Victorious Survivor

Repeated sexual abuse threatened to overcome Esperanza with pain, confusion and hatred. Instead she found a path toward freedom.

By Galia Oropeza With Willow Welter
Photos by Galia Oropeza

Why are these things happening to me?

Alone in the darkness and silence of her backyard, Esperanza* stared up at the moon and stars — the only things that seemed to shine in her life. One question echoed in her mind: Why?

From the time Esperanza was a little girl, her parents would leave her with older siblings while they went to work in fields far from their home in rural Bolivia. Sometimes they would be gone for a whole month. The siblings charged with protecting and caring for Esperanza instead neglected her.

The neglect became a crisis when she and her brother went with a family friend to pick fruit. During the outing, the man lured the little girl away from her brother and farther into the trees — where he sexually abused her.

Why?

Esperanza was 9 years old when she was assaulted for the second time. “This time it happened at my house, by my brother-in-law,” recalls Esperanza, now 24. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Why?

From then on, to avoid her brother-in-law, she sometimes stayed at a neighbor’s house. But when the neighbor’s brother tried to abuse her, she resumed sleeping at home in the bed she shared with her older brother. It wasn’t long before her brother began abusing her as well. 

Why is this happening to me?

Esperanza didn’t even understand what exactly was happening to her, let alone why. She only knew how terrible it was and that she wanted it to stop.

Tragically, the horrors that Esperanza endured are not uncommon — especially in Bolivia.

A Staggering Problem
In Bolivia, at least one in three girls experiences sexual violence before turning 18, and at least 70% of women have suffered that kind of abuse. This makes Bolivia one of the most sexually violent countries in Latin America. But the country also has one of the lowest reporting rates in the region. According to law, victims in Bolivia must prove “intimidation, physical violence or psychological violence.” Because of this burden of proof, the overwhelming majority of reported cases are dropped during the preliminary investigation phase.

In another sad distinction, Bolivia has one of South America’s highest rates of femicide — murder of women and girls. In 2019, the Bolivian government declared the problem of femicide a national priority. Addressing violence against women is also a top priority for the Church in Bolivia. Church staff and volunteers at Compassion-assisted centers are tackling the problem through awareness education, counseling to offer parents nonviolent coping skills, legal recourse and holistic restoration of survivors’ spirits.

A Place of Peace
Esperanza began going to a Compassion-assisted church center when she was 5 years old. As she grew older, it became her refuge from the recurring abuse she was experiencing — which she kept secret.

“When I was at the center, I worried only about playing, learning about the Bible and the other lessons,” she says. “I liked to be there because I didn’t feel anxious, as I did at home.”

She also fondly recalls receiving Christmas gifts, hygiene supplies, school materials and medical reimbursements. “They even covered my appendix surgery. God provided for me through the church.”

Additional encouragement came from her sponsor. “I really wish I could contact her to thank her, because even though she didn’t know what I was going through, she helped me very much. In her letters she used to tell me that I was important to her. No one else ever told me that. She also used to write that she had a photo of me on her fridge and that she prayed for me every day.”

Esperanza still didn’t understand what was happening to her — until she was educated about it at her Compassion-assisted center. “One day, through the lessons at the center, I learned that it was sexual abuse,” she says. “I cried. What hurt the most is that the abusers were my own family.”

As she learned more about abuse, she also began to understand that it wasn't her fault. “Thanks to the Compassion program, my healing started. God never abandoned me. The center staff taught me to trust in Him. That’s what gave me hope to go on and find meaning in life, despite the circumstances.”

Healing Through Forgiveness
Esperanza kept the terrible secret to herself because she feared her parents would blame her and she would suffer shame in the community. She harbored a deep hatred toward her abusers and resentment toward her parents for not having protected her. The anger grew, intensifying the darkness she felt inside. But her sponsor’s letters continued to brighten her days.

“I kept everything that happened to me to myself, but I remained standing,” she says. “Where did I get that strength to continue? My sponsor’s prayers really gave me strength. She supported me until the end of my Compassion sponsorship, and she affected my life.”

Then when she was 14, a tutor at the center shared a personal story — of how God had released her from the emotional damage of sexual abuse. Esperanza thought, “If God can transform her life, He can transform mine.” She was further moved by a program at a youth camp that addressed the issue of forgiveness. She says, “I understood that I had to be released. I told the Lord that I didn’t want to live in the darkness anymore. After I made the commitment to forgive, the oppression in my life disappeared. God rescued me from that dark world.”

Esperanza is a shining example of Compassion Bolivia’s efforts to provide children who have suffered abuse with the resources they need to confront and overcome the damage done to their spirits. National Director Mario Vásquez explains that in addition to a program of awareness-raising and abuse prevention — as well as legal support for reported cases — “We teach children about ‘taking out the lies and planting truths,’ or removing from their minds all their wrong beliefs and putting in Bible truths instead.

“Because children often think that the abuse they suffer is acceptable or their fault, our center staff work to change such false beliefs,” he says. “By understanding the truth and learning how to forgive, children can overcome what they have been through.”

Restored, With Big Dreams
As Esperanza looks back, she is certain that God had everything planned for her life. Today, she is the only Christian in her family — and the only one with a college degree. Currently working as a business administrator at a financial institution, she would also like to study psychology and be a motivational speaker for youths, to help them understand their own purpose in life.

“Youth need to know that God is there, that in the middle of difficulties and darkness, He will always be the light that guides them,” she says. “Now I’m a professional, with dreams for the future. Other youth have the same opportunity, but they must decide to follow the Bible’s truths and have Jesus in their lives.”

Having experienced a type of abuse that destroys many lives, Esperanza is now on the other side, thanks to the restoring God she met at her Compassion center. She is a victorious survivor.

 

*names changed to protect privacy

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. — Isaiah 1:17, NIV