Mexico: Domestic violence within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, including treatment of survivors of domestic violence; impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on protection and support services available, including psychological services (2020–September 2021) [MEX200734.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

For information on domestic violence between 2017 and September 2020, including treatment of survivors of domestic violence; legislation; protection and support services available, including psychological services, particularly in Mexico City and Mérida, see Response to Information Request MEX200311 of September 2020.

1. Overview

The Wilson Center, a non-partisan global policy think tank chartered by the US Congress (Wilson Center n.d.), indicates that women in Mexico have been particularly affected by rising violence in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as "lockdowns leav[e] many women trapped at home with their abusers" (Wilson Center [Mar. 2021], 1). Citing official data, a March 2020 article in El Sol de México, a Mexico City-based daily newspaper (El Sol de México n.d.), reports that for the two thirds of Mexican women and girls over the age of 15 who have survived a violent partner, quarantining is [translation] "very complicated" (El Sol de México 23 Mar. 2020). The Wilson Center states that domestic-violence-related calls to emergency services increased by "more than" 30 percent from 2019 to 2020 (Wilson Center [Mar. 2021], 2). According to sources, emergency calls to report violence against women in Mexico rose in 2020 (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 244; Reuters 25 Jan. 2021). A Reuters article reports that in 2020 over 260,000 calls were made, representing a 30 percent increase compared to 2019, "as COVID-19 lockdowns kept families stuck at home" (Reuters 25 Jan. 2021).

According to a report by Mexico's Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP) [1] on violence against women and calls made to 911 regarding violence against women, from January to June 2021, 125,682 emergency calls were made related to incidents of intimate partner violence, and the highest rates per 100,000 inhabitants from which the calls originated were from the following states: Quintana Roo, Baja California, Aguascalientes, Sonora, Colima, Jalisco, and Nuevo León (Mexico 30 June 2021, 110, 111). According to the 2016 National Survey on Household Dynamics (Encuesta Nacional sobre la Dinámica de las Relaciones en los Hogares 2016, ENDIREH) conducted by Mexico's National Institute for Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Geografía, INEGI) on various types of physical and sexual violence experienced by women aged 15 and older, and the contexts in which they occurred, which included the responses of 142,363 households, the states with the highest percentage of women and girls who reported having experienced intimate partner violence are the State of Mexico (53.3 percent), Mexico City (52.6 percent), Aguascalientes (49.8 percent), Jalisco (47.4 percent), and Oaxaca (46.1 percent), while the state with the lowest reported percentage was Campeche (32.1 percent) (Mexico 18 Aug. 2017, 37). Amnesty International notes that in 2020, 969 out of 3,752 reported murders of women were investigated as femicides, and the State of Mexico registered the highest absolute number, followed by Veracruz (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 244). The same source notes that the states of Colima and Morelos registered the highest rates of femicides per 100,000 women (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 244). According to analysis by Data-Pop Alliance [2] and GIZ Data Lab and GIZ Mexico [3] of publicly available domestic violence data in Mexico City, including data from Línea Mujeres, a Mexico City-based helpline for women who experience violence (Mexico n.d.b), and crime records from the Attorney General's Office, calls made to Línea Mujeres during the 69 day period of the official quarantine, from 26 March to 30 May 2020, increased by 31 percent compared to the 69 day period prior (Data-Pop Alliance 27 Oct. 2020). The same source indicates that in Mexico City the two municipalities with the highest number of emergency calls and crime reports related to violence against women were Cuauhtémoc and Tlalpan, "which are very different areas, socioeconomically and demographically" (Data-Pop Alliance 27 Oct. 2020). Information on the socioeconomic and demographic differences between Cuauhtémoc and Tlalpan could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2. Treatment of Survivors of Domestic Violence Within the Context of COVID-19
2.1 Treatment by Society

According to an article by Amaranta Manrique de Lara and María de Jesús Medina Arellano [4] on the COVID-19 pandemic and ethics in Mexico, which was published in an academic journal, structural violence against women is "normalized" and exists in all levels of Mexican society (Manrique de Lara and de Jesús Medina Arellano 25 Aug. 2020, 1). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a full professor at the University of Guanajuato, in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, whose research focuses on gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide, stated that GBV is [translation] "normalized" in Mexican society, and for the few women who do speak out about their experiences of abuse to their families, the level of support they receive will depend on "how much [the family] ha[s] internalized the violence, that is, whether they normalize it or not. [Such] normalization is very common" (Full Professor 6 Aug. 2021). In an interview with the Research Directorate, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM) in Cuernavaca, the capital of the state of Morelos, who is also a professor, and whose research focuses on violence against women, domestic violence, and women's access to justice and services in Mexico, stated that family support for survivors of intimate partner violence varies (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021). The same source noted that the family unit is very important in Mexican culture and it is considered the responsibility of the woman to uphold it; thus, family support for survivors of domestic violence will vary based on a given family's level of internalization of such attitudes and women from "families who still carry those attitudes will not be supported when leaving a violent relationship" (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021).

2.2 Treatment by Authorities

According to sources, the president of Mexico claimed that 90 percent of the increasing calls made to emergency call centers (The New York Times 31 May 2020) or 911 (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 18) in March 2020 were "false" (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 18) or "fake" (The New York Times 31 May 2020). According to a report prepared for the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences, by EQUIS Justicia para las Mujeres (EQUIS) [5], Intersecta [6], and the National Network of Shelters (Red Nacional de Refugios, RNR) [7], not only were the president's words [translation] "inaccurate and contrary to what the government's own data shows," but they also "contribute to exacerbating" one of the "most" harmful stereotypes "faced by victims of violence: that they exaggerate or, worse, lie" (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 18). In a case the Full Professor observed during a visit to the public prosecutor's office in Guanajuato, they noted that the agent in charge [translation] "minimized" women's statements, handled complaints unprofessionally, and referred to one young woman complainant as "'another little raped girl'" (Full Professor 6 Aug. 2021). According to the same source, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as was also the case before the pandemic, it is not [translation] "easy to report" gender-based violence, as women are still "not believed" (Full Professor 6 Aug. 2021).

A report on the human rights situation in 2020 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) indicates that domestic violence is prevalent against indigenous women and their ability to access health care services is affected by the discriminatory treatment they receive in public health institutions from sexual and reproductive healthcare professionals (OAS 6 Apr. 2020, para. 202). According to the Researcher, in the context of recent research they coordinated for a national report on violence against Indigenous women and girls, they were told by Indigenous women, who visit health centres in rural areas, that they "intentionally dress in more 'western' dress to ensure they are served properly" (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3. State Protection Within the Context of COVID-19
3.1 Legal Complaints

Freedom House reports that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an increase in domestic abuse complaints (Freedom House 3 Mar. 2021, Sec. G3). According to Data-Pop Alliance, during the 69 day period of the official quarantine (26 March to 30 May 2020), the number of criminal reports filed related to violence against women dropped by 46 percent compared to the 69 day period prior (Data-Pop Alliance 27 Oct. 2020). According to Reuters, the head of the RNR stated that even though the RNR observed an increase in women needing help, the number of investigations opened into "some" crimes against women in 2020 was lower compared to 2019 and that survivors "are often unable to bring someone to accompany them and forced to queue up outside offices, potentially in full view of their aggressors" (Reuters 25 Jan. 2021). According to the IACHR, the Mexican state put in place two dozen roundtable initiatives to address and reduce the backlog of gender violence judicial cases and set up initiatives for community-level prevention in 26 states (OAS 16 Apr. 2021, para. 510). Animal Político, a Mexican digital media information website (Animal Político n.d.), reports that according to data from the SESNSP, 2020 represented the [translation] "highest number of complaints of domestic violence since records began," with 220,028 complaints, or "an average of 603 investigation files were opened every day, 25 every hour of the year" (Animal Político 26 Jan. 2021).

The Full Professor stated that at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, government offices were closed, affecting women's ability to file a complaint of abuse (Full Professor 6 Aug. 2021). According to EQUIS, Intersecta, and RNR, the local judiciary was suspended in Coahuila, Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Yucatán (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 35). The same source notes that in Guerrero, the state's attorney's office was operating at limited capacity and that the Women's Justice Centre (Centro de Justicia para las Mujures, CEJUM) [8] in Guerrero was no longer taking complaints of violence against women for that reason (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 35).

3.2 Protection Orders

According to EQUIS, Intersecta, and RNR, protection orders are an easily accessible, urgent legal measure issued by authorities to intervene and protect women survivors of violence before the violence escalates, by mandating a certain distance between a victim of violence and their aggressor, providing surveillance, shelter, and security (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 19). The same source notes that even though any entity in any jurisdiction may issue a protection order, and that complainants need not present themselves in front of the court or testify against their aggressor before a judge, judicial authorities in 17 states out of 32 maintained that protection order safeguards would continue during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency response (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 19–20). According to the Researcher, in cases they have witnessed and have been told about by women, upon issuance of a protection order, "the authorities required that the woman complainant deliver the physical copy of the protection order to the partner herself" (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021). Without indicating which states, EQUIS, Intersecta, and RNR report that two judicial branches have transitioned to virtual platforms for issuing protection orders, a measure that [translation] "is exclusionary based on social class, since not everyone has access to the Internet" (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 20).

3.3 Other Measures

According to Freedom House, the Mexican government has cut federal funding for women's services (Freedom House 3 Mar. 2021, Sec. G3). Sources report that the Mexican government cut 75 percent of the operating budget of the National Women's Institute (Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres, INMUJERES) as part of proposed austerity measures (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 245; La Jornada 15 July 2020).

According to Amnesty International, 21 response protocols known as "Alerts of gender-based violence against women" (Alerta de violencia de género contra las mujeres, AVGM) were still operational in 18 [of 32] states by the end of 2020 (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 245). According to INMUJERES, there are ten jurisdictions that have refrained from adopting the AVGM protocol, namely Guanajuato, Baja California, Querétaro, Puebla, Cajeme (Sonora), Tabasco, Tlaxcala, Yucatán, Coahuila, and Mexico City (Mexico 4 Aug. 2021). Sources note that the AVGM mechanism as deployed by states has "proven ineffective" (Freedom House 3 Mar. 2021, Sec. G3) or that there is no evidence that it "had reduced [GBV]" (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 245). For information on the gender-based violence alert mechanism, including the process to declare a gender alert, see Response to Information Request MEX200311 of September 2020.

4. Access to Support Services Within the Context of COVID-19

According to a report by the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in Mexico, the confinement measures and movement restrictions enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to increased barriers to accessing basic services, such as sexual and reproductive healthcare for women who have experienced violence, and have decreased the capacity of civil society organizations to provide support services like emergency services to survivors (UN [Apr.] 2020, 2). The Full Professor stated that women who live in rural areas have a harder time accessing support services provided by government entities, as they are not found in every municipality, and transportation across long distances to reach these agencies is made even more difficult because of the pandemic (Full Professor 6 Aug. 2021). According to the Researcher, the stay-at-home orders and restrictions on movement placed by the government in response to the pandemic have made access to available supports and services more limited (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021). The same source noted that most public supports and services are concentrated in state capitals, and in larger states, the distances that need to be travelled to reach them are very long (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021).

4.1 Shelters

According to the report by EQUIS, Intersecta, and RNR, the RNR is funded by the government for "about" eight or nine months of the year, rather than all twelve months, as they are not considered to be part of the regular state budget policy and must therefore submit proposals each year in a bid to secure public funding (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 27). The same source states that at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, on 23 April 2020, the government of Mexico announced austerity measures that mandate a cut of 75 percent of public funding for programs and services offered by various public entities, focusing public resources instead on [translation] "priority programs," none of which explicitly included programs or services aimed at addressing violence against women, despite the same government's designation of shelters and reception centers for victims of such violence as "essential services" a few weeks prior, on 30 March 2020 (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 29–30). EQUIS, Intersecta, and RNR also note that shelters operated by CEJUM in Colima, Juchitán de Zaragoza, Puebla, Tehuacán, and Xalapa were identified as having inadequate staff and operational capacity to respond to the increasing demand from survivors of violence against women in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 35). According to the Guardian, the RNR recorded an increase of 80 percent in the number calls received since the start of the pandemic, and of 50 percent in the number of women and children admitted to their 69 shelters in Mexico (The Guardian 22 July 2020). EQUIS, Intersecta, and RNR report that 100 percent of the women who accessed RNR shelters in the first two months of the COVID-19 confinement period of spring 2020 were survivors of domestic violence (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 14–15). The same source notes that of those women, all of them experienced [translation] "psychological violence," 49.45 percent experienced physical violence, 43.37 percent experienced "economic violence," 25.95 percent experienced "patrimonial violence," 17.62 percent experienced sexual violence, 4 percent experienced "attempted femicide," and 79 percent experienced two or more of these types of violence (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 15).

According to the Full Professor, women who live in rural areas in Guanajuato, for example, face barriers to accessing shelters during the pandemic, as they must travel to the state capital, and not all of them know where to find the shelter, [translation] "as the location is not public due to the repercussions that may arise if the address is known" (Full Professor 6 Aug. 2021). Without providing further details, Justice in Mexico, a research initiative at the University of San Diego that researches issues related to citizen security, rule of law and human rights in Mexico (Justice in Mexico n.d.), indicates that both the RNR and Mexico's National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (Comisión Nacional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra las Mujeres, CONAVIM) made a publicly available directory of resources for women to access safe locations away from their abusers (Justice in Mexico 16 June 2020).

4.2 Psychological Services

According to the IACHR, a program called "Life Line" was launched by the Mexican state in coordination with the 911 emergency line to provide support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence against children by offering the services of "more than" 300 psychologists (OAS 16 Apr. 2021, para. 511). Information on the effectiveness of the "Life Line" program since its launch could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to the Full Professor, in the state of Guanajuato, women are offered support services in municipalities' institutes for women, but not all municipalities

[translation]

have sufficient staff, equipment and training in gender equality, so what little is available is often permeated by sexist stereotypes. What has been observed is that they send women to psychological consultations and, only on occasion, are able to accompany them to file a complaint. So, the support is not much. (Full Professor 6 Aug. 2021)

The same source notes that psychological services are one of the most [translation] "accessible" support services offered to survivors of domestic violence, but women survivors are generally only provided with a few sessions, and "the other areas of their lives are not attended to" (Full Professor 6 Aug. 2020). According to Milenio, a national Mexican daily newspaper, the municipal government of Mexico City launched a coordinated program, between the Citizen Council (Consejo Ciudadano) and the Women's Secretariat (Secretaría de las Mujeres), to provide support to women in situations of domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdown, which includes referrals to Moon Centres (Centro Lunas) ["which provide psychological and legal care for medium and high risk cases" (Justice in Mexico 16 June 2020)], assistance through chatrooms and videoconferences, and collaboration with the Línea Mujeres which provides [translation] "citizen support" and has 89 psychologists and 130 lawyers (Milenio 14 Apr. 2020).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] The Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP) is responsible for the coordination and implementation of public policy regarding public safety between the various public safety authorities at the federal, state, and municipal levels (Mexico n.d.a).

[2] Data-Pop Alliance is an online data hub headed by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Connection Science, Overseas Development Institute, and the Flowminder Foundation (Data-Pop Alliance n.d.).

[3] Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is a German international development organization that supports businesses, civil society actors, and research institutions, in enterprises related to economic development, the environment, peace and security (GIZ n.d.). The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is the principal commissioning party of GIZ (GIZ n.d.).

[4] María de Jesús Medina Arellano is a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM) who studies ethics and the regulation of biotechnologies (UNAM n.d.). Amaranta Manrique de Lara is a contributor to the Bioethics, Health and Biolaw research group at the Institute of Legal Research at UNAM, as well as a Fulbright fellow (Capdevielle, et al. 8 Apr. 2020).

[5] EQUIS Justicia para las Mujeres (EQUIS) is a Mexico-based feminist organization that "seeks to transform institutions, laws, and public policies to improve access to justice for all women" (EQUIS n.d.).

[6] Intersecta is a feminist organization based in Mexico that is dedicated to ending discrimination (Intersecta n.d.).

[7] The National Network of Shelters (Red Nacional de Refugios, RNR) is the first registered shelter network in Mexico and is made up of [translation] "85% civil society organizations and 15% government organizations" (RNR n.d.).

[8] Women's Justice Centres (Centros de Justicia para las Mujeres, CEJUM) are spaces that provide specialized services for women who are survivors of violence and their children, including legal, medical, and psychological support services (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 34). According to EQUIS, Intersecta, and RNR, there are currently 48 CEJUM in 28 states, of which 35 have shelter services, a transition house shelter, halfway house, or refuge services (EQUIS, et al. [Aug.] 2020, 34).

References

Amnesty International. 7 April 2021. "Mexico." Amnesty International Report 2020/21: The State of the World's Human Rights. [Accessed 6 July 2021]

Animal Político. 26 January 2021. Itxaro Arteta. "En 2020, cada hora hubo 25 denuncias por violencia familiar." [Accessed 8 Sept. 2021]

Animal Político. N.d. "Quiénes somos." [Accessed 8 Sept. 2021]

Capdevielle, Pauline, Amaranta Manrique de Lara, and María de Jesús Medina Arellano. 8 April 2020. "The COVID19 Pandemic and Ethics Through the Eyes of Women." Journal of Medical Ethics Blog. [Accessed 10 Sept. 2021]

Data-Pop Alliance. 27 October 2020. Ivette Yáñez Soria, et al. "Using Data to Shed Light on the Shadow Pandemic of Domestic Violence in Mexico." [Accessed 26 July 2021]

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Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Fondo Semillas; professor of gender and sociological studies at a Mexican university; Red Nacional de Refugios.

Internet sites, including: Al Jazeera; Associated Press; BBC; CNN; Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) International; ecoi.net; Femicide Watch; Fondo Semillas; Gender and COVID-19; Human Rights Watch; Mexico – Comisión Nacional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra las Mujeres, Fiscalía General de la República; openDemocracy; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; UK – Home Office; UN – Refworld; US – Department of State; Washington Office on Latin America; The Washington Post; World Bank.