By: Abigail Neuviller
Impunity Watch Staff Writer
QUITO, Ecuador – On January 28, 2020 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) heard Paola Guzman Albarracin v. Ecuador, its first case pertaining to sexual violence in a school setting. Paola was a sixteen-year-old girl who took her own life after she was repeatedly sexually abused by the Vice-Principal of her school.
From the ages of fourteen to sixteen, she was sexually abused and raped by the school administrator. The sexual abuse led to a pregnancy and when her abuser took her to the school doctor for an abortion, he said he would only perform the surgery if Paola had sex with him.
Soon thereafter, Paola took her own life by ingesting phosphorus. Before she died, she told her friends on the way to school, who then alerted school authorities, but they told her to pray for forgiveness instead of seeking timely medical care.
Paola’s mother, Petita Albarracin, has continued the legal battle for over eighteen years. When she first filed suit in Ecuador, the case was dismissed. She then brought the suit to the IACtHR, an autonomous body of the Organization of American States, which rules on whether a government violated human rights.
The IACtHR will determine whether Ecuador was responsible for failing to prevent the sexual abuse, if Paola was adequately protected from sexual violence in a state school, and if the school failed to provide her with proper medical care.
Despite this case being the first of its kind before the IACtHR, sexual harassment experienced by school students is not uncommon. In Ecuador alone, 32% of girls report experiencing some form of sexual violence while at school.
According to the United Nation’s Children’s Agency (UNICEF), three out of ten students in Latin America between the ages of thirteen and fifteen have experienced sexual harassment in school.
This sexual violence is frequently perpetrated by school teachers and administrators who take advantage of their positions of trust and authority. With students particularly, this type of violence manifests in poor school performance, high dropout rates, and social isolation.
The IACtHR is expected to rule on the case within the year. This decision will have a sweeping effect since its binding on Ecuador, but also the other twenty-two countries in Central and South America under its jurisdiction.
For further information, please see: