A stepdaughter's tale of sexual abuse by former President Daniel Ortega has become a test of how sexual crimes are treated in a male-dominated Central American society - and by a Sandinista party long considered progressive.

The personalities and circumstances involved add to the drama.Ortega is the leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front that overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. He was the leader of the young guerrillas who marched into Managua to the applause of most Nicaraguans and much of the rest of the world.

They changed a conservative Nicaraguan society, loosening the tight bonds of traditional morality with a wave of sexual liberation that gave women a significant new political role.

"They could do nothing wrong," said sociologist Oscar Rene Vargas. "They were the darlings of Nicaraguan society. Women loved them."

But the Sandinistas' leftist ideology and radical economic measures, the U.S. support of armed rebels and the Sandinistas' own corruption frustrated many Nicaraguans. In 1990, they were voted out of power.

Only a week ago, Ortega was re-elected party leader, despite the controversy over his stepdaughter's claims.

Zoilamerica Ortega Murillo, 30, is the daughter of Ortega's wife Rosario Murillo, who accompanied him in his days of exile in Costa Rica.

Zoilamerica filed a criminal complaint Wednesday claiming Ortega had molested her since she was 11.

In 40 pages of testimony, Zoilamerica said that she saw her stepfather, who adopted her in 1986, both as her aggressor and as her protector as she grew distant from her mother.