Guatemala (MNN) — An estimated 90% of sexual abuse cases go unreported in Guatemala. If a case is brought to court, the likelihood that the abuser will not be punished is also 90%. That’s what makes a recent trial so special for Kids Alive International.
Courtney*, a 14-year-old girl in the Kids Alive Oasis program, had to testify against the man who prostituted her for several years.
“She really had a tough time in court but stood up to it extremely well,” says Kids Alive’s Corbey Dukes, who acted as the girl’s legal representative.
“The defense attorney really tried to wear her down; she had over an hour of testimony. But at the end of it, he just threw his hands up and said, ‘No more questions’ and sat down. And he was the guy who was defeated.”
According to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report, Guatemalan women and children are “exploited in sex trafficking within the country, as well as in Mexico, the United States, and Belize.
“Foreign child sex tourists–predominantly from Canada, the United States, and Western Europe–as well as Guatemalan men exploit children in prostitution.”
Courtney was prostituted for approximately 60-cents per visit, says Dukes. And she wasn’t the only one, he adds.
“She has two cousins here; one is two years younger than her and one is five or six years younger than her,” says Dukes. “They were all exploited in the same way.”
All three of the young women are involved in the Oasis program and taking strides toward a better future.
The Oasis is a safe haven for girls who have been forced into child labor, experienced physical and sexual abuse (often all three), and have either been abandoned or have fled for their safety and lives. These girls live in family units with Guatemalan house parents.
They attend school (many for the first time), have access to trauma-focused therapy to help heal emotional scars, and receive legal support and protection. Most importantly, they are introduced to the transforming love of Jesus–the Source of the true healing they need and seek.
A few years ago, Kids Alive became more involved on the legal side. “Justice is more than the right thing to do. It really helps the girls in their path to recovery,” Dukes explains.
“The legal process, from our point of view, is certainly for justice but also to change their point of view from being a victim without power to being a survivor and victorious with power.”
Dukes says they go through a “very intentional” discipleship program with the girls as they prepare for court.
“One of the examples we use with them is the story of David fighting giants. It just happened we had gone through another devotional about that with them a few days before this court case,” says Dukes.
“We talked to them about how when they stand up in court against their abusers and the people who have exploited them, they have the rocks of Truth that they can slay giants with.”
Before entering the courtroom, Dukes asked Courtney who she was. “I’m God’s daughter,” she responded. When asked who her God is, she said, “He’s a God of justice.”
A little while later, Dukes asked Courtney again who she was.
“I was expecting her to say, ‘I’m God’s daughter’, but she kinda smiled this time and said, ‘I’m David,’” Dukes shares. “And so I knew she was going to hang tough.
“The really neat thing above and beyond the court hearing is seeing how this child has been reborn.”
Courtney personifies the new life many young girls find through the Kids Alive Oasis program. When girls first arrive, they define themselves as their exploiters did: worthless, shameful, and deserving of the abuse.
Dukes says their staff helps the young girls find a new identity through Christ, based on the values listed in 2 Peter 1:3-11. Counselors focus on four key “I am” statements.
“Through Christ I am clean, and through Christ I am God’s daughter,” lists Dukes.
“The other thing we say is ‘I have a purpose in Christ’ so that they know they have value in Jesus Christ. And then the final ‘I am’ statement we give them is ‘I am powerful.’”
The last statement, says Dukes, is based on John 14:14.
“We want to make sure that they understand they have power so that they can have a hopeful life. Their life here gets redeemed, and their eternal life is redeemed.”
Pray for the physical and spiritual protection of girls at Oasis. Pray strength and discernment for the Kids Alive staff.
“We see and hear things that are just awful,” Dukes says. “So I really pray for my staff of Christian psychologists, Christian social workers.
“Pray for them, as well as the Guatemalan housemothers.”
* name changed for security reasons