Inspired by Alumna, Rutgers Law–Camden Team Triumphant in Abolishing Rape-Marriage Law in Bolivia.

Brisa De Angula

Brisa De Angula

Victims of rape around the world all struggle with whether to tell, fearful of not being believed or even being accused of attracting an attack. This hesitancy to come forward is heightened still in the more than 20 countries where rape-marriage laws encourage rapists to marry their victims as a way to have their crimes dropped.

Bolivia can now be crossed off that list, thanks, in large part, to passionate advocates at Rutgers Law–Camden, including an alumna who is a Bolivian sexual abuse survivor.

Last month, faculty members and former students celebrated their years of hard work, like filing a petition with the Human Rights Commission and being granted a thematic hearing on the problem of child sexual abuse in Bolivia, when the nation abolished its rape-marriage law.

They learned of this monumental news when 2012 Rutgers Law–Camden alumna Brisa De Angula emailed from Bolivia:

“I write with tears in my eyes—tears of joy, thankfulness, and hope. Last month, thanks to all of our efforts in the thematic hearing, Bolivia abolished the rape-marriage law that we challenged.

This has been cause for great celebration here in Bolivia. Every time I ask how this came to pass, people answer, “Well….someone presented it to the Inter-American Commission” (not knowing I was part of it).”

De Angula was 15 when she was sexually abused in Bolivia, where one-third of children and adolescents have experienced similar fates. Not only did De Angula come forward to testify against her accuser, just two years later she established the first and only facility that specializes in providing comprehensive care to other victims of sex abuse.

Called Centro Una Brisa De Esperanza (CUBE) or A Breeze of Hope Center, the Rutgers Law–Camden alumna continues to serve as co-director and has also founded, with her husband Parker Palmer CLAW’12, A Breeze of Hope Foundation, which offers comprehensive support to projects that seek justice for child and adolescent victims of sexual abuse.

According to Rutgers Law–Camden Professor Beth Stephens, who advised De Angula and Palmer in Human Rights Litigation and Advocacy clinic, the Rutgers Law–Camden alumna’s story is quite compelling and her courage to come forward is uncommon.

“It’s very rare for a survivor of childhood sexual abuse to be willing to talk about it in public and stand up and tell her story. It makes her extraordinary,” Stephens says of De Angula’s testimony during the thematic hearing on the problem of sexual violence against adolescent girls in Bolivia at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C.  Former Rutgers Law–Camden students Marty Kate Cusack CLAW’12 and Mike Perez CLAW’13 also presented information with student representatives from the International Human Rights Law Clinic of American University during a March 2012 hearing.

“Brisa and Parker are having a tremendous impact on the children they work with at the clinic and are providing essential services to a community that has been overlooked,” continues Stephens. “They are also providing a model that represents the work that has to be done to meet the needs of these children. What we filed didn’t require Bolivia to abolish the rape-marriage law, but it brought the issue to their attention and someone in the Bolivian government cared enough to use our work as leverage.”

Stephens and De Angula admit that while Bolivia’s repeal of its rape-marriage law shows tremendous progress, there is still more work to be done. That’s why the Rutgers Law–Camden alumni couple continue to advocate for children and adolescents in Bolivia. Before CUBE was established, only 2 percent of all child sexual abuse cases that reached trial in Bolivia resulted in a conviction. CUBE reports that 95% of the cases taken to trial on its behalf have resulted in a conviction.

Again, in her email to Rutgers Law–Camden colleagues about Bolivia’s repeal of the rape-marriage law, De Angula writes, “I was prepared to fight this law for many more years and I hoped that the thematic hearing would open the door for us to begin challenging the rape marriage law here in Bolivia. I never ever imagined that a year later the law would be abolished…We still have more to challenge and I’m excited about the possibilities for making real, lasting change.”

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