Central America: Report Finds Women Lack Access to Justice for Sexual Violence
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 12:55 PM

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights published a new study, “Access to Justice for Women Victims of Sexual Violence in Mesoamerica 2011.” Focusing primarily on El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, the study finds that the justice systems in Central America and Mexico are characterized by low conviction rates for perpetrators of sexual assault. Cultural attitudes, geographical isolation, and lack of effective response by law enforcement discourage many of the victims from reporting assaults.
The persistence of unequal gender relations and cultural attitudes toward women means that victims may feel too ashamed or fearful to inform the police about the crime. Poor and rural women may not have the resources or time to make repeated visits to a police station or a court. Many of the victims are minors, with 12- to 18-year-olds representing the group most affected by sexual violence. Their abusers are often family members or friends of the family.
To tackle the problem, the report recommends the following: improving access to education and information, making the justice system more accessible to all types of women by providing interdisciplinary services, ensuring the legal process is both timely and effective, and increasing funds for specific training of judges and prosecutors.
However, the study does highlight that some progress is being made on strengthening protections for victims of sexual assault. Central American countries have enacted new legislation, created gender-sensitive institutions, and reformed policies and protocols. Police, prosecutors, and judges are coordinating their efforts more effectively to tackle sexual offenses. Despite these improvements, the report concludes that the region must do more to provide access to justice for women victims of sexual assault.