THE BLOG
09/16/2013 02:47 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2013

Biannela Susana: A Second Chance

She was called "the worst mother in the world."

Twenty-five-year-old Biannela Susana, a widowed Latina mother of four, whose oldest son, Cristian Fernandez, became the youngest person in Jacksonville history to be charged as an adult for first-degree murder. Police say he beat his baby brother David's head against a bookshelf, and that his mother didn't seek medical attention quickly enough to save the child's life.

Cristian initially faced a life sentence. Biannela was charged with manslaughter in David's death, and faced up to 30 years herself.

The case generated worldwide headlines as images flashed worldwide of a 12-year-old Cristian, in an orange jumpsuit, shackled in the adult courtroom.

Prosecutors worked to make the case that the young mother knew her older son was beating the younger boy, but didn't intervene.

Yet an internationally renowned advocate for the unique needs and problems of women and girls was successful in convincing a Jacksonville judge that Biannela Susana deserved a second chance. That her story painfully demonstrates what can happen when girls' neglect and victimization are left untreated.


Lawanda Ravoira
, who runs the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, did what the system had failed to do throughout Biannela's life. She intervened to stop the trajectory of abuse and exploitation.

Here's the timeline:

Biannela's Story: Abuse and Teen Pregnancy

• Raised by an abusive mother, at the age of 11, Biannela became pregnant by 20-year-old Jose Antonio Fernandez. Fernandez was subsequently charged with statutory sexual assault charges.

• At the age of 12, Biannela gave birth to her first son, Cristian.

• Shortly after that, Biannela's mother was charged with child neglect. Both Biannela and her son Cristian went into foster care. Cristian was molested in a group home.

• Later, Biannela would marry an abusive man who would go on to kill himself in front of Cristian and the other children.

"As I met Biannela and learned her story, I was outraged by the number of professionals she encountered during her young life who failed to intervene," Ravoira says.

It led to the easily predictable tragedy. A dead child. Another child facing a life sentence. A young mother who had lost everything.

After a team of high-profile Jacksonville defense attorneys successfully argued to get Cristian out of the adult criminal justice system (he's now in juvenile detention and will be released at the age of majority) Ravoira and other advocates went to bat for Biannela. They did it through the groundbreaking Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, which conducts research, runs model programs, provides training and advocates on behalf of girls who've been raped and abused. The organization was founded by the powerhouse philanthropist Delores Barr Weaver, wife of former Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, and a visionary advocate for the unique needs and issues facing women and girls.

"Biannela Susana's case is emblematic of the issues that are of concern to the Center -- the abuse and mistreatment of girls, the lack of intervention by authorities and systems that could provide help, and the subsequent damage to and re-victimization of girls, young women and their families as a result," Ravoira says.

"Through our advocacy, we bring a different perspective to cases such as this -- a perspective that sees the young woman in the full context of her lived experiences."

This powerful advocacy led to a ruling releasing Biannela Susana from jail. She will be allowed to rebuild her life, and will eventually go to work for the Policy Center. "She'll serve as a powerful example to other young girls and women who have faced incredible trauma and abuse," Ravoira says. "I have no doubt that she will become a responsible, contributing member of the community."

It's a chance at redemption. And it's thanks to the compassion and wisdom of strong, smart and bold women who stood up to support another woman -- whose life was scarred by trauma, neglect, abuse and exploitation. Too many young girls and women face this nightmare every day. The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center and Lawanda Ravoira have made it their mission to save some of those girls. You can learn more here.

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