Teresa, a Nicaraguan woman, married her husband when she was 19 years old. She agreed to follow him anywhere he wanted, including the community of San Rafael, a very remote, rural area. She had six children with him—three sons and three daughters—and lived on four acres of farmland nestled in the mountains.
For 30 years, Teresa suffered relentless abuse by her husband. He molested all three daughters as they “became women” and insisted on having his own bed very close to theirs. Often, he would wake up at night to rape them as they slept.
Teresa’s oldest daughter tried to protect her younger sisters, and warned Teresa not to leave the girls alone at home with their father. She told Teresa that her husband was not a good man.
But for a long time, Teresa was afraid to challenge her husband. In the community of San Rafael, people tend to believe that women consent to sexual abuse, and many villagers believed that Teresa had condoned the rapes of her own daughters. Terrified of what might happen if she spoke out, Teresa stayed with her husband even though the violence persisted. She had no means to support herself independently, and her home and land were registered in her husband’s name, not her own.
One day, Teresa was listening to the radio and heard about an organization called the Association of Entrepreneurial Women of Waslala (AMEWAS)—a Nicaraguan grassroots group supported by AJWS that seeks to decrease violence against women, girls and youth by educating women about their rights, promoting gender equality and expanding women’s access to the judicial system. With encouragement from her friends and one of her brothers, Teresa decided to seek AMEWAS’s help.
While her husband was away, Teresa traveled with all of her children to the town of Waslala, where AMEWAS is headquartered, to stay at AMEWAS’s women’s shelter.
AMEWAS supported Teresa to press charges against her husband, and, in 2011, he was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment. AMEWAS was able to transfer the title of his property to Teresa. Thankfully, Teresa and her children now live on their land independently, without the threat of violence and abuse.
Supporting women like Teresa is the goal of the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), a piece of legislation recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. IVAWA would make sure that U.S. aid dollars are allocated to local groups like AMEWAS. It would ensure that anti-violence programs also focus on access to economic opportunities—including credit and property rights—so that women are not forced to stay in abusive situations because they have no way to earn a living on their own. Lastly, IVAWA would put the full force of the U.S. Department of State behind Teresa and women like her worldwide, by making it a top U.S. diplomatic priority to stop violence against women and girls.