Throughout the developing world, the threat of violence is part of everyday life for the poor. It’s as much a part of poverty as hunger, disease or homelessness. And the poorest are so poor because their justice systems don’t protect them from violent people.
This reality was proven true for 24 girls and boys in Guatemala – each child a survivor of sexual violence that brutally stripped them of their childhood. But for each of them, their story differed from the norm in one crucial way: they were able to make their voice heard so that justice can be proven possible.
In August 2014, these two dozen boys and girls gathered with family members in International Justice Mission’s office in Guatemala. They had come from all across the city, most dressed in clothes they usually reserve for church. Because they were about to experience an incredible day – an event in which they got to feel like the heroes that they are.
In recent months, these children – some as young as four – had made the incredibly brave choice to testify in court and share the truth about the sexual assault they suffered from neighbours, stepfathers, coaches and others who abused their relationships of trust and authority.
The IJM Guatemala team created the ‘Hero Ceremony’ as a formal way to commemorate the bravery that children show throughout their trials and hold similar ceremonies throughout the year. During the ceremony to honour them, each girl and boy received recognition for this bravery and a pin that says “I am a hero”.
IJM President, Gary Haugen, explained the significance of the pin. “You are heroes to us for two reasons. One: You are brave and you are capable of doing very brave things. Though you’ve experienced fear and difficulties, you are able to do the right thing. Two: We would like to be more like you. People look at superheroes and they see power and courage, and when I look at you, I see superheroes.”
The ceremony makes sure each child gets the chance to stand up and be celebrated for telling the truth. In a culture where sexual violence is rampant but rarely discussed, these kids are true examples of courage. And it is humbling to think that these children can have such courage. As Gary reflected after the ceremony, “They have come from places of darkness and humility, but look us in the eyes with such life and joy.”
IJM have helped thousands of survivors see justice secured with their perpetrators convicted. For these children, their courageous act has provided critical evidence so that those who abused can also be held to account. IJM also walk alongside survivors as they heal from the abuse, and each of these children continues to receive trauma-focused therapy from IJM’s social workers and psychologists.
IJM is a global organisation that protects the poor from violence throughout the developing world. IJM partners with local authorities to rescue victims of violence, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors and strengthen justice systems. The largest organisation of its kind, IJM combats slavery, sex trafficking, rape, police brutality, property grabbing and other forms of violence in nearly 20 communities throughout Africa, Latin America, South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Find out more about IJM at www.IJMUK.org.
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