Teaching youth in Huánuco, Peru, churches and schools about God's design for sexuality was the aim of a 2000 project of Lima-based evangelical legal aid and human rights group Peace and Hope Association. But when streams of girls came forward after meetings saying they had been raped, Peace and Hope workers knew the Huánuco project must expand to defend them.

So Peace and Hope began in 2002 networking with evangelical pastors in this city tucked in a valley in Peru's central Andes to raise police and evangelical awareness of the problem, and do something about it.

Rape is an epidemic in this city of 70,000 in Peru's poorest state and nestled in a remote Andean valley. An estimated 20 Huánuco girls, typically between ages 6 and 14, are rape victims each week. One in 40 women there get raped annually. Many rapes go unreported because family members commit them. Reported rapes rarely lead to prosecution. Recent research published by New York University shows that 90 percent of girls in Peru aged 12-16 who give birth say they were raped. It appears to be part of a national tendency to perpetrate violence against women. The United Nations reports that 70 percent of all crimes reported to the police in Peru involve wife beating.

Peace and Hope lawyer José Regalado said Peru's evangelicals are conservative on social problems. And when abused girls and their families approached authorities for help, police typically blamed the victim.

"One of the problems is [the police] don't see rape as a bad thing," lawyer Jaime Farrant of the Washington-based evangelical International Justice Mission (IJM) said. "For them, rape is like a traffic violation. It's not a high priority for them." IJM funds some of Peace and Hope's work and provides legal counsel, conducts workshops, and sends its investigators to Peru to work on special cases.

Since 2002, Peace and Hope has brought 11 alleged Huánuco rapists to trial. Three have been convicted and have received sentences ranging from seven to 35 years. Eight other rape trials are under way. Thirty other cases are open but have not come to trial. The process can take two years. In 2002 IJM signed an agreement with the Ministry of the Interior to train Huánuco's police department, along with Peace and Hope. IJM has already held three police workshops on rape.

In April IJM brought Regalado and three Peruvian judicial and law enforcement officials to Chicago for training with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Bob Thomas, and State Senator Peter Roskam.

Article continues below

Still, the church is the primary means in fighting rape, IJM says. "Peace and Hope believes the church is the greatest ally" in combating this problem by changing societal attitudes and offering assistance, Regalado said. As the church network expands and more citizens learn of Peace and Hope's services, which it offers pro-bono, attitudes are changing, children are receiving help, and rapists are being brought to justice. Peace and Hope seeks to expand Huánuco's program to the rest of Peru.

Related Elsewhere:

More Christianity Today articles on International Justice Mission include:

Weblog: International Justice Mission Gets Notice and Results | Dateline NBC, Forbes, and others show the undercover work of ministry that fights sexual slavery. (Jan. 27, 2004)
Good News for the Lost, Imprisoned, Abducted, and Enslaved | Lawyers and investigators at the International Justice Mission have learned that sharing the gospel means going into the heart of darkness. (Aug. 9, 1999)
The Cruel Edges of the World | There are some places that bring the distant biblical text closer to our lives. (June 7, 2004)

More Christianity Today articles on Peru include:

Clipped Wings | Shot down in 2001, missionary Jim Bowers moves on. (Oct. 27, 2003)
Christian Leaders Call for National Unity After Riots in Peru | National Council of Evangelicals "emphatically condemns" violence, calls for reassessment of nation's economic policies. (July 09, 2002)
Peru's Supreme Court Rules Against de Vinate | Inter-American human rights court may be the evangelical's last hope. (Jan. 24, 2002)
Christians to Help Investigate Crimes | Religious leaders join the Peruvian government in investigating unsolved crimes. (Jan. 08, 2002)
Peru's Churches Want Inquiry into Why Missionary Plane Was Shot Down | Christian leaders lament "absurd, excessive use of force" that killed Roni Bowers and her infant daughter. (May 02, 2001)
Divorcing a Dictator | Evangelicals assess the bitter lessons of the Fujimori years. (Jan. 25, 2001)
Peru's Shining Path Still Taking Prisoners | As government shifts in turmoil, thousands of forced "accomplices" are still unfairly imprisoned. (Nov. 27, 2000)
Christian Human Rights Agency Burglarized in Peru | Stolen files contained information on more than 5,000 forced disappearances. (Nov. 15,2000)
Peru's Churches Welcome Fujimori's Decision to Call New Election | After riots and videotapes of bribes, Peru pushes its current president for the opportunity to vote again. (Sept. 28, 2000)
Imprisoned Peruvian Army Colonel Denied Parole | Evangelical convicted of drug trafficking continues fight for justice as hope fades. (Sept. 01, 2000)