When Brisa was a young girl in Bolivia, an adult family member repeatedly raped her. After suffering in silence, she tried to take her case to court, only to be met with humiliation and blame. She co-founded Centro Una Brisa De Esperanza (CUBE) to provide child and adolescent victims of sexual abuse with the safe environment and educational and legal support she never had. Brisa and CUBE have trained over 34,500 people in sexual abuse awareness and prevention. Before CUBE, only 2% of all child sexual abuse cases that reached trial in Bolivia resulted in a conviction. Today, from the 670 cases that CUBE has taken to trial, 95% have resulted in a conviction.
DoSomething.org talked to Brisa about the experiences that made an impact on her, along with tips for other young leaders who want to get their ideas off the ground.
DoSomething.org: How did you feel when you first learned of the problem you’re addressing?
Brisa De Angulo: When I first learned of the problem of child sexual abuse, I was absolutely devastated. I first learned the truth about sexual abuse when I was a victim of it. The pain was so intense that I lost all desire to live. And the pain only intensified when I learned that 1 out of every 3 girls and 1 out of every 5 boys are sexually abused before they turn 18. Yet when the pain was at its worst, I felt an intense desire to help others who suffer the horrors of sexual abuse; I was filled with courage and passion to do something so that it would never happen to anyone else.
DS: How do you feel about it now?
BD: At times it still hurts with the same intensity as it did then. It hurts to know how many children are sexually abused every day, every hour. It still devastates me to know that most of these children are sexually abused by some one close to them, someone they trust. Every time I hear about a new case, it breaks my heart because another child has been harmed and because we as a society are moving so slowly that we’ve allowed it to happen once again.
However, I am happy to know that there is now more awareness of the problem of child sexual abuse, and to know that CUBE is there to make sure that many victims do not have to go through the healing process alone. It also fills me with joy to see people standing up and saying “NO MORE” to child and adolescent sexual abuse.
But what makes me happiest is when one of the children of CUBE gently looks me in the eyes and smiles. It is as if everything stops, frozen in time. It gives me goose bumps and butterflies to see tears of sorrow change to smiles of hope; to see these girls and boys graduate from school and dream of their futures. There is so much joy in my heart in these moments that nothing else seems to matter. These moments fill me with strength and give me hope that someday we will all rise up to protect the children of the world.
DS: What person or experience sticks with you from when you first started your project?
BD: One day I was called to the prosecutor’s office to receive a new case. Over the phone, I sensed a certain desperation in the prosecutor’s voice, which was sufficient for me to rush to the prosecutor’s office. On the way I prepared myself to be strong and supportive when I saw the victim, but I could’ve never prepared my self for what I was about to experience.
As I walked through the front door of the prosecutor’s office I saw an adolescent (17 or 18 years old) carrying a baby. The prosecutor took the baby from the mom and said to me, “can you take the victim? I need to talk to the mom.” Yes, the baby, only 12 weeks old, was the victim. It felt as though my heart stopped as I silently and slowly stretched out my arms to receive this fragile little baby. She was completely soaked with urine, and I could see that she was malnourish. The baby was crying, inconsolable. I immediately went to the corner store and bought a couple of diapers. I called a friend and asked her bring me some dry, clean baby clothes.
When I changed her soaking diaper, I saw the most horrific image. It would be little to say that her little body was completely destroyed. Although, the rape happened several weeks ago, she was still bleeding. The internal damage had been worse than the external. The room felt still and hollow, with two people bitterly weeping, the baby and myself.
I fed the baby and after several hours I was able to rock her to sleep.
I was in the room when the mom told her story. She had gone to the store and left her baby daughter with the dad. Several neighbors ran to the store, alerting the mom that there were excruciating screams coming from her house. She immediately dropped the eggs that she was caring and ran to her house. When she arrived home, her husband was lying naked on the bed. There was blood everywhere. The baby was not in sight. So the mom looked everywhere. She eventually found the baby in the doghouse. The dog had taken the baby from the father and was now embracing the baby and licking her clean.
The mom had no place to go for help in the community where she lived. She traveled for two days before she reached the prosecutors’ office, and that is when the prosecutor referred the case to us. CUBE provided her with free legal, psychological, and social services.
But what world is this that a dog has more compassion than a father? How can I be silent? How can I pretend that this is not happening?
The baby has gone through multiple surgeries and is now starting pre-school. To help pay for the surgeries, I gave several conferences on child and adolescent sexual abuse where I accepted donations. The baby now lives with her mom, who has started a small business. We found out that the dad had abused many other children in the community, many of whom now receive support from CUBE. The dad is now in jail.
The person that sticks with me the most is this little girl who fought against all odds to live. This little girl is now a fountain of love and hope. And to know that I was there, and that I have been there by her side supporting her and encouraging her gives me courage and reason to live.
DS: Who or what is your inspiration to keep going?
BD: I get my daily strength and inspiration to keep going from God, who has been there supporting me, loving me, and giving me strength each day. Also, the girls and boys from CUBE inspire me. I wish I had the words to explain the inspiration I get every time I look at their innocent, sweet eyes. They give me strength to keep fighting to make the world a better place for the thousands of children that are yet to be born into this world. They are my heroes!