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Published on 25 November 2021

Supporting survivors of domestic violence in El Salvador during lockdown

El Salvador is a country with a troubled history of violence. Recently published statistics show that El Salvador has the highest murder rate, and its capital San Salvador ranks as the 16th most dangerous city in the world.

In 2020, 131 women were murdered in El Salvador including 73 specifically targeted for being women (‘femicide’). Shockingly this represents a decline in the number of murdered women compared to the previous year. Between 2012 and 2019, 3,000 women were murdered in El Salvador yet the conviction rate against their killers was just under 9%.

In El Salvador, as is the case in other parts of the world, many murders of women occur against a backdrop of domestic violence and in a society where ’machismo’ prevails, which can make it difficult for women to report abuse or reach out for the support they need to be able to flee abusive relationships.

Unfortunately, the plight of women in El Salvador didn’t improve during the lockdown, as for many women staying home didn’t always mean that everyone stayed safe as home was not a safe place to be.

Christian Aid’s local partner in El Salvador, the Organisation of the Salvadorian Women for Peace (ORMUSA), saw a 6% increase in domestic violence cases in 2020.

As Rhina Graciela Juárez Lazo, who works for ORMUSA’s Legal Attention Centre explains, the lockdown introduced back in March 2020 prevented women reporting violence or seeking help.

“Lockdown was an influential factor in the increase in domestic violence of a verbal, sexual, economic and psychological nature and in the worst case, femicide,” Rhina says.

“This was due to women living longer with their aggressor. Added to that is the stress produced from being in the same place for a long time, which causes a hostile environment for the whole family. The lack of public transport during this time also restricted women from moving around and they feared being arrested for travelling to file complaints,” she adds.

What Rina describes was the reality faced by 37-year-old-mother of two Alejandra (not her real name) who lives in a suburb of San Salvador. The area where she lives is unsafe, there is no police station nearby, and as she explains, gang violence is a serious problem. 

“We live in fear because of the gangs and the risk of children and adolescents becoming victims of violence. The gangs control entry into parts of the area and sell drugs,” Alejandra says.

Alejandra has been receiving support from ORMUSA since March 2020, the month in which El Salvador introduced its lockdown.

“Lockdown was stressful. I was afraid of my partner, I faced physical and psychological violence from him and he also controlled my finances,” Alejandra says.

Image credits and information i
‘Alejandra’ pictured in the Legal Attention Centre run by Christian Aid’s local partner ORMUSA. Credit: Rhina Graciela Juárez Lazo/ORMUSA.
Student at desk

Due to the domestic violence, Alejandra made the brave decision to leave her partner and move to a relative’s house for safety as well as to report what her partner had done to her to the police.

“It was important to me that the police took my report because I wanted to get a restraining order against my partner,” Alejandra explains.

“The police accompanied me to the courts but I was still left vulnerable to violence from my partner. I am still waiting for a date to be set for a criminal hearing,” Alejandra adds.

Fortunately, our local partner ORMUSA were on hand to help support Alejandra. They provided her with counselling and legal advice as well as accompanied her to the courts for added support.

Alejandra was one of more than 50 women who received legal support from ORMUSA’s Legal Attention Centre and one of 25 women who benefitted from psychological care with support from Irish Aid so far this year.

While Alejandra’s partner’s criminal proceedings are still active, she hopes they will be concluded soon and that her situation, and that of other women facing domestic abuse across the country, improves and the violence they are experiencing comes to an end.

“I hope that that gang violence ends and violence against women ends,” she concludes.