Government of Ecuador Absent at Inter-American Commission Hearing on Sexual Violence in Schools

(PRESS RELEASE) The Ecuadorian government remains silent on endemic sexual violence in schools, failing to attend a hearing this week in Washington D.C.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – the main human rights body for the Americas—held a hearing in the case of Paola del Rosario Guzmán Albarracín, an Ecuadorian teenager who was sexually abused repeatedly by her school’s vice-principal for two years and later committed suicide in 2002 after discovering she was pregnant. Government representatives from Ecuador refused to attend the hearing.

Petita Albarracín, Paola’s mother, testified before the Commission, alongside representatives from the Center for Reproductive Rights, Centro Ecuatoriano para la Promoción y Acción de la Mujer (CEPAM Guayaquil) and Ximena Cortes Castillo, a psychologist and independent expert witness.

Said Catalina Martínez, Acting Regional Director for Latin America & the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

"Adolescents’ only concern at school should be their studies, not that they might be sexually assaulted by their teachers or principals.

"The pain and suffering Paola and her mother have endured is devastating. The Inter-American Commission must hold Ecuador accountable for failing to take action in Paola’s case and those of other adolescent survivors of sexual assault.”

Although the Ecuadorian government failed to attend the hearing, the Commission still plans to deliberate on the merits of Paola’s case after asking questions of Ms. Albarracín, Ms. Cortes Castillo, and lawyers from the Center and CEPAM. The Commission’s response in this case will determine the Ecuadorian government’s responsibility and instruct the State on the steps it should take to remedy the harm to Paola and her family, as well as necessary steps to prevent sexual violence in schools.

When Paola de Rosario Guzmán Albarracín was 16 years old, she requested academic help from her Vice-Principal who in turn told her he would assist her on the condition that she go on a date with him. This marked the start of more than a year of the Vice-President sexually harassing and abusing her. In late November 2002, Paola discovered she was pregnant, and after she told the Vice-Principal, he pressured her to undergo an illegal abortion with help from her school’s doctor, who said he’d only help her if she performed sexual favors for him. 

Not knowing who else to turn to, on December 12, 2002 Paola intentionally ingested white phosphorus, a poisonous chemical, on her way to school. When her classmates discovered what happened, they took her to the school infirmary, where the same school officials who abused, harassed and intimidated her refused to get her the urgent medical care she needed, or even to notify her parents. Paola’s friends finally told her mother, who rushed Paola to a hospital, but it was too late, and she died shortly afterwards as a result.

Paola’s family charged the Vice-Principal with sexual harassment, rape, and abetting suicide—calling for disciplinary action against him and filed a civil suit. The Ecuadorian government failed to follow through with any legal action, and in 2008, after almost six years since the offense took place, the criminal court dismissed her case, leaving the crime unpunished and both the Vice-Principal, school doctor and others responsible free with impunity.

"All I want is justice, justice for my Paola,” said Petita Albarracín.

The Center and CEPAM Guayaquil filed Paola Guzmán Albarracín v. Ecuador before the Commission in September 2006, in order to hold the Ecuadorian government accountable for its failure to address sexual violence in schools and to ensure access to justice for sexual assault survivors.

Sexual violence is a form of discrimination, and a violation of human rights. One in three women worldwide are survivors of sexual violence. In Ecuador, 905 cases of sexual crimes in schools were reported between 2013 and 2014. In 2014 alone, 961 girls under the age of 14 reported being sexually abused.

Despite widespread sexual abuse in educational institutions, and under-reporting of the situation, most perpetrators are never punished. In 2013, less than 6% of reported sexual crimes were investigated in Ecuador. In this hearing, Paola’s case was addressed as well as the systematic barriers that have allowed sexual violence in educational institutions to occur.

“We continue to defend women’s fundamental human rights, so that one day we will live in a society where violence against women, adolescents and girls does not exist,” said Lita Martínez, institutional coordinator at CEPAM Guayaquil. “The misogyny and patriarchal stereotypes that have allowed sexual violence in schools to exist with impunity must stop. We need the Inter-American Commission to call on the Ecuadorian government to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable and to protect survivors of violence.”

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