Paving Pathways to Justice for adolescent sexual violence survivors in the Americas

16th February 2023 at George Washington University Law School conference centre

I have dedicated my life to advocating for survivors of sexual violence and reforming the legal system so that it holds perpetrators accountable rather than revictimizing survivors. I’m working to shape a society where sexual violence doesn’t happen anymore; where girls are safe and don’t have to fear their fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, cousins, teachers, doctors, priests, pastors, or neighbors. It has to stop.” - Brisa De Angulo

Allegra Tanzi was honoured to participate in a panel discussion dedicated to the recent ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) in favour of Brisa De Angulo and her case of child sexual abuse. The landmark ruling brings forward the fight against girls’ and adolescents’ sexual abuse and against the negligence of States in dealing with such cases. Too many children around the world, especially girls, are victims of sexual violence, and too many times the national courts do not handle their cases properly or at all.

Gender Concerns International works actively in strengthening the democratic process that help lay the foundation for developing a justice system that addresses, protects, and provides justice to all its citizens without being biased by their gender or age.

Brisa de Angulo’s story

The event started with an introduction by the petitioner, Brisa de Angulo, who survived incest from the age of 15, and was failed and victimized by the State of Bolivia when she decided to take legal action against the aggressor.

When Brisa saw how girls and adolescent survivors of rape were treated in the Bolivian system, she decided to bring her case forward as a means of fighting a larger battle, that against child sexual abuse.

After the suffering she had to endure because of sexual violence and years of fighting against the Bolivian judicial system, De Angulo still has not received justice in her country. In 2020, the case was referred to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The IACtHR issued its verdict in favour of Brisa on January 19th, 2023, 20 years after she was first abused.

The judgment declared Bolivia responsible for failing to comply with its international responsibility to prevent, address, punish and redress the sexual and institutional violence suffered by Brisa. This groundbreaking ruling reinforces regional and international standards around sexual violence against girls and adolescents, especially those suffered in the family environment.

The Discussion

The event panel was formed by attorneys of the legal team that helped Brisa elevate her case in front of the IACtHR. Among them were professors at George Washington University Law School and lawyers of private law firms.

  • the IACtHR provided very detailed commands to the State of Bolivia, not just regarding changing the law, but also about improving protocols for physical examinations and implementing actions to raise awareness about the issue;
  • the IACtHR established that the testimony of the child victim of sexual violence must be heard and used as evidence in the trials;
  • the court also highlighted the bias that gender stereotypes create and that negatively affect the judicial process;
  • the IACtHR has for the first time analysed in detail the matter of consent.

Shadya Vance, Associate at Hughes, Hubbard & Reed LLP, focused on the reparations that were established by the Court. In this case, it was not about individual reparation. The aim was to make Brisa’s case emblematic in order to bring the cause against child sexual abuse forward. In fact, Brisa and her legal team did not ask for individual compensation. They asked the Court to provide detailed instructions to the Bolivian state to change the national law against child sexual violence, implement better procedures for investigation protocols and report back to the Inter-American Court

In her final statement, Brisa stressed the importance of activism and civil society participation in order to bring forward the fight against girls and adolescent victims of sexual violence, as this fight does not end in the courts of law.