“Private” crimes of domestic violence, gender violence and femicide in Central America are upheld by government and legal structures that protect aggressors through impunity and intimidate women into silence or flight. For the women who attempt to leave and to report the crimes, the price is often death.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions just announced that victims of domestic violence generally won’t qualify for asylum requests in the United States. He has argued that such claims are private matters, not political ones and that the issues are arbitrary. What he should know is that by the time a woman has made the arduous journey to request asylum for domestic and gender violence, she is running for her life.
Who Qualified for Asylum until Now?
In order to be granted asylum, the applicant must show that they have suffered past persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and that he or she is unable or unwilling to return.
To be granted asylum based on one’s membership in a particular social group, the applicant must show that the group is (1) composed of members who share a common immutable characteristic, (2) defined with particularity, and (3) socially distinct within the society in question. The applicant must also show that her persecution was on account of her membership in the social group, and that the government in her country of origin is unable or unwilling to afford her protection from such persecution.
Domestic Violence, Gender Violence and Femicide-Not private Crimes, but Social, Political, Economic Crimes.
Domestic violence, gender violence, and femicide are crimes of global proportions driving countless women to flee their homes in search of protection. In this report, I am focusing on the dangerous climate for women in Central American countries from where many seek protection in the form of asylum petitions in the United States. In the last week, news coverage from programs such as Univision, have addressed Session’s consideration to remove domestic violence as a valid category for asylum. At the center of the discussion is whether a “private” crime qualifies for asylum protections.
As you will read below, “private” crimes of domestic violence, gender violence, and femicide are upheld by government and legal structures that protect aggressors through impunity and intimidate women into silence or flight. For the women who attempt to leave and to report the crimes, the price is often death.
The statistics below provide evidence that based on the asylum definition above, Central American victims of domestic and gender violence in Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala have an urgent case for asylum. The conditions in these countries show that women are persecuted as a class; they are a part of a cognizable, particular social group, and that their immutable characteristic and reason for persecution is gender.
Domestic Violence, Femicide-Sex based hate crimes, the Case for Asylum
Violence in Honduras is a social problem that crosses all strata and conditions of sex and gender with women classified among the most vulnerable.The National Observatory of Violence (ONV), reported 22 femicides in January 2018 and 50 cases in February.
Femicides in Honduras are the consequences of extreme outbursts of domestic violence triggered by anger and jealousy, and are characterized by being carried out in cold blood with sharp weapons, fire and asphyxiation.
According to a study published by the University Institute for Democracy, Peace and Security (IUDPAS), of 500 homicides taking place in 2017 from January to August in Honduras, women led the majority of deaths with 207 deaths.
Women in Honduras live in danger of losing their lives violently every day, reports the National Observatory of Violence of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (ONV-UNAH). They are victims of many different types of aggression on a daily basis, and very few dare to testify before the authorities.
One of the most recent statistical reports of the Public Ministry (MP), indicates that, in barely 2 months, a total of 1,689 complaints about different crimes against women were recorded at the national level.
Those who dared to speak denounced harassment, kidnappings, and physical harassment. In most cases, the accusations ended in impunity.
Thousands of women seek help in Ciudad Mujer, a domestic violence and family abuse refuge for women in Honduras. In almost a year, care centers registered 95,263 domestic violence services in Tegucigalpa and Choloma, with 25–27 women arriving each day.
Since March 29, 2017, through February 2018, 48, 118 people have sought support.
On average, every 14 to 15 hours a woman in Honduras dies violently, according to figures from the National Observatory of Violence of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (OV-UNAH).
“When the injuries are analyzed, the aggression, whether physical, psychological or sexual show extreme manifestations of contempt, hatred and viciousness with which a woman is killed,” said coordinator, Migdonia Ayestas. “Generally,” added Ayestas, “men are killed with a firearm, and women, for the most part, are executed with a knife, and by men.”
Wives, girlfriends, daughters, and mothers are considered a personal possession, an object, and not as a person with rights.
“This comes to such a degree that when the woman tries to separate, the man can take her life. Unfortunately, this is something rooted in machismo, which makes it look normal, “ lamented the coordinator of OV-UNAH, Migdonia Ayestas.
Domestic Violence, Femicide-Sex based hate crimes, the Case for Asylum
In El Salvador, the first 4-month period of 2018 reflects a serious upturn in femicides. Official data show that 135 women were killed between January 1 and April 16 of this year.
Last year, between January 1 and April 30, 123 femicides were committed, according to data from the Observatory of Violence of the Salvadoran Women’s Organization for Peace (ORMUSA).
Young women under 30 are being murdered at high rates. The Institute of Legal Medicine registered 468 femicides in 2017. The 45.08 % of murdered women corresponds to young women under 29, including 16 cases of children under 15 years.
Among the dead: peasant women, small traders, doctors, journalists, students, employees, the unemployed, and female police officers. The women were murdered mostly by men with whom they share their daily lives. In most cases, they have been killed in front of their sons and daughters, and have been shot or stabbed.
According to ORMUSA, the disturbing trend of “punitive populism” is emerging in El Salvador, where men “counter-sue” women who sue them in domestic violence cases. This recourse is considered a form of punishment, or “legal revenge” for their boldness to confront the status quo.
Once in the courtrooms, women are condemned along with their violent husbands under the claim of “cross violence.”
Impunity strengthens the aggressors, and above all, it paralyzes the victims and sends the message to the other women that there is no point in fighting.
Intrafamily Violence-an Epidemic, also School, Work and the Community
Women in their twenties are the greatest victims of violence in Mexico, states El Universal Union of Guanajuato.
Women aged 20 to 24 in Mexico suffer the most from intrafamily violence in Mexico, with Queretaro ranking highest in cases of intrafamily violence committed against women in this age group.
The incidence of intrafamily violence against women is of 124.83 cases per 100 thousand inhabitants; while in the case of women from 20 to 24 years old, this indicator goes up to 230.35 percent.
According to statistics from the Morbidity Yearbook of the General Directorate of Epidemiology that measures the cases of family violence committed against women who are treated in medical institutions, Querétaro ranks first in cases of intrafamily violence that require hospitalization, with a rate of 1898.73 cases.
Guerrero and Michoacán rank second and third in the incidence of violence against twenty-year-olds with 813.19 and 556.66, respectively.
There are 12 regions that are above the national average incidence in intrafamily violence committed against women from 20 to 24 years old. These states are: Querétaro, Guerrero, Michoacán, Nayarit, Campeche, Hidalgo, Quintana Roo, State of Mexico, Tamaulipas, Baja California Sur, Colima and Chihuahua.
66.1% of Mexican women have suffered aggression of sexual, physical, work or emotional form at some point in their lives, reported the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi).
Of the total number of women who have experienced physical and / or sexual violence by an aggressor other than their partner, only 9.4% filed a complaint or denounced it to any authority. 2.2% only requested support from an institution; while 88.4% did not request support or submit a complaint. Gender aggression goes largely unpunished.
The National Survey on the Dynamics of Household Relations (ENDIREH) measured the experiences of violence faced by women aged 15 and over residing in Mexico’s national territory in 2016:
49% of women suffered emotional violence; 41.3% had been victims of sexual assault: 29% suffered economic violence, patrimonial violence and/or discrimination; while 34% said they had experienced physical aggression throughout their lives.
In fact, the extent of violence in the country ranged from 52.4% in Chiapas to 79.8% in Mexico City in 2016.
In Mexico, assaults against women are carried out in different areas of life: in school, in the family, in the workplace, and in the community. The regions that present the highest levels of gender violence include Mexico City, State of Mexico, Jalisco, Aguascalientes and Querétaro. On the contrary, those with the lowest prevalence are San Luis Potosí, Tabasco, Baja California Sur, Campeche, and Chiapas.
According to the INEGI, the national prevalence of school violence is 25.3% and the regions with the highest prevalences are Querétaro, Jalisco, Mexico City, Aguascalientes and Oaxaca.
Of the total aggressions that occurred in the school in the last 12 months, 38.3% were of a sexual nature; 34.1% psycho-emotional and 27.7% physical.
The main aggressors in the school environment were the same classmates, and teachers. In addition, 12 of every 100 prep school women suffered abuse, harassment, harassment or sexual intimidation in the last year.
Of the women who have worked, 27 out of 100 have experienced some violent act, mainly of a sexual nature and of discrimination based on gender or pregnancy.
The most frequent type of violence at work is discrimination, sexual assaults and emotional types such as humiliation, degradation, and intimidation.
The national prevalence of violence in the workplace is 26.6% and the entities with the highest figures are Chihuahua, Coahuila, Queretaro, Baja California and Quintana Roo.
Violence against women in public or community spaces is above all of a sexual nature, ranging from offensive phrases of a sexual nature, stalking (followed in the street) and sexual abuse (groping, obscene exhibitionism).
The aggressions occurred mainly in the street and parks (65.3%), followed by the bus and minibus (13.2%), the subway (6.5%). The main aggressors are unknown people, acquaintances, a friend or neighbor, as well as the driver of public transport.
Finally, in the last 12 months, 10.3% were victims of some violent act (emotional, physical, sexual or economic-patrimonial) on the part of some member of their family. The most indicated aggressors are the brothers, the father, and the mother. The main sexual aggressors are the uncles and the cousins.
Intrafamily Violence, Sex Crimes, Child and Teen Pregnancy Epidemic
In Nicaragua, many girls and adolescents face unwanted pregnancies as a result of acts of sexual violence, according to the IACHR, the Interamerican Court of Human Rights Project. “These pregnancies are the direct and unacceptable consequence of a crime, and severely impact the lives, integrity and personal development of the victims. The State must recognize it in this way,” said Esmeralda Arosemena, reporter on the Rights of the Child for the IACHR.
In the first quarter of this year, 16 women lost their lives in Nicaragua and almost half of them did so at the hands of their partners. This represented three more crimes for gender violence than in the same period of 2017, according to Catholics for the Right to Decide.
Another 23 women survived the femicides by thwarting these attempts in some way.
An analysis carried out by that organization through the Voces Observatory indicates that in ten of the cases the victims were aged between 35 and over 51 years.
One of the issues that most concerns the Commission (Inter-American Human Rights), is the link between poverty and gender-based violence, the IACHR reports.
“There is a high proportion of poor, indigenous and/or Afro-descendant women, most of whom reside in rural areas, who most often do not fully enjoy their human rights with respect to maternal health,” the report says. Criminalization of abortion on women in the region also affects women’s precarious situations. Nicaragua is one of the five countries in America where abortion is still penalized
Gender violence a legacy of war
Gender-based violence is at epidemic levels in Guatemala. The country is ranked third in terms of murders of women around the world, reports, Small Arms, an agency that conducted a survey into gender violence in Guatemala. Two women are murdered there every day.
Gender violence in Guatemala is part of the legacy of violence that followed 36 years of civil war in the country, says Julie Guinan of CNN. During the conflict, atrocities were committed against women, who were used as a weapons of war. In 1996, a ceasefire agreement was reached between the insurgents and the government. But what followed was a lingering climate of terror, due to a culture of impunity and discrimination.
Some 200,000 people were either killed or disappeared during the conflict that lasted several decades, most of them came from indigenous Mayan populations, states Guinan.
The UN estimates that 98% of cases never reach the courts. In many cases, femicide — the murder of a woman simply because of her gender — is carried out with shocking brutality with some of the same strategies used during the war, including rape, torture and mutilation.
The country’s weak judicial system, a culture of machismo and a deeply rooted patriarchal society have greatly challenged the women of Guatemala. María Machicado Terán, a representative of UN Women in Guatemala published the following finding:
“80% of men believe that women need permission to leave the house, and 70% of women surveyed agreed.”
This predominant culture of machismo and an acceptance of brutality against women leads to high rates of violence.
The lack of education is also a great contributor to poverty and vulnerability. Many girls, especially in indigenous communities, do not go to school because the distance from their homes to the classroom is too far.
The most vulnerable groups in Guatemala are the Mayan girls.
Millions of women find themselves trapped in a cycle of violence. Gender based persecution drives women to flee for their lives. Protection at home and through police structures is often denied. Victims of domestic violence fight violence on two levels, at home and in their societies. In a system that does not protect them, what are they to do? As attorney General Sessions considers the case of domestic violence to grant women asylum, I hope he can see the connection between the private and the public, for they are intertwined. The case for domestic violence and asylum is not a private problem; it is a national and international humanitarian crisis.
How can we close the door?