The CUBE Centre in Cochabamba, Bolivia, has revolutionised the country’s approach to sexual violence prevention and support by combining legal, psychological and social support to over 1,500 survivors. The centre has also trained over 100,000 public servants in best practice. Its advocacy efforts have helped repeal Bolivia’s Rape Marriage Law, which pardoned an offender if he married his victim.
Results & Impact
A Breeze of Hope (ABH) has supported over 1,500 child and adolescent victims of sexual violence with free-to-access and comprehensive support services since its founding in 2004. The foundation has also educated and trained over 88,000 people in sexual violence prevention and over 10,000 in early childhood development. ABH’s advocacy resulted in the 2013 repeal of Bolivia’s Rape Marriage Law, a statute pardoning sex offenders of their crimes if they marry their victims. ABH boasts a 95% conviction rate against child sex offenders, the highest in the world. Of the 47 rape cases they took to trial in 2016, all resulted in a conviction.
A Breeze of Hope Foundation (ABH)
ABH operates out of its CUBE multidisciplinary support centre in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The centre provides comprehensive legal, psychological and social services to child and adolescent victims of sexual violence. Each support provider in the centre is trained outside of their specialism, meaning legal teams can offer immediate psychological support and psychologists can offer rudimentary legal advice and referrals. Their integrated approach is taught as a model to government agents and teachers across Bolivia. The team also lobbies for legal reforms and policy changes at a national level.
Children, young people, women and girls
Cost & Value
ABH’s total revenue — for both its CUBE centre and the small school it funds — totalled $337,500 in 2016. ABH estimates that its CUBE centre spends approximately $90 per month, per child.
Running since 2004
Because the CUBE centre offers legal services in addition to support services, its workers and its service users have received death threats. Adequate protection for both staff and service users is paramount to the success of the centre.
The Bolivian government attempted to replicate the methods of the CUBE centre to little effect: ABH’s founder cites improper hiring and the conflicts of interest that arose when service users tried to bring cases against public servants. ABH hopes to found more centres across Bolivia and internationally, though currently funding is thin on the ground.
Brisa de Angulo, CEO and co-founder of A Breeze of Hope Foundation, is disarmingly frank about her ordeals with the Bolivian legal system: as a child, she was raped by an adult cousin, but no public defender or private attorney would take her case.
“In Bolivia, the belief is that if you’re a child, and a girl, it’s your fault no matter what,” said Angulo. While her immediate family was supportive, police officers, lawyers and judges all refused to support her in legal proceedings. “It went on for years, but in that process, I realised that I wasn’t the only one.”
Bolivia has the highest rate of sexual violence against children in South America: one in three girls and just shy of one in four boys experiences sexual violence before the age of 18. In the same study, led by Dr. Angulo, 70% of respondents had never disclosed their abuse to anyone. The phenomenon, it appears, is a family affair: of the 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries surveyed by Pan American Health Organisation, Bolivian women were most likely to have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner.
The absence of support services led Angulo to found ABH in 2004. Within the year, she had set-up the foundation’s flagship project, Centro Una Brisa de Esperanza (CUBE), a multidisciplinary support centre offering frontline assistance to child and adolescent survivors of sexual violence.
Sexual assault centres may be nothing new, but CUBE’s interdisciplinary approach has revolutionised sexual violence support in Bolivia. With 23 staffers, the centre offers a gamut of services: trained psychologists offer individual counselling, family therapy and trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy; social workers provide service referrals and work with a survivor’s family and teachers to ensure their safety and support outside of the centre; and legal professionals take on cases all the way through to prosecution. Despite only a 2% conviction rate in child sexual assault cases in Bolivia before ABH was founded, CUBE’s lawyers boast a 95% conviction rate for cases that reach trial.
The centre, and ABH’s sister project, a school which specialises in early childhood development, take an ambitious and holistic view of their task. Survivors are supported in six areas: personal healing through therapy and counselling; social restoration through group exercises; education; political participation via marches and campaigns; economic independence by way of vocational training; and property ownership, encouraging CUBE’s young women to lead self-directed lives without reliance on partners.
All of the centre’s staff are trained outside of their specialisms—the legal team can provide rudimentary psychological support, while the counselling team is trained in the basics of Bolivian statutory rape law. Each child’s case file comprises their psychological, social and legal needs.
This integrated approach existed nowhere in Bolivia where multiple barriers impact women’s access to services. To date, over 1,570 young people have benefitted from its innovative approach.
The survivor’s autonomy is at the heart of the centre’s approach. Children and adolescents decide which of the services they would like to access, and with what frequency. Cost poses no barrier: all are free to access. The estimated expenditure per child is around $80 per month, though that varies significantly according to the survivor’s needs.
CUBE’s frontline services are only half the story, however. It has become a hub for social, political and legislative change since its establishment. The Centre’s staff provides workshops for a range of public servants, including sexual violence training courses for police officers and the judiciary, and specialised training in early childhood development for teachers. Over 100,000 people have received ABH training to date whether through workshops or the various postgraduate courses it administers.
The foundation’s advocacy efforts have borne particularly impressive results. Historically, children had to be present in court to testify against their abuser and only physical proof of assault was accepted into evidence. Now, legal teams can represent their young clients, minimising the risks of re-traumatisation, and psychological or emotional evidence can now be provided at trial. In 2013, the foundation’s advocacy helped repeal Bolivia’s Marriage Rape Law, which pardoned sexual abusers if they married their victims.
Government involvement in the initiative has been somewhat limited to date. Angulo expressed gratitude that the state had granted the organisation access to schools and support in publicising their work – alongside frustration that no financial support had yet been provided.
In her view, projects like CUBE desperately need government funding, but they nevertheless require a degree of autonomy from government departments: an attempt to replicate the Centre’s support and advocacy model elsewhere in Bolivia ran into difficulty early on. According to Angulo, the dual sins of political appointments of people lacking expertise and conflicts of interest that arose when survivors tried to bring cases against police officers or judges, soon became intractable.
“Government is best when it funds these projects but leaves them some control,” she explained, though expressed hope that their model of bundling services would be replicated across South America. For now, however, the priority remains staying afloat.
(Picture credit: A Breeze of Hope Foundation)