“Latin America’s Other Pandemic”: A Spike in Domestic Violence Hotline Calls Due to Shelter-In-Place

Lead Photo: A demonstrator holds a sign that reads "Femicide state" during a national strike on November 25, 2019 in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images
A demonstrator holds a sign that reads "Femicide state" during a national strike on November 25, 2019 in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images
Read more

The global approach to combating the spread of the coronavirus has been to urge social distancing and shelter-in-place precautions, which means that people are confined indoors for the foreseeable future. As world economies reel and death counts soar as a result of such drastic measures, one aspect of the pandemic that might be overlooked is just how dangerous staying inside can be for individuals who don’t have a safe place to turn to at home.

Gender-based violence is an issue across the world, but it’s particularly significant in Latin America, where some countries have been fighting high percentages of femicides and domestic violence. Americas Quarterly recently called instances of domestic violence “Latin America’s other pandemic” and notes that coronavirus has led to huge increases in calls to domestic violence hotlines. Silvana Fumega, the research and policy director of the Latin American Initiative for Open Data, writes that in Argentina, there was a 40% spike in calls after the government announced a mandatory quarantine; the number was up 60% in Mexico and 90% in Colombia.

Fumega calls on better data on violence against women to provide a more detailed look at what victims are up against. “Better data can help governments and organizations better understand the risks women face—in a pandemic or not—and then design better policies based on evidence,” she wrote.

The actor Diego Luna recently tried to shed light on the problem while discussing the many issues families in Mexico could face while they’re on lockdown.

“What happens with domestic violence? It’s another thing we don’t think about enough: How can you tell those families to stay confined? How can you tell that daughter, that wife, to stay home if the aggressor is there?” he said in a recent interview.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres raised the issue and called for a “ceasefire” while urging the governments to do more.

“For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes. And so I make a new appeal today for peace at home, and in homes, around the world,” he said. “We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19. But they can trap women with abusive partners. Over the past weeks, as economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying global surge in domestic violence.”

The United Nation’s current recommendations to countries include increasing investment in online services and organizations, declaring shelters as essential services, finding more ways for women to seek support without their abusers knowing, avoiding the release of prisoners convicted of violence against women and scaling up public awareness campaigns. Still, those might not be enough to help women who need immediate aide as a result of the pandemic.