Like many other parts of the world, countries in Latin America have enforced lockdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19. These lockdowns, however, have led to an increase in calls for help to abuse hotlines.
In areas like Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; São Paulo, Brazil; La Paz, Bolivia and Mexico City, Mexico -- families and individuals often are only permitted out of their homes for emergencies or to shop for necessary items.
The Reuters news agency reported that each year in Latin America, almost 20 million women and girls suffer sexual and physical violence.
During the lockdowns, there have been more reports of abuse in Mexico and Brazil. Other countries, including Chile and Bolivia, have seen a drop in official reports. However, legal experts and activists say this drop was likely not due to a decrease in violence. They say it is because women were less able to seek help or report abuse.
Maria Noel Baeza is the regional director for UN Women, an organization designed to help women. She told Reuters, in a lockdown situation, “women are locked up with their own abusers” and have “very limited outlets,” or ways to get help.
Another group looking closely at this issue is the Victims Against Violence program in Argentina. This program runs a hotline for women to report abuse. Its founder, Eva Giberti, said that her group is not surprised by the increase in violence.
Gilberti told Reuters that it is a release of “violence that was already there in people. She added that “under normal social circumstances that had been limited to some degree.”
Argentina’s national lockdown began on March 20. Argentina’s emergency hotline for abuse victims is supported by the country’s justice ministry. That hotline has experienced a 67 percent rise in calls for help in April compared to a year earlier.
In Brazil, Sao Paulo state has been hit the hardest by the new coronavirus. An organization called the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety reported a 45 percent increase in March compared to a year earlier in cases of violence against women requiring police assistance.
In Colombia, officials report that calls to a national women’s hotline were up nearly 130 percent during the first 18 days of the nationwide lockdown. The lockdown has been extended until May 11.
In Chile, the women’s minister said calls to domestic abuse hotlines had increased 70 percent in the first weekend of lockdown. The government has added ways for women to receive counseling and are keeping shelters open for women at-risk.
Evelyn Matthei is the mayor of Providencia, a wealthy area in Santiago. She said calls to a local office providing legal, psychological and social help had increased 500 percent.
Official reports of domestic violence, however, actually decreased in the first half of April in Chile. Matthei said, “This probably has to do with the fact that there is violence within the home but that women cannot go out. They dare not go out.”
In Mexico, official records show that reports to police of domestic violence rose about 25 percent in March against a year earlier.
The director of the Municipal Institute for Women of Veracruz is Blanca Aquino. She told Reuters that “since the lockdown, there’s been an increase in reports of domestic violence -- many of those psychological violence.” Veracruz is the Mexican state with the country’s highest rate of female deaths.
Arussi Unda is with a Mexican feminist organization named Brujas del Mar. She said at first many calls to the group came from neighbors hearing fights in other houses. “Now we get many women asking for advice on how to leave the house and take their children,” she said.
The concern over domestic abuse is not limited to Latin America. There is a fear that victims are being silenced in other countries.
Marta Dillon is one of the founders of the “Ni Una Menos” women’s group. She said women around the world are working together to end domestic violence. Dillon told Reuters the group’s supporters in Italy, Turkey, and the United States are working toward an international declaration for the group.
I’m Anna Matteo.
Reuters reported this story. Anna Matteo adapted this story for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
lockdown – n. the confinement of prisoners to their cells for a temporary period as a security measure
hotline – n. a direct telephone line in constant operational readiness so as to facilitate immediate communication
outlet – n. a way of releasing or expressing a feeling or impulse
circumstance a condition or fact that affects a situation : the way something happens : the specific details of an event : an event or situation that you cannot control
domestic – adj. relating to or involving someone's home or family
dare – v. to have enough courage or confidence to do something : to not be too afraid to do something
municipal – adj. restricted to one locality
feminism – n. the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities : feminist – adj.