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Latin America Blog

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.

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Guatemala has seen more than 4,400 women killed in such attacks over the last four years. Honduras followed it with the second-highest femicide rate in Central America, according to some reports.

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Some link the killings of women in Central America and Mexico directly to the drug trade. Salvadoran Defense Minister General David Munguia Payes suggested, in response to 2011’s figures, that some of the victims were involved in local drug sales. One theory is that, in a culture where females are sometimes seen as property, gangs use the killing and abuse of women to strike at their rivals.

In some cases it appears that women’s bodies are the medium used by criminal groups to send messages to one another, or to the government. In one recent case in Guatemala, the decapitated head of a women, thought to be under 20 years old, was found in a phone booth along with a message warning the authorities not to go through with policies to stop gangs extorting public transport.

But some rights groups have rejected this simplistic explanation, arguing that the killings reflect power relations between the genders more than organized crime. Where there is high level of violence, poor and young women make easy targets. The prevalence of human trafficking and illegal immigration through Central America and Mexico is also a factor, delivering a supply of vulnerable individuals that no-one will report missing. Honduras’ Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CONADEH) has stated that these crimes are too often attributed to domestic violence, or killing by a partner, arguing that in cases of femicide the killer is often unknown to the victim.

The kind of ultra-violence associated with the killings of women may be an indicator less of organized crime than of the culture of violence that comes in the wake of organized crime.

So-called femicides remain a mysterious phenomenon. One of the characteristics analysts identify about these gender-based murders is that they so often go unpunished, and even un-investigated, with impunity rates hovering over 80 percent or 90 percent in many of the countries where they are common.

Hannah Stone is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. You can read all of her articles here.

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