Teaching youth in Huánuco, Peru, churches and schools about God's design for sexuality was the aim of a 2000 project of Lima-based evangelical legal aid and human rights group Peace and Hope Association. But when streams of girls came forward after meetings saying they had been raped, Peace and Hope workers knew the Huánuco project must expand to defend them.

So Peace and Hope began in 2002 networking with evangelical pastors in this city tucked in a valley in Peru's central Andes to raise police and evangelical awareness of the problem, and do something about it.

Rape is an epidemic in this city of 70,000 in Peru's poorest state and nestled in a remote Andean valley. An estimated 20 Huánuco girls, typically between ages 6 and 14, are rape victims each week. One in 40 women there get raped annually. Many rapes go unreported because family members commit them. Reported rapes rarely lead to prosecution. Recent research published by New York University shows that 90 percent of girls in Peru aged 12-16 who give birth say they were raped. It appears to be part of a national tendency to perpetrate violence against women. The United Nations reports that 70 percent of all crimes reported to the police in Peru involve wife beating.

Peace and Hope lawyer José Regalado said Peru's evangelicals are conservative on social problems. And when abused girls and their families approached authorities for help, police typically blamed the victim.

"One of the problems is [the police] don't see rape as a bad thing," lawyer Jaime Farrant of the Washington-based evangelical International Justice Mission (IJM) said. "For them, rape is like a traffic violation. It's not a high priority for them." IJM funds some of Peace and Hope's ...

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