Domestic Violence in Mexico During COVID-19

Overview

06/16/20 (M MacGregor)- According to a survey by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía), or“INEGI”, 7 out of 10 women in Mexico have experienced violence at some point in their lives, and among those, almost half (43.9%) of women were abused by their boyfriend, husband, or partner. Additionally, according to INEGI, the states with the highest levels of domestic violence are the State of Mexico, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, and Queretaro. Domestic violence is defined by the United Nations as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain control over an intimate partner and encompasses physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological threats that influence another person. At the international and regional level, Mexico is part of various agreements that share the goal of eradicating violence against women. Some of these include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW 1979), the InterAmerican Commission of Women, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995). Despite the country’s membership in these agreements, the current COVID-19 pandemic has shown the weaknesses in the Mexican government in protecting women from domestic violence and ensuring their safety.

Domestic Violence During COVID

According to Reuters, since the COVID-19 lockdown, women in Mexico have been fighting “another shadow pandemic”. There has been “an increase in reports of domestic violence, many of those psychological violence”, according to Blanca Aquino, director of the Municipal Institute for Women of Veracruz. Similarly, Maria Noel Baeza, the regional director for UN Women, believes that the lockdown is exacerbating violence against women by forcing them to stay in situations of confinement in which [women] are locked up with their abusers and have very limited outlets to escape violence. 

Before social distancing was implemented in the country, Expansión Política reported that the Mexican emergency number registered 21,727 domestic violence related calls during the month of February. According to El Universal, three weeks after the stay at home orders were issued, Mexican federal authorities estimated that violence against women had increased between 30 and 100%. Almost two months after the first case of COVID-19 in Mexico, the National Network of Shelters (la Red Nacional de Refugios)  observed an “increase of 5% in women’s admissions [to the shelters] and an increase of 60% in guidance via telephone calls, social networks, and email”. Additionally, women’s centers linked to the network are at “80% to 110% of their capacity, especially in entities such as Guanajuato, the State of Mexico, and Chiapas”. These cases of violence against women are expected to persist as the pandemic continues, as human rights specialists in an article by El Sol de Mexico are predicting domestic violence to grow by 92% during the quarantine period.

Government Response

At the national level, many lawyers and human rights activists have criticized the problematic remarks of current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as well as the Mexican government’s failure to release a comprehensive plan to tackle the spike in domestic abuse amid the COVID-19 emergency. According to Latino USA, AMLO stated in a press conference in May 2020 that “violence against women has not increased since the national lockdown” and that “there has been no increase in complaints from women”, despite statistical reports indicating otherwise. Jacqui Hunt, director of Equality Now, a non-governmental organization that aims to promote the rights of women and girls globally, told Independent, “the appalling increase in the number of women murdered and abused in Mexico since the start of 2020 should be seized upon as a watershed moment in which the government finally steps up to address the root causes of harm against women”. Hunt called for the Mexican government to “work closely alongside organizations which help women and girls and provide additional funding to make sure those locked up with their abusers can access safe housing and other specialist support”, as statistics collected by El Sol de Mexico estimate that “two-thirds of the female population in the country over the age of 15 will quarantine alongside a violent partner”.

A gender perspective to combat COVID-19

Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres called for measures to address a “shocking global upsurge in domestic violence against women and girls”, stating that “together, [the international community] can and will prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes”. United Nations Women in particular has made a number of recommendations to the Mexican authorities in order to alleviate the conditions that women and girls have experienced during the lockdown. Some of these recommendations include: 

  • Raising awareness of the increased burden on female staff for extra care tasks against COVID-19.
  • Helping employers take into account the risks that their employees displacement will have, as well as ensuring their payments during the quarantine.
  • Protecting the workforce in manufacturing companies (maquiladoras) economically and through labor protection measures since women make up a large part of the workforce.
  • Procuring strategies to protect those affected by the sexual division of labor in areas such as education, social work, which are mostly composed of women.

“No estás sola, seguimos contigo” and “#ContingenciaSinViolencia”

On April 7th, the Mexican government in conjunction with the Citizens’ Council (Consejo Ciudadano) and the Women’s Secretariat (Secretaria de las Mujeres) launched the “No estas sola, seguimos contigo” (“You’re not alone, we are still with you”) initiative to address domestic violence during the quarantine. This program consists of several resources to help women report domestic violence and seek professional help. The resources include chat rooms in which victims can send video, audio, and photos, channels to Moon Centers, or Centro Lunas, which provide psychological and legal care for medium and high risk cases. 

In addition, the government and the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (CONAVIM) created a directory to publicize these resources as well as the National Shelter Network so that women can access safe spaces away from their abusers. The hashtag, #ContingencyWithoutViolence, or #ContingenciaSinViolencia was launched by the State of Mexico and has spread on social networks throughout the country. Despite these efforts to address violence against women, the National Shelter Network is lacking the budget and the space to operate effectively and this leads them to deal with double or triple contigency. Milenio reports that several organizations have argued that the “delay in the allocation of financial resources violates the shelters’ operation and rights of women to safety”. Wendy Figueroa, the director of the National Shelter Network, has demanded that the Mexican government “establish a budget, as well as evaluation and monitoring mechanisms that guarantee the permanent flow of resources allowing the shelters to work through the year without impediment”.

In conclusion, it is clear that COVID-19 has exacerbated the effects of domestic violence in Mexico, a country that already suffers from staggering statistics due to the normalization of gender based violence. The implications of the lockdown are widening gender inequalities and increasing violence against women. In order to address this crisis, the Mexican government must strengthen all mechanisms to combat domestic violence at the local, regional and national levels. Steps must be taken immediately because women’s lives depend on it.

Domestic Violence Resources

United States

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Online Chat: https://www.thehotline.org/what-is-live-chat/

Safety planning and legal information: https://www.thehotline.org/help/path-to-safety/

Resources for victims and survivors by State: https://www.thehotline.org/resources/victims-and-survivors/

Mexico:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 9-1-1

Shelter Network Directory: https://eldiadespues.mx/directorio-de-organizaciones/

Domestic Violence Hotlines by State:

Sources:

Bettinger-Lopez, Caroline. “A Double Pandemic: Domestic Violence in the Age of COVID-19.”  Council on Foreign Relations, 13 May 2020

Oppenheim, Maya. “Mexico sees almost 1,000 women murdered in three months as domestic abuse concerns rise amid coronavirus.” Independent. 28 April 2020. 

Machicao, Monica, Martinez, Ana Isabel, Ramos Miranda, Natalia, & Sigal, Lucila. “Another Pandemic: In Latin America, domestic abuse rises amid lockdown. Reuters. 27 April 2020.

Castellanos, Laura. “México abandona a las mujeres violentadas en esta contingencia.” Aristegui Noticias. 16 April 2020.  

Almazan, Jorge. “CdMx lanza programa para denunciar violencia familiar.” Milenio. 14 April 2020

Galvan, Melissa. “Otra contingencia: la violencia contra las mujeres va en aumento.” Expansión Política. 5 April 2020.

Noticias de las Naciones Unidas. “Ante el aumento de la violencia doméstica por el coronavirus, Guterres llama a la paz en los hogares.” Noticias ONU. 5 April 2020

Ortiz, Alexis. “Coronavirus en México. Estiman aumento de hasta 100% en violencia de género. El Universal. 4 April 2020.

Nava, Cecilia. “En cuarentena, violencia contra la mujer escalará 92%, prevén expertas.” El Sol de México. 26 March 2020. 

De la Peña, Angelica. “El Covid-19 y la perspectiva de género.” El Sol de México. 23 March 2020. 

United Nations Women: Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. “Paying attention to women’s needs and leadership will strengthen COVID-19 responses.” UN Women. 19 March 2020.

Seguridad de Estado de México. “Contingencia sin Violencia.” Twitter. 2020. 

Gobierno de la Ciudad de México: Secretaría de las Mujeres. “Lunas.” Gobierno de la Ciudad de México. 2020.

United Nations. “What is Domestic Abuse?” United Nations. 2020. 

Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática (INEGI). “Encuesta Nacional sobre la Dinámica de las Relaciones en los Hogares (ENDIREH 2016).” INEGI. 18 August 2017.

Red Nacional de Refugios. “Red Nacional de Refugios A.C.” 3 November 2014.

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR). “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” United Nations. 18 December 1979.

United Nations Women: Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. “The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.” UN Women, September 1995.

 Comisión Nacional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra las Mujeres (CONAVIM). “Sistema Nacional de Prevencion, Atencion, Sancion, y Erradicacion de la Violencia Contra las Mujeres.” 

Latin American News Dispatch. “AMLO Denies Rise of Violence Against Women During Lockdown.” 

National Domestic Violence Hotline. “Get Help.” 

Organization of American States (OAS). “Inter-American Commission of Women”. OAS.

Veracruz Gobierno del Estado. “Instituto Veracruzano de las Mujeres.” IVM. 

COVID-19 and violence in Mexico

05/06/20 (written by lcalderón) – As the world faces the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, members of the government and the academic community in Mexico expected to see a decrease in violent crime after the federal government implemented the “Stay Home” initiative. According to The New York Times, this seems to have been the case for other Latin American countries, where quarantine and travel restrictions have reduced the incidence of crime in places like Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, etc.

However, Mexican media sources such as El Universal claim that violence in Mexico has not decreased and continues to rise. The Associated Pressreported that places like Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Chihuahua –particularly the municipality of Juárez– have experienced higher levels of violence despite the pandemic. Some of this violence has targeted members of the medical profession because of the supposed risk of contagion they bring to their communities. Nurses have been burned with bleach, clinics have been set on fire, and some medical professionals have been verbally assaulted, making healthcare workers afraid of wearing their uniforms outside the hospitals.  

Nurses ask citizens to stay home amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
“I am a nurse, I fight for you and your life #stayhome” [author’s translation]. Picture by BBC News Mundo.

COVID-19 measures in Mexico

Mexico adopted “Sana Distancia” or social distancing on March 16, 2020 in an attempt to flatten the curve of COVID-19 contagions. By March 30, a sanitary emergency was declared, calling on citizens to stay in quarantine, avoid social gatherings, and only leave home when necessary. In addition, officials ordered all activities for non-essential businesses to cease and reduced operations in essential enterprises, hoping to reduce the exposure of essential workers to the virus.

In theory, there are two reasons why having less people in the streets could result in a significant reduction in crime. First, there are fewer victims because there are fewer people in public that could potentially become victims of violence. Second, there are fewer perpetrators of violence because potential assailants are also following stay-at-home orders. Yet on the ground, the statistics tell another story. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador admitted that the quarantine measures had not yielded decreased levels of violence, as was initially projected, but he remains hopeful that such reductions will be observed over time. In an unprecedented move, the president even addressed his daily morning speech on April 20, 2020 to drug traffickers and criminals asking them to reduce the levels of violence amidst the crisis.   

Analyzing crime trends

Although it is still too soon to analyze the real consequences of these public health measures in 2020, violent crime in Mexico has followed a distinctive pattern over the years. Violent crime is regularly registered by General Attorney offices and reported by Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP). If one compares these national figures from January through March 2020 with the same period in 2019, it is noteworthy that both years had the same number of intentional homicides during that quarter (7,279 cases). Although the total for each month differed, March was the most lethal month in both years. The two main differences between this period in 2019 and that in 2020 are a 2.1% increase in the use of firearms to commit homicide and a 5.3% increase in the number of femicides.

In terms of other violent crime, 2020 showed decreased numbers for cases of kidnapping and robbery (including burglary, commercial robbery and theft), with a 44.4% reduction in reported kidnappings and a 10.7% decrease in robbery. Cases of theft decreased 15.5% from 2019 to 2020, the greatest drop among any type of robbery. The only steady increase shown in the first three months of 2020 was in cases of assault. For the same period in 2019, there were 38,067 cases of assault, while in 2020 that number was 38,267, or a 0.53% increase.

The Secretary General of National Public Security (SESNSP) also reports the total number of victims for a given crime. When analyzing the number of victims for each crime, March 2020 was the deadliest month (3,000 victims) since July 2018, when SESNSP reported 3,074 victims of intentional homicide. However, taking into account the previous comparison looking at January through March 2020 against the same months in 2019, there is less than a 1% increase in the number of victims of homicide in the new year.

Intentional homicides
Trends in intentional homicides in Mexico during the first quarter of years 2018-2020. Graph generated by the author with SENSP data.

The other two crimes that experienced an increase in the number of victims in the first three months of 2020 compared to 2019 were assault with a 1.12% increase and femicide with a 1.24% increase in total victims. At the same time, victims of kidnapping and extortion decreased by 39% and 1.78%, respectively.  

Kidnap and Extortion in Mexico
Trends in kidnap and extortion in Mexico during the first quarter of years 2018-2020. Graph generated by the author with SENSP data.

As Mexico continues to extend the “Stay Home” period, it is important to continue to analyze crime data to determine whether COVID-19 has had a significant impact on levels of violence in Mexico. Specifically, this will help to ascertain whether or not initiatives like social distancing and self-isolation lead to reductions in crime. As such, crime data for April and May will be key to determine if it is accurate to say that COVID-19 measures have had the same impact in Mexico (nationwide) as in other Latin American countries.

Sources:

Miranda, Justino et al. “COVID-19: Healthcare workers experience discrimination and violence in Mexico.” El Universal. April 27, 2020.  https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/english/covid-19-healthcare-workers-experience-discrimination-and-violence-mexico

“Mexico’s gang violence appears to rise during pandemic.” The Associated Press. April 24, 2020. https://apnews.com/a33c15a157abcf26d52de04bd16ab474

“En México hay más gente llorando por la violencia que por el coronavirus: experto.” El Universal. April 23, 2020. https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/en-mexico-hay-mas-gente-llorando-por-la-violencia-que-por-el-coronavirus-experto

“Incidencia delictiva del Fuero Común, nueva metodología.” Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. April 20, 2020. https://www.gob.mx/sesnsp/acciones-y-programas/incidencia-delictiva-del-fuero-comun-nueva-metodologia?state=published

Grupo REFORMA. “La mañanera de AMLO – 20 de abril.” Reforma. April 20, 2020. https://www.reforma.com/libre/acceso/accesofb.htm?urlredirect=/la-mananera-de-amlo-20-de-abril/ar1923705

“Víctimas y unidades robadas, nueva metodología.” Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. April 20, 2020. https://www.gob.mx/sesnsp/acciones-y-programas/victimas-nueva-metodologia?state=published

Simple, Kirk and Azam Ahmed. “El virus disminuye la criminalidad en América Latina (por ahora).” The New York Times. April 13, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/es/2020/04/13/espanol/america-latina/coronavirus-delincuencia-crimen.html