Violence against women rises in El Salvador
Some analysts say that 'femicides' increase with the chaos of organized crime, though motives in El Salvador and the rest of Central America and Mexico remain unclear.
Non-governmental organization Salvadoran Women for Peace (Organizacion de Mujeres Salvadoreñas por la Paz - ORMUSA), which tracks violence against women, reported that, according to police statistics, there were 160 such murders committed in the country in the first three months of the year. This would put the country on track for a record 640 such killings in 2011 - higher than any year since the organization began to track the issue in 1999.Skip to next paragraph
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Human rights organizations in Latin America use the word “femicide” to refer to the murders of women who are killed because of their gender. Murders defined in this way typically involve sexual violence, mutilation, and torture, with the mangled bodies of victims often left in public places.
El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with almost 70 per 100,000 people. This is mostly due to soaring gang violence, with the country an increasingly important transit location for drugs being trafficked into the US, and the local “maras” or gangs fighting over the business. Sexualized killings of women make up a relatively minor proportion of the many violent deaths - of some 4,000 murders the police registered in 2010, 580 were identified as femicides.
What draws attention to the killings of women, and girls, is their brutality. The deputy head of the police force told the press recently that, while the victims of gang violence are as much men as women, the level of violence used against the women is higher. He said that the number of these attacks is rising “alarmingly.”
The reasons behind these killings are murky. El Salvador’s femicides have coincided with the growth of organized crime in recent years, but have outstripped even the booming murder rate. The country has seen a five-fold increase in femicides over the last decade, according to ORMUSA, while its murder rate has roughly doubled in the same period.
Some femicides are directly linked to El Salvador’s gangs, or “maras.” In one case in March, the murder of two girls, aged 15 and 17, was attributed to a local branch of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).
Femicides often seem to accompany the growth of organized crime. Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez has famously suffered a rash of such killings, coinciding with the rise of the drug trade in the border town in the early 1990s, and which continues today. Hundreds of women’s bodies have been found, often mutilated and raped, with little action from local law enforcement. As organized crime has spread south from Mexico into the Northern Triangle region of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras over the last 15 years, vicious killings of women appear to have followed. Some observers have warned that the killings of women in the region are reaching "epidemic" levels.