Criminal Justice Response in Guatemala

About the Program

The International Justice Mission (IJM) recently celebrated a decade of work in Guatemala, fighting to end sexual violence. Data from IJM’s program in Guatemala suggest that a criminal justice response to sexual violence against children can be improved significantly, leading to an increase in sexual violence crimes reported to the authorities.


Along with community-based awareness of the crime, consistent apprehension and punishment of perpetrators of sexual violence against children can have a beneficial influence on cultural norms.

Photo courtesy of International Justice Mission

From 2005 to 2017, IJM provided support to 465 victims of sexual violence against children and their families. In partnership with the public ministry (prosecution service) and the national police, more than 287 individuals were arrested, leading to 267 convictions.IJM has provided training and mentoring for Guatemalan prosecutors and members of the designated police unit specializing in sexual assault.

Photo courtesy of International Justice Mission

To inform its collaboration with criminal justice authorities on protection and justice for Guatemalan children, IJM conducted a study of the Guatemalan government’s response to child sexual assault reports, evaluating case files from the period 2008-2012 and repeating the study for the period 2013-2017.

The study found a 136% increase in the number of sexual violence against children complaints filed during this time period. Many key informants attributed increased reporting to a more prevalent reporting culture and more available information for victims and their families.

Additional findings include: 

  • The criminal justice system substantially increased its use of victim-sensitive practices when gathering victim testimony. Whereas the use of victim-friendly spaces for gathering victims’ testimonies was uncommon at baseline (30% of cases), it became nearly universal at end-line (98% of cases). The greatest improvement was seen in the use of Gesell Chambers (designated, trauma-informed facilities for victims to provide testimony outside the courtroom), which was non-existent (0 cases) but commonplace at the end of the evaluation period (77% of cases).
  • The volume of sexual violence against children indictments increased 157% (1,560  to 4,002), but because there was also a rise in reporting, this represented only a moderate increase in the percentage of SVAC complaints reaching indictment (9.8% to 10.8%).
  • Nationally, there was a large increase in the number of arrests being made in sexual violence against children cases (1,068 at the beginning vs. 2,900 at the end of the study). However, a higher percentage of SVAC cases stalled out in the investigation phase (69.1% at beginning vs. 77.5% at the end of the study).
  • Similarly, the number of sexual violence against children cases reaching verdict nearly tripled during the project period (980 cases to 2,912 cases), but the percentage of SVAC complaints reaching verdict increased only moderately (6.3% to 7.5%).
  • The criminal justice system has improved the quality of SVAC investigations and prosecutions. Even though many justice officials still see areas for improvement, the majority stated that they think quality of investigations and prosecutions have improved from 2013-2017, and that they trust agents from the specialized criminal investigation department to adequately investigate cases of SVAC.

Photo courtesy of International Justice Mission

An independent, external evaluation of IJM’s Guatemala program in 2018 concluded that IJM was able to make significant contributions to reducing impunity for crimes of sexual violence against children and adolescents in its project area (Guatemala City, Quetzaltenango, and Alta Verapaz).

Learn More:

This spotlight was pulled from “What Works to Prevent Sexual Violence Against Children,” a systematic review of proven solutions and best practices to prevent and respond to sexual violence against children and youth (SVAC). The review was completed in collaboration with a group of experts and allied organizations and highlights evidence-based solutions from around the world. Read the whole set of #SVSolutions Program Spotlights here.

Program Overview

  • Program: Criminal Justice Response to Sexual Violence in Guatemala
  • Organization: International Justice Mission
  • Strategy: Implementation & Enforcement Of Laws
  • Intervention Type: Establishing victim-sensitive standards and specialized services for policing and justice
  • Ranking: This intervention is categorized as PRUDENT
  • Location: Guatemala
  • Age Group: All
  • Gender: All

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