Place a piece of paper on your head. On the paper, without looking, draw a picture of a girl. Start with the head, the hair, then the features on the face, eyes, nose, ears and mouth, then the torso, the arms and hands, the legs and feet, and finally the genitals. Do not look at the picture until you have reached the end of this piece.
Carolina is 15 years old, and from one of the poorest neighbourhood’s in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua. She has to look after her two younger brothers, both of which come from different fathers. She herself has a one-year-old son. When she was 13 years old she was raped by her stepfather and uncle, after the two of them had come from a late-night drinking session.
The dysfunctional nature of her family meant going to college to get an education was never an option. Since she was 9 years old she was forced out onto the dangerous streets of Managua, to sell cigarettes and chewing gum at one of the many party and bar zones in the city.
One night, another gruelling night of selling cigarettes to the drunks at 2am, a man, a foreigner, came and spoke to her. He was drunk, and smelt heavily of beer and smoke, but he wanted to spend the night with her. He said he would give her $20 if she agreed. Carolina disagreed, the man was revolting. When she did so, the man smacked her, around the face. It was in full view of everybody, but nobody really seemed to take notice. She eventually agreed, and went with the man to one of Managua’s many motels. The man forced himself onto her, breathing heavily as he penetrated her. The pain for Carolina didn’t seem to last too long, somehow her body went numb, she fell into a form of daze, no longer really aware of what was happening around her.
Two nights later the same man spotted Carolina at her usual spot by the bars. As he spoke to her in his broken Spanish, Carolina took in little of what was being said, focusing only a few words, Costa Rica, new life, good employment. Defences had been broken. The following day the man went with Carolina to her home. Her stepfather hurriedly signed the permission slip for this man to take her to Costa Rica, only too happy to get the unhappy girl that he had raped out of his home. Carolina’s mother seemed far less sure about the decision, and very suspicious about the employment. A few slaps to the face from Carolina’s stepfather however quickly made her change her mind.
In a remarkable short space of time all documents were signed, and Carolina found herself on the bus to Costa Rica. She had never left Nicaragua before, and was nervous, but excited about what awaited her. Nine hours went by, the journey was quite slow as for some reason they had been held up at the border, but they finally arrived at San Jose. It was about 8pm. The man had told her he would take her to her new home. This new home was on a dirty but busy street. They entered through the side door, it was locked behind her. She stepped on a used condom. She saw dozens of girls, all of them in mini-skirts and high heels. None of them looked any older than her. None of them looked her in the eyes. Things were feeling very strange. Two men approached her. One of them grabbed her by the hands, the other she saw lowering his pants. She went numb again.
15 months later and Carolina is now back in Nicaragua. In total she worked at 6 different bars in San Jose, where she was abused, beaten up, raped and exploited sexually for commercial purposes on a nightly basis. She is now being cared for at the Casa Alianza protection centers in Nicaragua.
Her story is devastatingly common. Girls coming from impoverished backgrounds in extremely macho cultures, themselves victims of violence and abuse, finding themselves forced into sexual abuse and exploitation with little or no chance of escape. They are broken down physically and psychology.
Carolina’s story is not real. There is no Carolina, but after having spent nearly three years living in Central America, in which I have spent over half that time working for Casa Alianza, an NGO working to protect children in extraordinary risk, her story is all too real.
The reality is great, and there are steps which must be taken by us all to prevent children, women and girls facing such extraordinarily difficult situations:
- We must provide training to families to care properly for their children, especially female children
- We must provide awareness about domestic violence, and the support for women who are the victims such crimes
- We must tackle macho cultures which enable and accept violence and other crimes against women and girls
- We must provide the care and support for the women and girls who have been victims of crimes such as this, providing the psychological and physical care needed
- We must never tolerate any form of violence against women and girls.
And now, let’s go back to your drawing. I am sure the image you have constructed is not a beautiful piece of art. I am sure, in fact, that it is a very mutilated image. And so why did I ask you to do this? Because this mutilated image shows the destruction done, both on the inside and the outside, to the girls and women who are the victims of abuse, violence, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
We must unite to provide the training and awareness to prevent violence against women.
Simon was born in the UK, although he has been fortunate to spend large parts of his life in different countries, working as an English teacher, radio presenter, trainer of debating and public speaking, and coordinator of Model United Nations events.
He holds a First Class MA in History from the University of Edinburgh, and a MA in International Law and Human Rights from the United Nations University for Peace.
He is currently based in Managua, Nicaragua, where he has spent the past year and a half working for the NGO Casa Alianza Nicaragua. Casa Alianza works to protect, support and rehabilitate children and teens in situations of extraordinary risk. This includes boys and girls living on the streets, many with addiction problems to harmful substances, victims of abandonment, intra-family violence, child labor exploitation, sexual abuse and exploitation, and human trafficking.
He currently works for the organization as a specialist member of staff, working to organize sustainable and healthy activities for all the kids being cared for by Casa Alianza, as well as working as an international development consultant to the various Casa Alianza sites in Latin America. You can read more about his experiences on his blog.