FJA 2019 / Shortlist
Category: Outstanding Investigative Reporting
Mariela Castañón (Guatemala)
“People Trafficking, a denunciated crime in the Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home”
La Hora - August 4th, 2018
Surviving girls of the Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home and their families have denunciated the crime of sex trafficking in two ways: entrance of outsiders to the Home and transferring the teenagers to prostitution houses. To this date, there are still 162 open Alba-Keneth alerts of teenagers that evade the process (escaped or disappeared) from the Home. According to the Public Prosecutor’s office, the information that could be provided by the girls that have not yet been located will determine what happened before March 8.
BY MARIELA CASTAÑÓN
IN THE CLINICS OF THE SAFE HOME
*Renata is 19 years old and stayed in the Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home during three months. She is one of the teenagers that denunciated to be a victim of the sex trafficking within the Home, before the fire that ended the life of 41minor girls.
Renata was institutionalized in the year 2016, as the gang threatening the whereabouts of her residence wanted to “recruit” her and force her to be partner of one of the gang members.
She was scared and, before being partner of a gang member, she preferred to escape her home. Her mother activated the Alba-Keneth alert to find her. The young woman was located and her case was filed before a judge, who considered that she needed to be in a home of protection and shelter. She was then remitted to the Save Home Virgen de la Asunción in August of that year.
Renata sits in plastic bench and, with attentive eyes and a low tone of voice starts talking. She looks like a scared girl.
“When I entered there I thought it was going to be different, one cannot imagine what happens in there. I entered the phycology area, two men asked me questions I believe they were psychologists. The asked several things, one of them was if I was virgin, and I said yes”.
According to Renata’s story, after that interview she was transferred to the module 8, where she stayed during 25 days. Then she was transferred to the module 7, where she escaped after two months.
Renata complaints that foreign men entered the Safe Home. The girls were taken to the clinics: medical and dental, where they were put an injection that she and the other two interviewed teenagers described as: “la vacuna, la vacuna de vaca y la dormilona” “the vaccine, the cow vaccine and the sleepy vaccine” as its effect was to fall in a deep sleep and lose consciousness.
“I was raped in there. I was told they will take me to the dentist for a general check and that they have to put me to sleep. I did not allow them to put me to sleep, but they forced me, injected me in the arm. I only remember two men entered”, explains.
The interviewed girl says that in other of the rapes she remembers the aggressor was a foreign man (due to the color of the skin, eyes and hair). She describes what she felt when she was sexually abused.
“When I woke up my intimate part was hurting, I was bleeding and started crying. Another girl asked me if I was raped, I told her I did not know, as the only thing I remember was the appointment with the dentist. The girl told me she was raped too and that I was going to get used to it”, she refers.
Renata tells that it was the workers of the Home the ones facilitating the entrance of unknown men to the clinic, and had the support of one of the internee girls. She believes that the people who entered to use the girls as sexual objects, paid for it.
Renata’s story on the entrance of foreign people, the sexual abuse against her in several occasions, a possible economic benefit to third parties, the deceive and the threaten that could constitute the crime of people trafficking for sexual exploitations, matches with other minor girls who previous and after the fire had denunciated these practices. Up to this date, the Public Ministry has not found evidences proofing the testimony of the young women.
One former employee of the General Prosecutor Office of the Nation [Procuraduría General de la Nación PNG per its initials in Spanish], indicates that in some of the testimonies of teenagers, it was documented that they were taken to “Nimajuyú”, but it is unknown if this refers to the residential in zone 21, or the name identified by the ones participating in these acts.
Other teenager that needed protection measures explains that she witnessed in 2016 when one of her mates “more pretty and with more body” was taken out. The workers of the Home said they were taking the girls to the hearings, but when returning, some of the girls told they were taken to prostitution houses.
The recruited young women were between 12 to 17 years, and were pulled from the Home after lunch, around 2:30 in the afternoon. They would be returned until late at night. The girls were not registered with their names but as “entrances”, said the teenager.
One mother that lost her daughter in the fire assures that, she heard from a former internee girl that since 2010 “men in suits” arrived to pick up the teenager they would want to use as sex object or to take her to other men.
The interviewed mother fears that her daughter could have been object of sex trafficking because the report delivered by the National Institute of Forensic Sciences [Inacif, per its initials in Spanish] after the fire of March 8th, pointed “possible recent coitus” (introduction of penis into the vagina).
She was not aware of the meaning of the term “coitus” so she looked it up in the internet to understand what it was and suspect that could have happened to her daughter, institutionalized in 2017, as a gang member kidnapped her and she activated an Alba-Keneth alert. The police located her in an invasion in zone 18. Remitted her to a court for minors, and the judge considered that the girl needed to be in a Safe Home.
Families of the girls in the Safe Home, other survivors, activists and complainant lawyers of the fire case agree that there is fear in the girls that were institutionalized in the Home, to talk about how things happened. A lawyer of one complainant organizations due to the fire, who requests not to be quoted, tells that when the survivors get together to talk about the subject they say they will not formally complaint what happened due to fear to die “dismembered”.
He adds that terror and torture were common denominators in the Safe Home since it was opened in June 2010 until the closure ordered by the Appeals Courthouse for Childhood and Teenagers on April 30, 2017.
To this date there are still 162 active alerts of girls and 172 of boys that evaded the process (escaped or disappeared from the Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home ), according to the Operative Unit of the Alba-Keneth Alert System. Since January 2011 (when the electronic record initiated) to March 8, 2017, they received 692 disappearance alerts of minors from the Home.
SAFETY OF THE SBS (Social Welfare Secretariat) AND PRIVATE SAFETY
Some of the stories point the “Deltas” as the ones involved in taking the teenager girls out of the Home and transfer them to prostitution houses.
The Deltas was the name given in the Home to the chiefs of security according to former workers and former internees interviewed by La Hora.
The security of the Safe Home was in charge of people hired by the Social Welfare Secretariat (SBS, after the initials in Spanish), that coordinated the actions with private security companies. Since the year 2010 to 2017, several private security providers were hired to safeguard the facilities of the Home and to coordinate the security schemes.
“The private security Company hired was in charge of planning the scheme, which was agreed and approved by the security manager of the Home for its execution,” explains the SBS.
According to the Communication area of the SBS the Company Visegua (Vigilancia Empresarial de Guatemala, S.A.) was hired to provide private security service in two occasions: from January 1 to February 29, and to November 1, to December 31, of 2016.
According to the governmental portal Guatecompras, the SBS paid from April 2015 to December 2016 Q461,100 to Visegua for hiring private security guards for the Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home, and for other centers and facilities of the SBS.
Denis Humberto Paredes Escobar and Denis Paredes Madrid constituted Visegua in 2012.
In January and February 2017, the security Company hired by SBS was Seguridad Dignataria Corporativa Provesional, Sociedad Anónima, who provided that service to the Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home and charges Q88,000.
Before that date, there were other security companies but at the closing of this story, records were not located as they were hired by different administrations. The SBS said they would share the historic data of all the security providers, but to the closure date of this publication, it was not possible to obtain the data.
The prosecutor, Alexander Colop explains that from the story of one of the teenagers, former internee of the Safe Home in 2016, and complaints that they were taken out of the Home by the “Deltas”; they started investigating Visegua; but not the other companies, as they took as reference the complaint of this young woman that was in 2016. Before that there were no other cases known by the Prosecutor Office.
On the other side, one of the young women that were in the Home tells: “The Delta pulled a group of girls for prostitution. In the home, there were two deltas: one good and one bad. The good delta hit the girls if they answered. He would beat them up until he was tired; he beat them really hard, kicked them, pulled the hair, he really destroyed the girls”, explains the teenager.
One former worker of the Home, who worked as security guard hired by the SBS as interim in 2016 for 4 months, says he was just for a short period of time and did not observe or
participated in any of these actions, however he cannot talk about the shift of the other colleagues that coordinated the security with the private companies.
“When I worked as security manager I worked 8 days and rested 8 days. In my shift I did not see any movement like this, after that I learned about the prostitution of teenagers in the news, but I cannot give faith of that”, he tells.
According to the interviewed, since he arrived they called him delta and that was the way of being identified internally, his functions were to oversee the security of the teenagers, verify that the guards of Visegua hired by SBS in 2016 were in the corresponding positions, and identify risks or suspicious people surrounding the place.
The former worker said there were several controls in place to take teenagers out of the facilities, which initiated one day before they were transferred to hearings, hospitals, PGN or other commissions.
“One day before we were given a sheet, also to each module of men and women, and there we verified if there were teenagers of its population. We verified the time and place to were the person would be taken”, explains.
Boys and girls were transferred in different vehicles from the Home, of the SBS or in ambulances, they were accompanied by an educator and a procurator, if they were women they were accompanied by their same gender, he refers.
As part of the investigation process, the Prosecutor Office against the Sex Trafficking interviewed the security personnel hired by SBS and the Company Visegua, from the story of the teenager institutionalized in the Safe Home in 2016, who described the deltas as people who took them to prostitution houses.
MP: UNTIL THIS MOMENT NOTHING ON THE DELTAS
Carlos Figueroa, deputy prosecutor against Sex Trafficking, explains that in the investigation they held until this moment, they have not found any background of participation of the deltas in the crime of sex trafficking in the Home. In the diligences performed, they requested the procedures of entrances and exits of the girls, boys and teenagers (NNA, per it is initials in Spanish) but did not find any link to them.
“We addressed two aspects: the security of SBS as private, we requested the roles of the shift in order to determine which guards were in which days. We took declarations of all the guards and we requested de security protocols, we did not find any background of people trafficking or that would have participation to lead to any exploitation issue,” advises.
Figueroa adds that the security in charge of the Safe Home was in hands of the security guards. The Prosecutor found they were people with police profile and that the term delta could have come up as the legal representative of the company Visegua had a military rank, but did not find any proof linking this company with the story of the teenager telling about the transfer to the prostitution houses.
La Hora looked in the offices of Visegua located in zone 13 for representatives of the entity, with the objective of knowing the security scheme provided to the Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home, the stories of the teenagers, among other subjects.
In the visit to Visegua it was not possible to get the interview, representatives of the company asked to send an email with the questions, it was done, but at closure of this story, it was not possible to obtain an answer.
INVESTIGATION CONTINUES, BUT…
The Prosecutor office against People Trafficking investigates four complaints filed for disappearance and people trafficking, one of them in the modality of sexual exploitation. This was filed by the Group of Mutual Support [GAM, per initials in Spanish], which in November of 2016 was extended due to suspicions of trafficking in the modality of sexual exploitation; a first complaint for trafficking – without specifying the modality-, was filed in October of that year.
Mario Polanco, director of GAM, says that they filed a complaint before MP, as the young woman denunciated that the girls were taken to private houses and there were returned. The suspicion was there was prostitution, however they believe there was no follow up to the case and the Prosecution office was too passive.
According to Polanco, the MP must investigate since the Home was opened, in order to clarify the facts that could be related to people trafficking.
On the other hand, Alexander Colop, chief of the Prosecutor office against People Trafficking, says that GAM and PDH filed a complaint for three teenager that escaped and later on were found due to the Alba-Keneth. The interviewed functionary adds that one of the found young women said that she was victim of sexual exploitation and that as a result she got pregnant and lost the baby. However, according to Colop, the scientific proof and the technical assessments performed discarded the story of the minor.
The young woman interviewed by the MP which testimony on pregnancy was discarded is not the only one denouncing that. The day of the fire, a young woman talked to several communication media and said he was pregnant but was forced to abort.
In addition, the Prosecutor office against People Trafficking investigates other three complaints, one filed by the PGN for the evasion of 40 teenagers, the other one also by the PDH for another disappearance case, and one by the Social Welfare Secretariat for the evasion of teenagers, as it was suspected that one of them was in charge of recruiting others.
“Our analyst conclude that it is not a planned escape for capture, but an event that happens as evasion. The teenagers had –mechanisms- to evade the protection process. Logically they were not coerced to stay in a gang and it was optional if they wanted to stay or not in the facilities”, explains Colop.
They also have the complaint of the Judicial Organism (OJ, per its initials in Spanish), due to the suspicion that a teenager was victim of the trafficking in modality of forced recruitment from the gangs. The suspicion was discarded because she denied having been recruited by a gang; also, she had a legal open process that gave some leads that she was not victim of such crime.
All of the above-mentioned complaints were centralized in an investigation process that is still in progress, as it is necessary to have the declaration of three teenagers that escaped just before the fire and that still have not been located.
“We still have not been able to locate the three teenagers, we do not have their declaration; we consider to keep the case opened until we have their declaration, as the investigation is what has been denunciated, which possible victims can inform and be strengthened with general investigation. Their declarations are key in order to know if we are or not dealing with a crime of people trafficking,” says the chief of the Prosecutors office.
According to Colop the missing teenagers can provide more information with which the investigation process will be concluded, these girls are now being tracked by the Coordination of the Operative Unit of the Alba-Keneth Alert System. Even when MP already surveyed the family surroundings, they have not been able to obtain much information; they expect to find them.
Through the Unit of Access to Public information of Inacif, we required information of the amount of girls reflecting pregnancy after performing the necropsy for the fire of March 8; however, the entity considered the request “not admissible” as those expert opinions constitute investigation actions that are remitted to the MP.
“It is not possible accept the request as, such information is part of the experts opinion. Inacif provides their services upon request of the competent authority, as established in the article 29 of the Organic law of Inacif; the opinions issued by Inacif constitute investigation actions and such are remitted to the MP, entity to which the parties of judicial proceedings will be able to request information”.
THE COWS VACCINE
Other of the practices, denunciated as part of the sexual abuse to which they were submitted, are the testimonies of a tranquilizer they called “the vaccine”, “the cows vaccine” and the “sleepy vaccine”. According to stories of three interviewed girls and two former workers of the SBS, these medicaments were injected to the teenagers so they would fall asleep or be tranquilized before a situation that would alter them.
The five consulted people coincide in that the application of this medicament was in two clinics: dental and the one for teenagers (men and women). There was four clinics within the Home; there was also the pediatric for attention to NNAs with intellectual disabilities. Directorship of Human Resources of the SBS hired the people working there.
About the suspicions of the application of the medicaments described by the teenagers, Colop indicates they verified all the medicines in the clinics, as it was known that teenagers were drugged there, besides they revised the last bids; which were sent to Inacif to establish if they caused “sleepy effects, loss of consciousness or memory”, but none of them had those functions. The analysis of such meds were performed between 2016 and 2017.
In other diligences related to the case in that period, notebooks form the rooms of the girls were subtracted to determine if the friendship links of the young women that had disappeared, even though they were not in the same module. Psychological analysis performed by PGN for all the teenagers were documented and it was read within the stories that if the young women were victims of exploitation and trafficking, but there were not major evidence.
In addition, they collected 40 testimonial declarations of NNA, monitors and psychologies in the period from October 2016 to May 2017.
On other side, the National Adoption Council (CNA per its initials in Spanish), which is in charge of verifying the conditions of the public and private homes, performed 21 supervisions from 2010 to 2017. In 2012, they verified the Home for a complaint on medication application (Risperdal) to NNA.
Risperdal is a medication within the family of the antipsychotic, which control or modulate the conduct in people. In the case of childhood, it is used when they are hyperactive or aggressive behavior, and should be applied under medical prescription. Its effect is excess of sleep and tranquility.
“According to the supervision in the home, interviews and documents provided by Dr. Byron Recinos from the Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home, it was determined that the reason why kids were medicated with antipsychotics as Risperidone (Risperdal), was because in the home there were NNA with background of mental disability, development disorder, aggressive conduct, self-aggression or obsessive disorders. Being these patients with changes in behavior in occasions due to agitation (patients who do self-infringed harm, that harm people surrounding them or that present aggressive conducts)”, argues CNA.
CNA adds, “Therefore each one of them was evaluated by a psychologist and was provided follow up according to their needs”.
The recommendation of the CNA was to implement group meetings with all personnel in charge of the NNA care to optimize time and provide better follow up according to the medicine administrated, to reinforce the protocols every six months, and to continue the assessment of antipsychotic medication. Follow up to the patient to continue, reduce or suspend such medicines if it was the case in each NNA treated by the psychiatrist of the Virgen de la Asunción Home.
SAFE HOME, NO MAN´S LAND
Leonel Dubón, director of the Childhood Shelter, organization that has given shelter to several girls former internees of the Safe Home advise that girls have told they were pulled out from the Home to have sex, however, their testimonies were never formally denunciated before MP, as they were afraid.
“Since many years back, there were always rumors and manifestations, almost since the opening of the Safe Home (June 2010)”.
Dubón states that the Safe Home was no man´s land where there was really probability of these stories to be true.
“I can confirm that the Safe Home was no man´s land and that any of the things denunciated by the girl could have certainly happened. People making things against the girls and boys, did it well prepared to any further complaint”.
Marwin Bautista, sub secretary of the Protection and Fostering of the SBS, was consulted for the stories of the survivors of the Safe Home and their families, regarding the application of medicines and the stories regarding people trafficking in the modality of sexual exploitation, he limited his response indicating that it is the MP the one investigating those cases.
“This is a case that must be investigated by MP, we had some of the processes of investigation about it, however the complaints were file in a determined moment and now those cases do not correspond to the SBS”.
*Fictitious name to protect the interviewed person.
*This story was performed in the framework of the Program for Development of Journalism of Data and Investigation from Intervews