Creating Brighter Futures
| May 22, 2014
When you land in La Paz, Bolivia, the world’s highest airport, climbing a short flight of stairs can cause shortness of breath. But when you see how a very young girl can be robbed of her childhood due to sexual abuse, the discomfort of altitude sickness suddenly is trivial.
During my UNICEF field visit in Potosi, Bolivia, what genuinely took my breath away was a performance delivered by five sexual abuse victims. Their ability to share their stories, through dance and simple role play, profoundly affected me. At first it was heartrending to read the signs that they taped to themselves: “rape,” “early pregnancy,” “self-mutilation,” “anger,” “feeling alone” and “suicide.” Then I started to feel the hope that they all had in their hearts as they peeled away those descriptions to emerge as stronger, more confident people who will not allow themselves to be defined by those horrific statements.
These young ladies are on their way to a brighter future because they have received legal support and therapy from CEPAT and a Support Unit for Victims and Witnesses of Crime (UAVT by its Spanish acronym), a public institution of the General Attorney’s Office. Kantar’s Brighter Futures campaign for UNICEF had a direct impact on their road to recovery. Our fundraising for UNICEF has been utilized to build a Gessell Chamber, a space that strives to prevent the suffering of child victims of crime, especially of sexual violence, during the judicial process.
Since 2008, more than 7,000 children and adult victims of crime have received protection by the state and were attended by UAVTs across the country. They didn’t testify in an ordinary court, which is often not sensitive to children’s feelings, and they don’t have to confront aggressors when making a declaration.
There are only seven Gessell Chambers in Bolivia today, with the hope that more will be built in the near future. From the photographs, you can see that these Gessell Chambers are what we would refer to as focus group rooms. The child is interviewed by the psychologist, while the judge, counsel and accused are in the viewing room. This interview becomes evidence to be used in the trial. Again, the goal is to reduce the number of times a child needs to testify or be interviewed.
Because of contributions to UNICEF through Kantar’s Brighter Futures campaign, the first year of the CEPAT Gessell Chamber and UAVT therapy room have allowed hundreds of sessions in the therapy room, numerous trials supported by evidence gathered while observing interviews conducted in the Gessell Chamber, and my favorite – one mother who thanked us for Kantar’s donations and shared that her daughter “has a better future after suffering violence and that she will be competing in the Bolivian National Games in track and field.” It was heartening to hear this mother’s hope for her daughter’s future.
Next: Empowering children to be community leaders.