
and establishing a foundation, A Breeze of Hope, which seeks to help Bolivian children who have suffered a situation of sexual violence.
His foundation offers free, thanks to donations, legal, medical and psychological assistance to victims, and provides training to authorities.
It has brought more than 700 cases of sexual violence against minors to court and more than 90% of those cases have
resulted in a conviction
a stark contrast to the average conviction rate for sexual offenses in Bolivia, which is less than 5%.
The court ruling is binding, and Bolivia must abide by it.
it also has a regional impact:
it can be used as jurisprudence and precedent in any similar case at the local level, lawyer Citlali Ochoa, from the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the Washington College of Law, explained to Telemundo News.
There are 24 countries — including Bolivia, Mexico and Colombia — that have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, which implies that they must adapt to the opinions.
The court explicitly recommended in its ruling that all countries in the region review their criminal legislation to take into account whether there is psychological pressure or circumstances that make it impossible for the victim
to give their express consent
, such as coercion from "a power relationship that obliges the victim to the act for fear of consequences”.
That would change current rules such as that several countries allow an attacker to evade charges by marrying a minor victim.
"Feeling that things are going to change is tremendous healing," says De Angulo regarding the ruling and its possible consequences.
He also celebrates that in Latin America and the Caribbean there is increasing awareness about gender violence and demands to combat it.
“For me it is very encouraging to see that all those victims who felt alone and were afraid, when listening to other young people or seeing so many protests, can say: 'I don't have to walk with my head down;
that is up to the aggressor, ”she indicates.
There is still a lot of work to be done, but it is a great advance
", he adds.
"Those of us who were victims can be survivors at the same time, by breaking the silence," and he adds, highlighting the help of organizations such as his foundation and the changes that the ruling may bring: "We can
also be survivors
: not only endure one more day, but to
by regaining joy, enjoying the sun, the wind… really enjoying life again.”