Standing up and speaking out for yourself is one of the hardest things a woman can do when a crime has been committed against them. In the face of backlash and invalidation, working hard to share a story can put her at great risk or can even threaten her livelihood. Yet when a woman has the courage and the bravery to report and speak up about something bad/illegal that has happened to them, institutions of law have the innate responsibility to guarantee them access to justice. However, it is too often an occurrence that systems and institutions of government fail victims of sexual violence and abuse in their plight for justice because of established double standards and acts of sexism.
Between the period of September 2001 and May 2002, a sixteen-year-old Colombian girl living in Bolivia with her family named Brisa Liliana de Angulo Losada was raped and suffered many incidents of sexual violence at the hands of her twenty-six-year-old male cousin. Beforehand, Losada was on the national swim team, was an active community service member, and played both the piano and violin. Yet after the abuse, she became extremely depressed and developed self-harming tendencies. She became so ostracized by her community that she was sent to the United States to study and escape the social abuse she was experiencing at home.
To better understand what happens to people when they are subjected to abuse and sexual violence, Losada studied sociology and psychology while in the United States. In part to make sense of her own experience, but also to help children who were in a similar situation, she then went on to study law and endeavored to help victims just like her.
Many argued that if Losada were to bring a case against her abuser to trial, it would cause grave shame to her family because her abuser was a member of her family. Nevertheless, she persisted, and her case made it to a criminal trial, but she was subjected to gross violations at every stage of proceedings. Losada was ruthlessly interrogated by a judge and prosecutor in ways that violated her personal integrity and private life. The prosecutor made her tell her story repeatedly just to try to catch her out so they could then accuse her of lying. The prosecutors told her that they were able to send her to jail for defamation and would get her family members into great trouble but, if she decided to retract her claims and remain silent, they would not do that to her and her loved ones. She was forced to undress in front of multiple male medical providers who made her feel extremely violated – all while being a minor and without the presence of a parent. She was also denied the opportunity to have women provide the exams instead.
Losada was forced to endure three separate trials in Bolivia where no actions were taken to hold Losada’s abuser accountable for the crimes he committed against her. Because of this, Losada ended up filing her case before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR). The current case, Brisa De Angulo Losada v. Bolivia, is the first instance that the IACHR held a hearing of a case that relates to the human rights violations of an adolescent victim of incest.
The case against Bolivia states that the nation’s public ministry did not facilitate a proper diligent investigation while also failing to properly facilitate the criminal process based on the evidence that was provided. As a result, Losada, the victim, experienced discrimination based on her age and gender while trying to access her justice. Losada spent the rest of her life after the events helping young children and women who are victims of sexual violence get access to resources that will allow them to not only get justice against their abusers but also process their trauma.
Twenty years after the events that changed Losada’s life forever, still, no justice has been served. During the hearing, Losada expressed how difficult it was at first for her to go to the police to report the crimes because she had the belief that they were too inaccessible, and would not help her. For years, her family members tried to convince her that what her abuser did to her was not a crime. For years, her abuser physically abused her and even tortured her animals to ensure that she would forever live in fear of him and that she would remain quiet. Losada also remarked how her abuser, and other abusers in general, were offered as much processing time as they needed to tell their story. How they were offered as much comfort and support as possible and were even offered water when they were telling their side of the story. While Losada, like many other women, was denied that same experience and instead was met with hostility.
The double standard experienced by Losada, and many others, alludes to how the testimonies and experiences of women are held at a lesser value than those of men and are not taken as seriously. The reality tends to be that men are met with as much validation and respect as possible with minimal questioning. Even after her first testimony was given, her aunt and her cousin claimed that she was a liar along with other horrible things. Victims like Losada are told their stories cannot be true because they are seen as strong and respected women with strong personalities and only weak and quiet women are victims of sexual violence. The goal of Losada and her team is not to work against Bolivia. Rather, it is to facilitate solutions and precedents that will make it easier for women and children to come forward before a court of law to persecute their abusers within the region. Her goal is to establish international standards for female and child victims of incestuous relationships and sexual violence which ensures the duty of states to punish and prevent such crimes.
Losada endured the hearing with humility, dignity, and bravery as she and her legal team stated their plan for transformative reparations. This included inquiring the court to order the government of Bolivia to develop and facilitate sweeping strategies that address measures to ensure effective administration of justice based on international best practices, such as changing the rape law to one based on consent. They also made a case for the court to provide economic compensation for the human rights violations experienced by Losada while remedying the errors made in the previous trials and investigations against Losada. This means the state must also investigate the potential errors of those who contributed to the wrongdoings of the case along with the actions of the medical practitioner. Lastly, they must ensure that officials who interact with girls and adolescents who are alleged victims of sexual violence are properly trained, ensuring that those conducting investigations and prosecutions are able to think about what is happening from the perspective of appropriate age and gender. The desired and necessary changes this case demands are slow to be realized. Yet, Losada stated that she hopes her case is a step forward for social and judicial progress for victims of sexual violence.