Indigenous people attend the trial of two army officers accused of keeping 11 indigenous women as sex slaves during the country's bloody 36-year civil war, in Guatemala City on February 1, 2016. AFP PHOTO / Johan ORDONEZ / AFP / JOHAN ORDONEZ        (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Indigenous Guatemalan women demand justice for sexual slavery in historic case

TW: Sexual Assault

Starting in the 1960’s, Guatemala lived under a brutal civil war that lasted decades and killed killed at least 200,000 people, most of them indigenous Mayans.

Soldiers used terror and sexual violence as weapons of war, and to this day indigenous Mayans suffer from the legacy of violence that was inflicted upon their communities.

But now, a group of women might receive some justice for the crimes committed against them. Starting last week the Guatemalan national court began a trial to prosecute two men for sexual slavery and abuse during the war. This is the first time in history that charges of sexual slavery during armed conflict will be prosecuted in the country where the violence took place, and activists hope this will set a precedent for prosecuting sexual violence in other countries.

The military officers are accused of enslaving 15 women, raping them and forcing them to perform domestic labor. Some of the women were held for days, others for years. A few managed to escape to the mountains with their children where they endured such harsh conditions that most of their children died. 

The women, now in their 70s and 80s, were kidnapped after their husbands were forcibly disappeared, retaliation for their efforts to legally obtain ownership of their land and protect it from large land-owning families. Today the women still live in extreme poverty with little access to resources to heal physically and mentally from the trauma they suffered.

In spite of intense marginalization and fear of retaliation, they came to the court room to accuse their abusers. What motivated them to come forward? NPR reports that many women expressed fear that this could happen again to other women, and wanted to do everything they could to prevent it.

And they might succeed. If justice is done in this case, it could set a precedent for prosecuting sexual violence and slavery, and help hold abusers and murders accountable for the wars committed against women’s bodies.

Header Image Credit: New York Times

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Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Senior Campaigner at, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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