Domestic violence spikes in Mexico during lockdown

Women protest chronically high rates of femicide – the killing of women – in Mexico City in November 2019. Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images

Domestic violence has spiked in Mexico during its coronavirus-related lockdown. According to a national network of women’s shelters, calls for help were up 60% in April.

Even before the pandemic, however, women in Mexico felt under siege. In one of the world’s most violent countries, women are raped, murdered and kidnapped with stunning frequency, and the problem is growing.

When I first began teaching gender violence in my Latin American studies classes in 2018, Mexico saw seven femicides – the legal term for the murder of a woman – a day. This year, on average, 10 Mexican women are murdered every day.

Everyday femicides

In February, just before the pandemic hit, two gruesome killings that took place days apart in Mexico City made national headlines.

Midmonth, 25-year-old Ingrid Escamilla was murdered, skinned and partially disemboweled. Her mutilated body became a public spectacle after police who responded at the scene leaked pictures that the media reproduced. Days later, seven-year-old Fátima Aldrighett – kidnapped while waiting for her mother to pick her up from school – was found naked in a plastic bag. Police identified signs of sexual abuse and torture.

While surveillance video resulted in the arrest of two people for Aldrighett’s case, Escamilla’s killing remains unsolved – a common outcome of murder investigations in Mexico.

After the two gruesome killings in one week, President Andres Manuel López Obrador blamed violence against women on the neoliberal policies of his right-wing predecessors and dismissed Mexico’s growing feminist movement as a plot orchestrated by his right-wing opposition.

The Mexican government’s dismissive response to femicides sparked intense criticism from feminists, and in March López Obrador’s administration unveiled a comprehensive plan to protect Mexican women. It promised to reopen government-funded domestic violence shelters and daycare facilities that were shuttered due to budget cuts last year and launch a smartphone app to report street harassment.

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