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25 Percent of Adolescent Women and Girls in Guatemala Report Being Victims of Sexual Violence

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and 12 colleagues today sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to ensure that child sexual assault is given greater attention in decisions regarding United States assistance to Guatemala.

“As you make determinations regarding future U.S. assistance to Guatemala, we urge you to ensure that resources are provided to improve the National Civil Police’s Special Unit for Sex Crimes,” the Senators wrote. “We believe that with greater capacity and training, this unit could conduct prompt and professional investigations, coordinate effectively with prosecutors, and successfully locate and apprehend perpetrators of child sexual assault.”

A report by Doctors Without Borders in 2012 found that a quarter of all adolescent women and girls in Guatemala reported they had been a victim of sexual violence within the past year. A similar report by Human Rights Watch noted that “rapes and sexual assaults of women increased by 34 percent from 2008 to 2011, while in 9 of every 10 of those cases, those responsible are not punished.”

The Guatemalan government has recently taken some initial steps to tackle this problem by creating a Special Unit for Sex Crimes within the National Civil Police to investigate sexual assault cases. However, the unit still lacks the capacity and training that is needed to address the plague of child sexual assault in Guatemala. A study conducted by International Justice Mission found that fewer than 6 percent of child sexual assault cases in Guatemala reach a verdict – with the majority of these cases stalling during the investigation stage.

“The Guatemalan government has taken some initial steps in its efforts to combat child sexual assault and the United States can be a partner as Guatemala works to make the country safer for women and girls,” the Senators added.

In addition to Senators Rubio and Boxer, the letter was signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), John Boozman (R-AR), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John Barrasso (R-WY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Thad Cochran (R-MS).

The full text of the letter follows:

February 10, 2014

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We write to bring your attention to a serious and chronic problem in Guatemala—child sexual assault.  As the Guatemalan government works to improve its response to this heinous crime, we urge you to ensure that child sexual assault—particularly capacity building for the Guatemalan police—is given greater attention in decisions regarding United States assistance to Guatemala.

Tragically, the crime of sexual assault is all too common in Guatemala. According to Human Rights Watch, “rapes and sexual assaults of women increased by 34 percent from 2008 to 2011, while in 9 of every 10 of these cases, those responsible are not punished.”

The prevalence of child sexual assault is especially troubling.  A report by Doctors Without Borders in 2012 found that a quarter of all adolescent women and girls in Guatemala reported they had been a victim of sexual violence within the past year. 

In the past, victims of sexual assault in Guatemala did not have adequate support, and police and prosecutors lacked both the will and the technical ability to confront this crime consistently and appropriately.  However, recent efforts by the Guatemalan government—including to reform its police and enact recommendations of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG)—demonstrate an increased commitment to address sexual violence.

We were particularly encouraged by the Guatemalan government’s decision in 2012 to designate a Special Unit for Sex Crimes within the National Civil Police to investigate cases of sexual assault.  Unfortunately, the unit currently lacks the capacity to successfully combat the plague of child sexual assault in Guatemala.  According to a baseline study conducted by the non-profit organization International Justice Mission (IJM), fewer than 6 percent of child sexual assault cases in Guatemala reach a verdict—and the majority of cases stalled in the investigations stage.

We appreciate that the United States has provided significant support to assist the Guatemalan government with its efforts to combat corruption, defend human rights, and strengthen the rule of law.  As you make determinations regarding future U.S. assistance to Guatemala, we urge you to ensure that resources are provided to improve the National Civil Police’s Special Unit for Sex Crimes.  We believe that with greater capacity and training, this unit could conduct prompt and professional investigations, coordinate effectively with prosecutors, and successfully locate and apprehend perpetrators of child sexual assault. 

The Guatemalan government has taken some initial steps in its efforts to combat child sexual assault and the United States can be a partner as Guatemala works to make the country safer for women and girls.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. 

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Marco Rubio
United States Senator
 
Patrick Leahy
United States Senator
 
John Cornyn
United States Senator
 
Mary Landrieu
United States Senator
 
John Boozman
United States Senator
 
Ed Markey
United States Senator
 
Mark Kirk
United States Senator
 
Kirsten Gillibrand
United States Senator
 
John Barrasso
United States Senator
 
Tim Kaine
United States Senator
 
Kelly Ayotte
United States Senator
 
Roger Wicker
United States Senator
 
Thad Cochran
United States Senator