El Salvador now ranks as the deadliest country for women in Latin America, third in the world only after Syria and Lesotho. According to the Institute of Legal Medicine, 524 Salvadoran women – 1 in every 5,000 – were killed in 2016. This number, however, does not even account for the bodies dumped outside of the morgue by covert criminals.
El Salvador has its hands full with crime. Gang violence has turned the country into the “murder capital” of the world, according to ABC News. The murder rate is 22 times the rate of that in the United States, and the common gang motto is “mata, viola, controla,” or “kill, rape, control.” Trying to flee the threats of gang members, a record 17,512 unaccompanied Salvadoran minors were recorded attempting to cross the United States border last year.
While the number of dead men involved between the “maras,” or gangs, of El Salvador fluctuate based on the government’s relationship with the gangs, the number of dead women remains the same. Women are the forgotten, abused, and uncared for members of Salvadoran society. They are victims of violence and sexual assault not only by gang members but also by fathers, uncles, husbands, brothers, and friends.
According to data collected by National Civil Police (PNC), there is an average of 15 complaints of sexual violence per day in El Salvador, and approximately 20 percent of crimes are acts of incest. As later referenced by the New York Times, the data also revealed that almost 75 percent of rapes occur in the victims’ homes and that about 70 percent of the victims are under the age of 20.
Survivors of rape and sexual violence struggle to find help. Abortion is illegal in El Salvador, even for women who become pregnant from rape, and those who are caught seeking abortions are persecuted as heavily as gang members themselves. Evelyn Hernandez, who was only 19 years old, was convicted of aggravated homicide when she chose to give birth outside of a hospital and the infant died. The penalty for such a crime is 30 years in prison, the same as the punishment for any gang member who commits a murder on the streets of El Salvador. Doctors have been threatened for aiding with abortions, and some doctors often report to the authorities when a patient is seeking an abortion.
The director of Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA), Jeanette Urquilla, says, “Women’s bodies were treated like territory during the civil war and continue to be today by the gangs.” Women are raped and killed by gang members, or abducted and claimed as “girlfriends” of the gangs, known as “novias de las pandillas.”
Both the government and Salvadoran society itself has made no effort to help or protect women, and subsequently, the violence against women continues. Women are not disposable, but unless something in El Salvador changes, this attitude of misogyny and disregard for female life will persist.
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