GUATEMALA: Officials Working to Stop Violence Against Women

Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Central America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Six hundred fifty-one women in Guatemala have been killed so far this year, with 22% of them losing their lives in gang-related violence, often triggered by the victim's rejecting the killer's advances, according to the Presidential Commission against Femicide.

About 24% of the killings are related to domestic violence, 23% are attributed to extortion, with the rest occurring as the result of failed drug deals or other types of crimes, the commission reported.

The femicides have led the authorities and civil organizations to carry out awareness campaigns to stop the killings, which have gone down in recent years, dropping from 720 in 2009 to 651 so far this year.

The Presidential Commission against Femicide was created in 2009 to prevent violence against women, in coordination with the Ministry of the Interior. On average, the commission receives 600 reports of violence against women monthly.

“We want to create prevention strategies based on the causes of aggression,” said Alba Trejo, who runs the commission.

Twenty-two percent of females killed in Guatemala lost their lives due to gang-related violence, according to the Presidential Commission against Femicide.

The National Civil Police has also informed officials about new protocols, which include not needing a warrant to enter a home if officers judge that a woman is in danger.

The police are obligated to help a female victim, respect her rights, take her statement and investigate the crime.

“The intention of the [protocol] is so [police] have a way to know how to act when faced with violence against a woman,” said Lorena Guerra, Deputy Minister of the Interior. “Many of the victims' complaints are that the police agents are too passive, but this was due to the fear the agents had of committing an illegal act.”

With the protocol, police officers can raid a house and, if it turns out to be a false alarm or a way for the victim to scare away a potential attacker, the residence's owner won't be able to sue the government for wrongful treatment.

The protocol was created via a joint effort by the National Police, the Presidential Secretariat for Women, the National Council on the Prevention of Family Violence (CONAPREVI) and the “Ventana, Construcción para la Paz” program (Window, Building for Peace), which is sponsored by the United Nations in Guatemala.

The impact of femicide

Another tool authorities are using to protect women is the Law against Femicide.

Guatemala's Deputy Minister of the Interior, Lorena Guerra, during the launch of the new police protocol to prevent violence against women in the Central American country. With Guerra are Jaime Otzin (center), chief of the Civil Police, and the Northwest District Commissioner Esteban López García. (Antonio Ordóñez for
Passed in 2007, the law criminalizes forms of violence against women and institutes mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of murdering or hurting a woman.

The sentences run from 25 to 50 years for murder, and five to 12 years for physical attacks or rapes.

The Public Ministry, the Presidential Commission against Femicide and the Supreme Court of Justice are conducting ongoing training programs for judges to advise them about the law so it can be properly applied.

Meantime, the violence against women continues to wreak havoc on Guatemalan society.

“When [families] become victims of any kind of violence, murder, kidnapping, extortion or rape, a fear remains because these are violent events that have a strong psychological impact,” said Norma Cruz, director of the Fundación Sobrevivientes, an NGO that helps women who have been victims of violence.

Fundación Sobrevivientes has documented cases in which violence has provoked drastic changes in the family's routine, as some women have been forced to change jobs or relocate their families to another country.

But women who take their attackers to court are generally protected by the government, Cruz said.

The police list San Marcos, Guatemala City, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, Suchitepéquez, Quiche and Alta Verapaz as the departments with the highest rates of violence against women.