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Across Latin America, violence against women fuels more crime

The incredibly high levels of violence against women in Latin America have long been denounced by NGOs and the media. This form of violence helps lay the groundwork for criminal behaviour. Español

Violence in the household can contribute to youths developing aggressive behaviour. Photo: InsightCrime. All rights reserved.

Women from across Latin America took part in worldwide protests against female oppression on this year's International Women's Day, on March, 8. As people marched, the regional press published astonishing statistics that place the gravity of female victimization into context.

La Nación, for example, reported that in Argentina one woman is killed because of her gender every 29 hours, while 50 sexual attacks occur every day. In Brazil, nearly a third of the women over 16 years of age have suffered physical or verbal abuse in the past year, according to reports by Folha de São Paulo. And over 30 percent of Mexican women in a recent survey said that they had been physically attacked by their former partner.

In Latin America, between one-fifth and two-fifths of "ever-partnered women" have been victims of partner violence, especially in the Andean region, according to a 2013 study by the World Health Organization (WHO). A 2015 report found, furthermore, that seven out of the ten countries with the world's highest female murder rate are in Latin America.

While gender-related violence is often associated with the home, this phenomenon has also been linked to the prevalence of criminality among male youths. A number of studies have established a link between a boy’s experience of spousal abuse as a child, and his later behaviour as a violent offender - with the caveat that a multitude of factors are involved in youths developing violent traits.

One of the suggested causes is that growing up in an environment of domestic abuse fosters a "belief that violence is an appropriate means of settling conflict", as one such study puts it.

But these detrimental effects on children are not limited to physical aggression. Research conducted in 2009 on teenagers found that psychological abuse between parents or caretakers contributed to the development of violence in children, more so than the type of neighbourhood in which the youths are raised, playing violent video games, and even witnessing physical abuse on their parents.

Moreover, children who witness spousal abuse are also likely to be victims of violence themselves. These youths are also more likely to later engage in crime and antisocial behaviour.

This ''violence begets violence'' theory can become dangerously cyclical, as witnessing or experiencing abuse as a child can heighten the risk of people perpetrating domestic violence themselves later in life.

Contributing to this cyclicality in Latin America is the fact that organized crime itself fuels aggression against women. Indeed, it could be said that many of the chauvinistic tendencies that lead to domestic violence also facilitate the forced participation of women in organized crime.

When females are oppressed, male-dominated power structures are replicated within criminal organizations. This leads to women being coerced into carrying out illegal -- and dangerous -- criminal activities, such as drug dealing or becoming drug mules.

This article was previously published by InsightCrime.

About the author

Mimi Yagoub es periodista de InSight Crime y reportera de investigación especializada en crimen organizado en las Américas. Obtuvo una licenciatura en español y francés por la Universidad de Cambridge, Reino Unido.

Mimi Yagoub is a journalist at InSight Crime, specializing in investigative reporting on organized crime in the Americas. She holds a BA in Spanish and French from the University of Cambridge.

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