Shadow Pandemic Includes Peru’s Missing and Murdered Women

More than 1,400 women in Peru have gone missing since the country went on lockdown during the beginning of the pandemic in March. Peru, and many other countries globally, have been experiencing a shadow pandemic, something the UN warned the world about back in April.

A shadow pandemic is defined as a global increase in violence against women and girls, specifically domestic violence. According to the head of the women’s rights division of Peru’s National Ombudsman’s office Eliana Revollar, there have been 75 cases of femicide and 35 violent deaths of women, with 19 of them previously reported missing.

“This refinement and constriction can exacerbate violence within homes. That’s what we’re seeing throughout this pandemic,” said Isabel Ortiz, a human rights lawyer in the women’s rights division of the office of the National Ombudsman.

Peru’s Ministry for Women and Vulnerable Populations runs a national hotline for victims of domestic and sexual violence and reported more than double the calls from March to the end of July of this year as compared to last year. They received 104,000 calls of violence and responded to about 1,000 calls from victims of rape, including 703 girls and adolescents. 

There are also hundreds of reports of women missing, with 508 women and girls reported missing in July and 358 missing in June. 

NPR spoke to Jelke Boesten, a researcher on gender-based violence in Peru. The country enforced some of the strictest lockdowns in the world, and yet, women continued to go missing. “How is it possible that women disappear even during the lockdown in such high numbers? It is shocking,” said Boesten. “How can women disappear if we’re all behind closed doors?”

She continued, “It seems to me that this proves the fact that the majority of these missing women are victims of domestic disputes. Women disappear, get killed. This is intimate partner violence or family violence.”

The country has an out-of-date national database on missing women, victims are unable to receive physical and mental help due to the overwhelming COVID-19 care, and legal and counseling help is limited. 

Before the pandemic, five women and girls were reported missing daily on average. According to the UN, this shadow pandemic has shown up in many countries including the U.K., the U.S, France, countries across Latin America, and many others. They’ve seen 25-30% increases in reports of domestic violence cases since the shutdown in March.

The Realist Woman’s take:

I’ve known about the rise in domestic violence calls and femicides since the pandemic, but I wasn’t aware of the women who’ve gone missing or were missing before their dead bodies were found. The researcher quoted in the story made a great point when she questioned how it was possible that in a country with some of the strictest lockdown laws, that hundreds, and up until now thousands, of women could go missing when they were supposed to be at home.

The men in this society, the lawmakers, the judges, the authorities, are all complicit in the violence and deaths of these women. This toxic male culture is killing women and the laws in place to protect these women are clearly not being enforced. It’s a national crisis.