First 2021 Human Trafficking Convictions in Belize, HTI Provides Survivor Support

by | Nov 1, 2021

Two defendants in Belize were sentenced on October 28, 2021, for charges related to child trafficking after being convicted on September 28, 2021. Justice Antoinette Moore sentenced Jeffrey Perez to 12 years in prison for child sexual exploitation. Petrona Montejo was sentenced to 10 years for providing a child for sexual exploitation

This decision marks the first human trafficking conviction in Belize since March of 2020 and the second since 2016. Despite the hurdles of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Belizean justice system is dedicated to bringing human traffickers to justice. The court utilized innovative video conferencing to allow victim-witnesses to testify from outside of the courtroom. This case also marks the first conviction under Belize’s Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Act of 2013.

Our team provided assistance to Belizean social workers during trial preparation to ensure the victim was safe and prepared to testify at trial. This was the first case in which our Victim Assistance Coordinator, hired in August 2021, provided support to a survivor and her accompanying social work team during a trial.

“The trial phase can be especially challenging for victims as it raises painful memories and often triggers trauma responses, which can lead victims to be reluctant to testify,” said Marie Martinez Israelite, HTI’s Director of Victim Services. “The uncertainty of the case outcome and fears related to seeing their trafficker in court exacerbates the stress that victims feel. Our Victim Assistance Coordinator played a vital role in fostering safety for this young victim, preparing her for taking the stand, and ensuring she had the continued support and services she needed.”

Belize’s increase in successful convictions shows the importance of dedicated law enforcement and prosecutors working throughout the justice system. Each trafficker convicted and sentenced sends a message to other traffickers that their crime is not worth the risk. We are proud to partner with the Government of Belize for this important and critical work that will ensure traffickers are unable to operate with impunity.

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