Crime & Justice

Expert blames institutional neglect for rise in femicides in Panama

By Fabio Agrana

Panama City, Jan 14 (efe-epa).- The rise in the number of femicides last year in Panama stems from institutional and social neglect of women, who have been abandoned to their fate amid the growing threat of domestic and misogynist violence, according to a sociologist and expert on gender issues.

Last year ended with 30 femicides (gender-based killings of women) in that Central American nation, according to preliminary figures from Panama’s Attorney General’s Office, up 43 percent from the 21 registered in 2019.

But Eusebia Solis told Efe that attention also must be paid to the “thousands of complaints” of domestic violence filed in 2020, noting that femicides in Panama are a scourge that can largely be traced back to earlier episodes of violence.

The peak month was January, two months before the coronavirus crisis in Panama began, while seven other murders occurred in July. Both spikes were due to extraordinary cases.

In January, a pregnant woman and three girls were among seven people killed as part of a ritualistic mass murder by members of a religious cult in a remote part of the mainly indigenous Ngabe-Bugle region.

The number of femicides, however, is the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of gender violence, according to Solis. “The base of the iceberg is the roughly 20,000 complaints of domestic violence” filed every year in Panama.

And many of those gender-related killings occurred after complaints of domestic violence were filed, Solis said.

“There are loads of women experiencing violence and (it’ll) never (come to light). But they experienced violence their entire lives, until their deaths,” the expert said.

According to preliminary figures from the Attorney General’s Office, a total of 16,327 complaints of domestic violence, mostly involving alleged female victims, were filed through November 2020. The majority of the complaints – 12,694 – were registered after the pandemic took hold.

The AG’s office, however, has acknowledged there was a reduction in domestic violence complaints during the months in which coronavirus-triggered mobility restrictions were in effect.

Sexual violence is another scourge in Panama that primarily affects girls and female adolescents, many of whom are victims of incest, according to the expert, who said around 300 of these cases were reported in 2020.

“This is a type of violence that marks women for the rest of their lives,” Solis said.

One of Panama’s failures in the area of gender violence is the fact that female victims of violence are urged to file complaints but then virtually left at the mercy of their abusers.

She recalled that in Panama it is very common for a woman who files a complaint to be handed a restraining order and given the responsibility of ensuring that her abuser signs it, a task that in other countries typically falls to the police.

At the end of the day, that order is “just a piece of paper” and the institutional support the woman needs – and ultimately protects her – is not activated.

“What prevails here is the abandonment of female victims of violence on the part of the state, above all when they’re asked to denounce (the crimes) and then left to fend for themselves,” Solis said.

The sociologist specifically noted that there is a lack of sufficient protective shelters and, unlike in other countries, no governmental support for a national pact against gender-related violence.

Despite institutional neglect, however, it cannot be said that impunity reigns in cases of femicide, according to Solis. She said the accused are convicted in most cases, often through sentencing agreements.

Panama’s AG’s office, for its part, said the rise in femicides in 2020 could be due to longer periods of cohabitation stemming from the pandemic-triggered mobility restrictions, as well as to a lack of “effective protection for victims.” EFE-EPA

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