Rape-imposed motherhood has a little girl’s face
In his first apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,”
Pope Francis reiterated that “the Church cannot be
expected to change her position” on the abortion issue.
But he nuanced it with the following compassionate consideration:
“It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.
On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to
adequately accompany women in very difficult situations,
where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish,
especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape
or a situation of extreme poverty.
Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?”
As you are reading this text, a girl, a teenager or a woman is being sexually abused somewhere in Nicaragua. And on top of the trauma of sexual aggression experienced by so many Nicaraguan girls, many are obliged to continue with a rape-imposed pregnancy, putting their physical and mental health at risk and becoming a form of discrimination and torture.
The voice of seven girls Alejandra, Carla, Diana, Perla, Estela, Raquel and Jasmina agreed to tell us what had happened to them. Their names are fictitious, but their stories are real. They took place in different points of Nicaragua between 2010 and 2013. We obtained the information on each case by interviewing the girls’ mothers and reviewing the expert medical and psychological opinions prepared by forensic personnel, police investigation reports and newspaper articles. We also reviewed written accusations by the Prosecutor General’s Office and judicial sentences in the cases that reached that stage.
The seven girls, ranging in age from one who hadn’t yet had her first period to an 18-year old, shared common characteristics in the testimonies they provided us. All are from poor households and all are vulnerable, not only because of their age but also their dependence on or subordination to the aggressor (stepfather, teacher) or a disability. All bore the trauma of rape in silence due to shame or fear of their rapist’s threats.
These testimonies reveal what a tragedy it is for a girl and her family to be the victim of a crime of that magnitude. They also show the disadvantage young and adult women are at in a country like Nicaragua where the State doesn’t guarantee basic human rights such as the right to life, health, freedom and self-determination, privacy and intimacy, equality and nondiscrimination, information and access to justice. These rights are seriously affected when there is no access to streamlined and clear processes that can provide them protection, attention and support to help overcome the damage they suffered.
A land of violenceChildhood is a unique moment in life, a stage in which all experiences, however brief, mark a child for life. Sexual violence wrests the essential rights, dreams and hopes away from young and teenage girls. With a population of more than 190 million children, Latin America is one of the planet’s most unequal regions and has greater indices of violence, particularly the kind that mainly affects women and children. The United Nations Secretary-General’s 2006 “Study on Violence against Children” underscored the following:
- Every year more than 6 million boys and girls suffer severe abuse in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean and more than 80,000 die as a result of violence in their homes.
- Depending on the country, between 10% and 36% of women have suffered physical or sexual violence.
- Sexual abuse is the least denounced form of child abuse. The aggressors are usually men and in 8 out of 10 cases are the victim’s father, husband or other relative.
A 2011 study by the Latin American Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics Societies (FLASOG) notes that “The real incidence of sexual abuse and aggressions is unknown due to the difficulties in registering it, as these events are very often not denounced. Nonetheless, some available data provide an idea of the magnitude of the problem among young and adolescent girls. In Chile, 80% of all charges filed in the special police stations for minors are for sexual violence. In Colombia, according to information from the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, the rate of sexual abuse charges in 2008 was 293 per 100,000 inhabitants among 10- to 14-year-olds and 168 per 100,000 for 15- to 19-years-olds.”
According to the World Health Organization’s 2002 study on Violence and Health, a third of female adolescents have suffered a forced sexual initiation. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) dedicated its 2013 State of World Population report to this problem, titling it “Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy.”
The data are shocking: 20,000 girls give birth each day; 70,000 adolescent deaths are related to pregnancy and birth; 7.3 million females under 18 years old give birth each year, 2 million of them under 15. The study notes that the developing countries, particularly those in Latin America and the Caribbean, have the highest figures. In fact, this is the only region in the world reporting an increase in the number of births by girls under 15 years old.
Nicaragua takes first The young and adolescent girls most affected in Latin America and the Caribbean are indigenous, Afro-descendent and immigrant, and in general those who live in poor communities and have no access to education. According to the UNFPA study, Central America has the highest figures, led by Nicaragua, where 28% of women between 20 and 24 years old say they first gave birth before they were 18. It is followed by Honduras with 26%, and Guatemala, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, all with 24%.
place for pregnant girls
Pregnancy and maternity among adolescents is closely related to a context of poverty and exclusion, a lack of conditions for exercising sexual and reproductive rights and the absence of measures to protect against risk situations.
FLASOG’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights Committee published a study in January 2011 showing that the majority of pregnancies among girls under 15 years old are unwanted. This is particularly true for young and teenage girls from the more unprotected social sectors. While sexual abuse, forced sexual relations and sexual exploitation are particularly prevalent direct causes, the study lists diverse factors that influence pregnancies among adolescents under 15: ignorance of their body and of basic facts about reproduction, as well as lack of knowledge about and access to birth control measures.
In Nicaragua, the frequency and seriousness of violence against young and adolescent girls is reaching epidemic levels. Each year hundreds of sub-teen and teenage girls are victims of sexual abuse, in the main by men who are part of their surroundings: fathers, stepfathers, uncles, grandfathers and brothers. In some cases the victimizers have been teachers, neighbors, priests and pastors.
Two rapes of young girls According to police and Institute of Legal Medicine (IML) statistics, between 2009 and 2012 Nicaragua’s National Police reported 2,790 charges of rape against girls under 14 years old, 756 in 2012 alone, for an average of two per day. Of the overall annual average of 1,300 denunciations of rape, 83% of the victims were under 18. And of 5,616 IML studies of survivors of sexual violence in 2013, 88.5% were female; 83% under 18 and 60% under 13.
are denounced each day
These National Police and IML data are not comparable. The Police figures were extracted specifically from charges for the crime of rape against minors under 14 years old, whereas the IML figures, taken from its 2013 monthly bulletins, refer to its total number of investigations of crimes against sexual integrity, which include all penal categories related to sexual violence.
The main obstacles to analyzing the number of pregnancies caused by rape in Nicaragua are the incomparability of data and the dearth of official data, even though Article 20 of the Comprehensive Law against Violence toward Women (Law 779) makes state institutions responsible for “detecting, documenting and providing information to the corresponding authority on the physical and psychic findings caused by violence in victims who turn to public health and justice services for the sanctioning of and recovery from the damage caused.”
While the National Police reports charges for the crime of rape and the Ministry of Health records the statistics for users who seek treatment after suffering a rape (the latter figure much lower than the former in absolute terms), general prenatal control statistics do not record whether the pregnancy was the product of rape, even though Law 779 defines pregnancy as an aggravating factor of the crime. All this makes it impossible to establish the percentage of women, adolescents and girls whose pregnancies are filled with anguish because “the life developing within them is the result of rape,” as Pope Francis has said.
Child maternity is In Nicaragua, child maternity is so frequent it’s increasingly seen as natural. And although it occurs before the eyes of all of society, it is ignored by the institutions responsible for protecting children. They merely observe the situation, without seeking any alternative responses appropriate to the dimension of the problem. And their actions even re-victimize the girls by making them pay the consequences of a criminal act for which they had no responsibility, while the men who sexually attacked them often go free.
increasingly viewed as natural
When a rape occurs, only the victim’s name, age and some data on the perpetrators are recorded. Pregnancies resulting from rape do not show up in the statistics. But nothing can be totally hidden. According to Ministry of Health data, 6,404 girls between 10 and 14 years old were released from hospitals following births between 2009 and 2012, 1.17% of the total number released following childbirth. During that same period, the number of 15- to 18-year-old adolescents released for the same reason totaled 138,868, or 25.37% of the total. And according to the systematic media monitoring by Nicaragua’s Catholics for the Right to Decide, the country’s three newspapers published news about 21 young and teenage girls pregnant due to rape in 2013, of whom 13 (62%) were 14 years old or younger.
Although Nicaragua claims to respect “the best interests of the child,” it is one of the few countries in the world that does not permit the interruption of a pregnancy under any circumstances, leaving young and adolescent girls with imposed pregnancies no alternatives whatsoever. Their physical and mental health, even their life, has been compromised yet the century-old legal option of abortion was criminalized in 2006. The State obliges them to continue risky pregnancies through to term. In the majority of cases neither they nor their families have even minimum conditions to bring a new being into the poor households and hostile environments where the rape occurred, thus reproducing the cycle of poverty, violence and marginalization in which they live.
Beyond the figures, the histories of Alejandra, Carla, Diana, Perla, Estela, Raquel and Jasmina show us how rape-imposed pregnancy is a tragedy that extends the victim’s suffering to her family and violates her most fundamental human rights. In such painful situations, who really pays for the crime committed? Who does the State really punish for sexual violence?
Alejandra: “I didn’t say anything” “Although I’m 21 years old, my mom calls me Alejandrita. She says that when I was 15 months old I had a fall and got real sick, with a lot of fevers and even convulsions…. My mom sent me to school to see if I could learn, but I spent three years in first grade. After that she took me out because I’d fight with the other kids when I’d get attacks. When I was 18 I met a man known as Checho. I chatted like twice with him. About a month later I was on my way back from the market with my cousin when we saw him talking with some other men. He came over to me and said he wanted to talk with me.
“My cousin caught the bus home and I went to the truck stop. The man followed me, saying he wanted to go with me, that he would drop me off at my house on his motorcycle, but instead he took me to a room. I didn’t know where I was. He took my clothes off and touched me. He hurt me a lot and when he was through, I saw the blood and cleaned myself up. He told me to go and not say anything because he didn’t want any problems with my family. I didn’t say anything because I was afraid my mom would scold me because she’d told me I should never get in a car or on a motorcycle with anybody. They did some examinations and it turned out I was pregnant.”
What must her mother be doing now? Due to her disability, Alejandra has the innocence of a little girl, a situation her rapist took advantage of. Her mother began to notice that Alejandra was sad, would cry easily and didn’t want to stay alone; she begged her mother not to go to work saying: “I don’t care if we die of hunger, just don’t leave me alone.” When she learned she was pregnant, Alejandra told her mother she didn’t want to have it. Her mother says that her daughter’s brain damage means she tends to get aggressive and she was afraid that Alejandra could hurt the baby.
The forensic psychologist diagnosed that because of the rape trauma and confirmation of the pregnancy, Alejandra presented feelings of sadness, anger and evident rejection of her pregnancy. During the interview she said she didn’t want men to come close to her because what had happened had made “something grow in my belly.”
Alejandra’s rape happened in September 2012 and nearly seven weeks had passed by the time her mother found out. She immediately took her daughter to the doctor and also filed a rape charge with the Prosecutor General’s Office. Based on the testimonial and legal evidence, the District Judge Specializing in Violence issued a guilty verdict against the aggressor nearly a year later, sentencing him to 15 years in prison for the crime of aggravated rape.
Meanwhile, despite the evident nature of her condition, Alejandra was subjected to diverse medical-psychological tests that verified what her mother had already reported: her daughter had the mental age of a seven-year-old. This shows how in judicial processes the victim must demonstrate her “innocence” rather than the authorities concentrating on gathering evidence against the rapist.
Alejandra is the youngest of four siblings. She lives alone with her mother, a woman of 40 who starts work as a cleaning lady for a company at 6 in the morning. As she said during the judicial hearing, she’d leave Alejandra under lock and key when she went off to work because she had no one to leave her with. We can only wonder what this mother must be doing now that she’s had to assume the responsibility for raising a new child in the household?
As in the majority of cases, this young woman, really just a child herself, suffered the violation of a series of rights in addition to the trauma of the rape. She was condemned to continue with an unwanted pregnancy imposed on her by a man who sexually subjected her through deceit and abuse of her disability. The rape and the pregnancy utterly altered this family’s life and they received no support from any state institution, as Nicaragua has no policy for compensating victims of rape for the damage they suffer, aggravated by the emotional and material burden of having to raise an child who comes into this world as the result of such serious sexual aggression.
Carla: “They just laughed” “I lived in Hamaquita, Bocay, with my mom, my stepfather and my seven brothers and sisters. I never went to school, because it was a long way away and my stepfather didn’t like me going to classes. When my grandma got sick, my mom went to take care of her and I was left alone with my brothers and sisters and my stepfather. The same day my mom left he grabbed me in the night. That was the first night; the other night he moved me to the cot. That time my mom was in the house, but she couldn’t do anything because he threatened her.
“Before all that I was happy at home, playing with my brothers and sisters and my cousins. But afterward it was horrible. I didn’t want to be there, I was upset all the time and I told my mom why I wanted to go. My mom got really upset too and as I didn’t get my period she took me to El Naranjo, and bought a pregnancy test. It came out positive.
“Then we went to the police in El Naranjo, but they paid no attention to my mom and didn’t even write up anything. So my mom said: ‘If it was a sack of marijuana in the house, you’d run to bring it.’ But they just laughed so we left. We then went to the health center in Bocay and they sent me to the maternity center. And when I was going to give birth, they brought me here, to the Jinotega Hospital. After that a policewoman came and they took my mom away and I was left alone, desolate.
“A young woman from the Ministry of the Family came to the hospital and brought a few clothes for the baby. They said they’d come again later to help, but they never did.”
Without access to justice Carla’s mother told us that when she found out what had happened she complained to the man, but was afraid to confront him because he’s aggressive. She only managed to get her daughter out of the house by trickery. When Carla was admitted to the hospital for the delivery, the health personnel reported the case to the Police, but instead of dealing with the charge, as they should have, the Police detained the mother, accusing her of being an accomplice of the rapist.
and with humiliating treatment
They took Carla’s mother to the police station, where she received humiliating treatment. But as she said she was also pregnant, they took her to the hospital the next day, where her condition was confirmed and they let her go.
Carla was 13 when she gave birth via caesarian in early April 2010. She and the newborn were sent to Bocay, where her mother’s cousin promised the Ministry of the Family she would take responsibility for the child-mother and her son. That was the Family Ministry’s only involvement in the case. In other words, this state institution passed the responsibility over to a family member without providing any kind of concrete support to the aunt who felt obliged to take on the guardianship of the girl and the baby.
Carla’s story is just one of so many that violates the right of access to justice. The mother tried to follow the route of justice, but ran up against obstacles right from the start: when she tried to file charges in El Naranjo the Police wouldn’t listen to her and then later treated her as if she was the criminal. We were unable to get any information about how the process unfolded or whether the aggressor had even been detained.
Diana: “I couldn’t keep on studying” “I was 14 and in my first year of high school in the National Institute of Madriz and living in a nearby community. At the end of March 2011 I was on my way back from class, when two men followed me and began to say things to me. I hurried on and didn’t answer because I didn’t even know them, although I’d seen one of them before because he was from my community. Between the two of them they grabbed me by force and raped me.
“I didn’t tell anyone; I was ashamed and afraid people would find out. I began to feel weird and after three months one of the teachers noticed I was different. She took me for a blood test and it turned out I was pregnant. Then the director called the Ministry of the Family and they took me to the Women’s Police Station to file rape charges. Then they brought me here, to the shelter.
“Now I live in town. I couldn’t keep studying and I didn’t go back to my community because I was ashamed of what happened. At times I feel bad, depressed.”
She feels guilty about Diana’s case was reported to the police by a teacher and the director of the institute where she was studying when they saw that she was distracted, sad, and her academic performance was dropping. The Women’s Police Station referred her to a women’s center, which provided her with shelter, legal accompaniment and psychological treatment.
the death of the baby
Six months into the pregnancy Diana was admitted to the hospital with symptoms of possible preterm labor. On December 17 they moved her to the maternity center to wait out the January 13, 2012, delivery date there. On January 9, Diana was readmitted to the hospital and two days later, when she had already begun to feel contractions, the medical personnel decided not to perform a caesarian but to wait for her to deliver naturally.
At 8 pm on January 12 they sent Diana to the operating room because the baby was showing signs of fetal distress. Forty-five minutes later she gave birth to a girl, who was rushed to La Mascota children’s hospital in Managua with the diagnosis of “mild asphyxia and a gastric hernia.” The baby died the next day. In the hospital’s death certificate the direct cause of death was established as “respiratory insufficiency” with the intermediate cause total right pulmonary hypoplasia and the basic cause hernia of the left diaphragm. Moderate neonatal asphyxia was mentioned as another significant pathological condition.
Even though the child-mother had had prenatal check-ups from the first trimester and showed signs of complications, the health personnel gave her family no health information about the risks of Diana’s pregnancy based on her fragile health and low weight and height. Nor did they mention the possibility that in these circumstances the baby would not survive, thus failing to respect her right to timely and accurate information about the risks of the pregnancy. Rather than being able to prepare herself for the possibility that the baby might die, its death was a new trauma for Diana she still blames herself for.
Soft on victimizers and
hard on their victims
With respect to the legal process, although one of Diana’s aggressors was picked up and jailed as a preventive measure, justice was not done in the end. Despite Diana’s testimony and the medical and psychological assessment, the judge (male) decided to wait for a DNA sample of the baby as evidence for the trial. But as the baby died, no DNA test was done. Moreover, the judge decided to give the accused the chance to see out his one-year sentence under house arrest, as he alleged that an elderly person was dependent on him.
This case demonstrated that justice acts with consideration toward the victimizers and harshness toward the victims. The evident violation of Diana’s right to access justice triggered protests by local organizations and those in her home community, which held sit-ins in front of the courthouse and the Public Ministry office in Madriz.
This experience turned Diana’s life inside out. Not only was she unable to continue her studies; she felt unable to return to her community because of the fear and shame that this experience generated in her. Diana is currently living with a partner in the city, trying to get on with her life, but she’s dragged down by the consequence of the violence and impunity.
Perla: “It was a neighbor”
“I lived in a barrio in the city of León with my mom, six sisters and younger brother. Before what happened to me I was happy; I was studying in fourth year of high school and was a volunteer at the fire station with my brother. It was a neighbor who did it. He came to buy something from my mom’s little house-front shop and started talking to me. One day I was drawing and he asked me to loan him my notebook to copy the drawings. A few days later as I was walking on the sidewalk in front of his house he called to me to go in and see something he was cooking. I told him no, that I just wanted him to give me back my notebook. I waited outside by the clothes washing area but he grabbed me by the hand and pulled me. I didn’t want to go in and grabbed the laundry sink, so then he lifted me up from behind and got me into the house. He wanted to take me to his room, but I fought back, so he just threw me on the living room floor.
“I didn’t want to open my legs so I kicked. He punched my legs and even tied them. I cried and kept yelling: “Get off, get off!’ After he did it he gave me a rag to wipe up the blood and told me they’d beat me if I said anything and that I shouldn’t get him into trouble.
“I went home, but I could barely even walk because my legs were still tied. I didn’t say anything because I was afraid something would happen to my mom since she’s sick and can’t get stressed out about things. One day I felt a great pain in my belly. I told my older sister what had happened and she told my mom. They took me to the health center and the ultrasound showed I was five months pregnant. I was 16 at the time.
“At the beginning I didn’t want to have the baby because it would remind me of that man and what he did to me, but I finally resigned myself. As it turns out the baby died. Sometimes I think that happened because I didn’t want to have her. Now I live with my grandma, because I couldn’t deal with my mom telling everybody what had happened to me.”
A tainted process Perla’s testimony is part of the forensic psychologist’s report. The appraisal established that, based on the traumatic experience of the rape and confirmation of the pregnancy, she had trouble concentrating, nightmares, insomnia, disdain for the aggressor, memories of what she went through, sadness, ideas of suicide and appetite loss. She also cried constantly. The psychologist concluded with a diagnosis of “post-traumatic stress disorder with depressive symptoms.”
When she found about the rape and pregnancy, Perla’s mother filed charges with the Police Station for Women and Children. Perla received legal and psychological help from a women’s organization.
Perla is the second youngest of eight children. Her family survives on the salary her mother earns as a cleaning lady in a public institution and the old age pension she gets from Social Security. According to the Perla’s mother, the process was tainted from the outset. She told us: “I went with my daughter to file charges. We spent the whole day waiting for them to attend to us. The inspector made me wait from the morning until 4 in the afternoon. Then a well-known lawyer [a woman] who was accompanying me told me that the inspector [also a woman] had said I should give her 500 córdobas to deal with the witnesses and hurry along the process of throwing the guy in jail. I gave the lawyer the money and she told me not to say anything because it would get the inspector in trouble. After that they took the declarations of the two witnesses who had also been waiting all day.”
The National Police’s lack of urgency in making the arrest allowed the aggressor to evade justice. In addition to not showing up to any of the hearings, he feigned death with a death certificate the authorities later confirmed was false. As in many other cases, the aggressor went unpunished. It is assumed he is living undocumented in Costa Rica, although the case remains open with an active arrest order.
Perla had a caesarian birth. When she left the hospital they gave her the baby girl without explaining her health situation. Only two days later she showed signs of respiratory difficulty. They took her to the hospital and hours later she was declared dead due to respiratory failure. So like Diana, in addition to going through the trauma of the rape, pregnancy and birth, Perla felt guilty for the death of the baby, believing it happened because she didn’t want the pregnancy and didn’t want to be the mother of a child that was the product of a rape.
Perla’s mother told us they found a letter in which her daughter said she felt guilty and asked for forgiveness. “I know she didn’t do anything and isn’t to blame,” her mother told us very anguished, “so I told her ‘Get better. None of us is to blame, not you or me or your brothers and sisters.’”
Estela: “It was my stepfather” “We went to live in León in January 2012 with my mom, my stepfather, a younger sister and two nephews, the children of my sister who was killed by a guy in León.
“August 15 was the first time my mom went to see my grandma in Pueblo Nuevo and we stayed behind with my stepfather. That same night he got up—I was sleeping with my little sister but she didn’t wake up—and he told me that if I didn’t let him he’d take it out on my mama. He took off my nightie, even my underpants and climbed on top of me. He did it again five times when my mom was away. As my grandma was sick, my mom stayed with her several days at a time, and each time he’d grab me, up to three days in a row. On July 1 my mom went again and he took advantage of it to abuse my little sister too, on her birthday, which is July 19. Mom came back on the 20th, but she went away again on the 31st. That was the last time he grabbed me.
“I asked an uncle of mine for help and he gave me money for the bus. On Saturday, August 17, without saying anything to anyone, I came here to Pueblo Nuevo, where my granny lives. That same day I told my older sister everything and she took me to file charges.”
They didn’t let us anywhere near the caseLike many girls from the countryside, Estela had barely entered third grade when she was 11, and she liked to play with her little sister. Under threat, taking advantage of the girl’s fragility, the stepfather abused her repeatedly.
The older sister says that when she learned the girl had shown up at their granny’s house alone, she suspected something bad had happened. She went to look for Estela, who told her the horror she had lived through with the continuous rapes. Her sister immediately took Estela to the Health Center, where the pregnancy was confirmed, but they couldn’t determine its gestational age clearly since Estela hadn’t yet begun to menstruate. Her sister then decided to go with Estela to León to file charges with the Police Station for Women and Children, but it came to nothing because the stepfather had fled, presumably with the mother and younger sister who was also being abused.
The sister described the girl’s state as “always sad; she’d start to cry and say she didn’t want that pregnancy, that she hated what had happened to her and hated that man.” The Ministry of the Family took the girl under its protection and let no one near the case, even to offer support.
Raquel: “My daughter pointed to him” “I work in Managua as a housekeeper. The night of July 6 got a call from my sister, who takes care of my children, telling me my daughter was pregnant. Raquel was only 13 and she’s been deaf and mute from birth because I got German measles during the pregnancy.” Raquel hadn’t said anything to the aunt she lives with.
“The next day I came to my sister’s house, in a rural community near Mina La India in León, and as I can communicate with my daughter by sign language I asked if she had been abused, and she said the man had pulled her into his house by force, raped her then threatened to kill her if she said anything. I asked her to show me the house where it had happened. We all went walking, my sister, the girl and I. After about a block and a half she pointed out the house where a man named Tomás lives. He was there and the girl pointed to him.
“When I demanded to know what he’d done he told me ‘not to make a scene,’ that he’d had relations with the girl and if she was pregnant he would ‘take care of them both.’
“My sister, the one who’s with her, says Raquel is sad, that all she does is cry and when she sees other children playing she goes and lays down. My sister’s afraid that when the baby is born Raquel will treat it badly because she doesn’t want that pregnancy.”
No support from any state institution Raquel’s aggressor, a 60-year-old neighbor, took advantage of the girl’s innocence and lured her to his house, where he took her in against her will to rape her. Her mother went to León and filed the charge in the Police Station for Women and Children with support from a women’s organization. The aggressor was eventually found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In addition to the medical exams—clinical analysis and ultrasound—they gave her a hearing test, which confirmed her auditory disability. It was determined that the pregnancy was high risk, since the girl was also severely anemic and had a kidney infection.
Although the perpetrator was found guilty, Raquel and her family are paying the consequences of the rape. No state institution has provided her any support. Her mother tried to stay with Raquel to care for her and the newborn, but given the lack of employment and the need to guarantee the family’s survival, she had no choice but to return to Managua and leave her daughter and the baby in her sister’s care.
Jasmina: “It was my teacher” “I was studying in my first year of high school and he came to work there as a substitute math teacher; from the start he began saying things to me, sending messages to my cell phone. When he found out where I lived he began to watch the house, and when my mom went off to work he’d come around. One day he came to the house when my mom was off at the doctor’s. He was carrying a pistol. He covered my mouth and forced me to have relations with him. He was armed so I was scared and didn’t tell anybody what had happened.
“He realized I had gotten pregnant. One afternoon, when I was alone with my younger brother, he came, threatened us both with the pistol, made me take a pill and drugged me. I passed out like twice and saw I was bleeding. Before going he left me a packet of pills for the pain. I was really frightened and sent a message to my mom. She came home and took me to the health center.”
She was treated, but hasn’t healed her wounds Jasmina’s mother only learned about the rape the day her 12-year-old son told her the teacher had come to the house and done something to his sister.
When Jasmina was taken to the hospital, the doctor said she had aborted and could have died from the hemorrhaging. They did a curettage and hospitalized her for three days to treat the infection.
Far from performing their duty of reporting the crime, as clearly established in Law 779, the hospital nurses counseled Jasmina not to charge her rapist and author of the abortion because she was could end up in jail, [given that abortion carries a heavy sentence for both the person who performs it and the pregnant woman]. Her mother, however, decided to file charges with the Police, and also asked them to help her get the fetus out of the latrine, which they refused to do, arguing that “that’s not our job.” They suggested she go to the fire department, where her request also fell on deaf ears. Jasmina’s mother finally got the fetus out of the latrine with the help of a brother-in-law and buried it in the yard of the house.
Some days later the teacher was arrested. The trial lasted six months, with a series of anomalies and repeatedly postponed hearings. Finally the rapist was declared “not guilty” since, as the trial judge told the newspaper La Prensa, it was clearly established that things did not happen the way the accusation stated.”
Jasmina’s mother said what happened changed her daughter a lot. Before she was happy but she turned “bitter.” Jasmina and her little brother left school for fear of being pointed at, since the rapist’s sister worked there. The family was even obliged to move away out of fear of reprisals from the aggressor or his family.
After the rape and abortion, Jasmina was sent for a psychological evaluation and continued being treated in the hospital, but she hasn’t been able to heal her emotional wounds.
A prolongation of the traumaRape is one of the cruelest manifestations of gender violence. The victim is deprived of essential elements of her human dignity and used as an object. In addition to the physical damage this form of violence can cause, her capacity to decide freely is stripped away and she’s robbed of her will and her power over her body and sexuality.
In a 2000 study, María Ladi Londoño described it like this: “Rape affects a woman’s personal, social, sexual and existential integrity. It alters her history and life project, and when the victim is still in a critical stage, confirmation of a pregnancy resulting from the rape becomes another intense emotional shock, in an inevitable multiple crisis of avoidance. It is an explosion of destabilizing sufferings. Thus, pregnancy resulting from rape, whose incidence is difficult to quantify, constitutes an aggression against the very essence of each woman, a trauma and a wound to her existence. Pregnancy that is a product of rape, which is high risk, is not only unwanted but rejected and extends the rape inside the victim with the biological invasion of the aggressor’s semen. It occurs against the woman’s will in circumstances of violence and characterizes the perversion of power exercised by rapists.”
It’s a medical emergencyIn addition to its connotation as a brutal and painful experience, rape is also a medical emergency. Beyond the context in which it took place, whether by force or not, a rape can cause mild or grave physical trauma, always causes serious psychological trauma and may result in sexually transmitted infections. Other risks include unwanted pregnancy, abortion or miscarriage in unsafe conditions and death from injuries or from suicide resulting from emotional trauma.
The World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health (2003) points out that the rate of rapes that result in pregnancy varies according to the context and depends fundamentally on access to information and the use of contraceptive methods. According to the report, it was proved that 17% of those who denounced having been raped in Ethiopia got pregnant, which is similar to the 15-18% obtained from rape case crisis centers in Mexico.
Diverse studies have shown that early-age pregnancies generate high risk conditions both for the young and adolescent girls and for their babies. Infant mortality is greater among children born of young mothers, due among other factors to low birth weight caused by the mother’s nutritional conditions and the fact that they are born into and will grow up in disadvantageous psychosocial conditions.
“Adolescents aged less than 16 years face four times the risk of maternal death than women aged in their 20s, and the death rate of their neonates is about 50% higher,” according to adolescent health consultant, James E Rosen, cited in the June 2009 WHO Bulletin “Adolescent pregnancy: a culturally complex issue.” The reason for this is that neither their body nor their psyche is prepared for the reproductive process.
Procrastination, impunity, negligence... One of the main limitations to dealing with pregnancy due to rape in Nicaragua is the lack of information and of a comprehensive approach to the problem. No state institution—including the Police, the Ministry of Health and the Legal Medicine Institute—keeps any records on this, nor do they provide these girls and their families the attention and protection they need as children and in line with the principle of the girl’s best interest.
With respect to health care, one of the main barriers is the absence of special and integral care for girls in these circumstances. There are no treatment protocols that consider their particular needs as girls and as rape victims.
The operative justice authorities act slowly and negligently. Impunity levels are high with the aggressors often going free while the victims suffer the consequences of the rape, aggravated by the imposed pregnancy. Moreover no institution guarantees any compensation for the damage done.
All these girls have had Alejandra, Carla, Diana, Perla, Estela, Raquel and Jasmina are only a few examples of how poverty, social exclusion and the lack of protective factors put Nicaraguan young and adolescent girls at risk of violence every day of their lives. From the human rights perspective, forcing a woman, adolescent or girl to take to term a pregnancy resulting from rape is a violation of fundamental rights recognized in international human rights pacts and conventions, Nica¬ragua’s own Political Constitution and national law.
their rights trampled on
In all of these cases the young and teenage girls had their rights to life, health, equal treatment, security and human dignity violated as they were subjected to cruel and humiliating treatment, first by their aggressors and later by the state institutions that failed to attend to them as it was their duty to do.
Furthermore, pregnancy by rape is a situation that only affects women, so preventing them from interrupting it is an act of discrimination that disproportionately affects their rights. Their exercise of the right to liberty and autonomy was violated by obliging them to bring to term a pregnancy that occurred against their will, making them doubly victimized, first by the rapist then by the State, which did not protect them, guarantee them judicial attention and com¬prehensive health care or provide any option other than con¬tinuing with a pregnancy that put their health and life at risk.
Although they received attention in the health services, it was not always diligent, of the required quality or with the caring attitude required by their condition as girls. This is an indicator that the health services are not duly prepared to respond to the specific needs of young and adolescent girls, who in addition to requiring emotional support also need to be treated using language appropriate to their age that considers the emotional impact of the rape and pregnancy.
Their right to honest and timely information was also violated. Diana and Perla feel they are to blame for the death of their babies, as if it were a “punishment” for rejecting the pregnancy, all because the health personnel didn’t explain to them the risks of early age pregnancy.
The principle of the girl’s best interest was violated because it’s nothing less than the State’s obligation to assure that the priority in all decisions is what’s best for her.
The way these girls were treated was a violation of their right to privacy, not only because the aggressor violated their body, but also because the girls had to reveal an event that made them feel ashamed in front of their family, the police and the prosecuting attorneys and in some cases the community as a whole.
The girls either didn’t denounce the rape or delayed in doing so because they felt threatened, ashamed, frightened... And they had not yet shaken off that trauma when they had to deal with a new hell, which was confirmation of the pregnancy, forcing them to relive day after day an event they only wanted to erase from their memories.
The girls and their families sought justice, but found only innumerable economic and geographic barriers, lack of information and of any real access to or response from the proper authorities. Of the seven cases, only in two were the rapists prosecuted and sentenced. And justice wasn’t done even in those because the State and society condemned the girls, obliging them to bear the burden of an unwanted pregnancy that represented nothing more than prolongation of the trauma.
Their lives will never be the sameThe rape-imposed pregnancy has also left a social impact on their life and that of their family: disrupted lives. They were forced to leave behind their childhood and adolescence. They stopped developing fully, focusing all their attention on preserving a pregnancy that was not only unwanted but also harmful to their physical and mental health and even their life.
Alejandra, Carla, Diana, Perla, Estela, Raquel and Jasmina didn’t want to be mothers. They were forced to be. They continue living among us. And as you read this, others like them are being raped, will be left pregnant and forced to give birth and will see their lives truncated.
A summary of the text “Entre el silencio y la impunidad” (Between Silence and Impunity), by the organization IPAS Central America. Subtitles, translation and editing by envío.