Finding Justice in Guatemala

| December 5, 2013

Victoria Bradley Gentry ’12, a student at Belmont University College of Law in Nashville, spent her summer as a legal intern for International Justice Mission at its Guatemala field office. The Christian human rights organization rescues victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. Gentry transcribed and translated client testimonials and hearings, prepared court documents and attended trials. She even rescued and “rehomed” a victim directly, which led her on a two-day journey through Guatemala. She also kept a journal about her experiences, excerpted here.

June 24, 2013
Our team attended a trial for a serial rapist today. The defense blamed the incident on the minor provoking the perpetrator, citing her mini skirt as a factor. Selena Gomez’s “Come and Get It” played in the courthouse lobby. In the street a barefoot little girl juggled oranges for change. In moments like this the circle of impunity seems pear-shaped.

July 5, 2013
This week I have been reading reports released by a variety of organizations such as the Guatemalan government, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and others. … These studies pull back the curtain on the relationships between literacy, nutrition, family dynamics and other socioeconomic factors in relation to the criminal justice system. These studies reveal that Guatemala is a very fertile country with high rates of malnourishment, poverty and illiteracy. Additionally, many people in this country are capable of working, but are underemployed, despite their ability and desire to work. These factors create an unusual “socioeconomic cocktail” for the criminal justice system.

As a result, this leaves [many] people vulnerable to violent crimes, most of whom are impoverished and underemployed. Because the government has few economic resources due to the low annual income of citizens, along with a string of other factors, the courts are left struggling to protect their citizens. As a result, it is commonly accepted that impunity exists for two out of every three sex offenders involved in sexual crimes against children.

July 8, 2013
Part of my position includes translating and reporting the results of policy changes that the Guatemalan courts implemented as a result of the recent developments in prosecuting child sexual assault. In March 2013, the Guatemalan government launched a critical nationwide policy to better protect child victims of crimes, drafted with the help of IJM Guatemala and UNICEF. By merely taking documents to the court, I was able to see the impact that resulted from these revolutionary policy changes. Implementations of these practices include medical rooms where children can be safely and comfortably examined by psychologists, and child-friendly interview rooms for children where their testimonies can be recorded with help from social workers. The major goal of these new policies is creating an environment of sensitivity for children who are victims of sexual assault so that the court can properly respect children’s rights. What a victory for these tiny fighters! When clients are allowed to tell their story in a safe place away from their aggressors, factors like poverty, danger, economic status and illiteracy fall to the wayside. As a result, children who were victims become warriors, empowered by their own courage and support from their local courts.

July 17, 2013
Reading and translating reports like these has opened up a window of the law that I didn’t know existed. As a result, I am drawn to analyzing the structure of the justice system in the developing world, especially where safety, justice and punishment for criminals intertwine with other aspects of a culture. Therefore, I hope to sharpen my analytical abilities and broaden my legal knowledge to pursue a career in the overlapping of these topics.

July 30, 2013
A highlight of my experience has been traveling with the legal and social work teams to a remote lakeside village in order to deliver a client to a safe house. The client’s journey was no mystic Mayan legend; her situation was real and she needed rescue. In that moment, the client needed physical protection, medical services and support from a guardian. People around the world were praying for her rescue and, finally, this precious client was protected via IJM. This journey showed me that IJM’s work matters in a very concrete way for actual people in need.

When you read a case file, you begin to help carry the burden of the pain the client has experienced in your own way. The faces of the clients, their stories, their laughter echoing in the office, will forever live in the corners of my heart and mind. I have seen God’s faithfulness on an entirely new level, even in the forgotten niches of the world.

Even today, there are entire countries living in fear of violence because of painful histories, widespread distrust and lack of faith in power actors. But this can change. My internship with IJM showed me that when impunity is eradicated, incredible and hopeful possibilities emerge. This knowledge has become a critical element and a motivating factor in my future career goals, and I am eternally grateful for what the people here have shown me.

 

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Category: Features, Features Winter 2013, Winter 2013