LIMA – A dozen women have been slain and more than 200 others have suffered sexual assault in the eight weeks Peruvians have been subject to restrictions on movement and activity aimed at containing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“This grave problem definitely has not stopped during the quarantine,” Nancy Tolentino, executive director of the government’s National Program for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women, told EFE.
As in other countries dealing with the pandemic, confinement has highlighted that home is often the most dangerous place for women and girls.
That is especially true in regard to sexual assault, according to Tolentino.
“Regrettably, the aggressor tends to be someone very close to the family and even part of it,” she said. “In some cases, it’s been the neighbor, but in others, the stepfather, the uncle and even the father himself.”
Last year saw a decade-high 166 “femicides” in Peru. Forty-seven women and girls have been murdered in the first four months of 2020.
“Gender violence has continued assuming different guises,” Tolentino said.
The most shocking recent manifestation came in mid-April in the southern region of Ayacucho, where a man fatally shot his girlfriend, her 2-year-old daughter and her teenage sister.
That crime prompted the national government to issue an order authorizing judges, for the duration of the quarantine, to have abusers removed from their homes without the requirement of holding a hearing.
The 226 rapes reported during the quarantine constitute a worrisome increase over the same period in 2019, Tolentino said, adding that nearly 60 percent of the victims were minors.
In one instance, a girl of 11 showed up at a police station in Lima’s San Juan de Lurigancho neighborhood to report that she was raped by her stepfather and his brother while her mother was out shopping.
A boy in the highland region of Puno, bordering Bolivia, contacted police after his sister was sexually assaulted by their stepfather.
“We are pained at times by the complicity in some cases of the person who takes cares of these minors. In some cases like this, the mother herself knew of the act and had not reported it,” Tolentino said.
The children in Puno have been taken away from their mother and stepfather.
Officials prefer to place youngsters removed from the family home with other relatives. When that’s not possible, they go to one of the 14 shelters run by the National Program, which have taken in 32 women and 33 minors since the start of the lockdown.
“These facts oblige us to reconsider as a society the way children are raised and the development of a greater protection and defense of little girls and adolescents,” Tolentino said, praising the people who call the special telephone line established by the National Program, Linea 100, to report gender violence.
Linea 100 has seen its call volume, usually around 12,000 a month, increase by 42 percent under quarantine.
The National Program responded to more than 2,600 reports of domestic or gender violence between March 16 and May 5, despite being forced by the lockdown conditions to its close its nearly 400 emergency centers across Peru.
To adapt to the new situation, the National Program has created more than 200 mobile units.