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Femicides continue to be underreported in Ecuador

Published on July 27, 2021

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Between January and June 2021 there were 68 femicides in Ecuador according to civil society organizations. In the same period of 2020, there were 53

On June 30th, the last day of the first half of 2021, Jensy Morales, 24, was murdered. Her body was found the next day in a vacant lot in the dusty Amazonian city ​​of El Coca. Her femicide is added to the other 67 that the Alliance for the Registration and Mapping of Femicides of civil society counted between January and June of this year.

According to the Alliance, there is a femicide every 41 hours in Ecuador every 41 hours. In the first half of 2021, there were 68; in the same period of 2020, there were 53. The Prosecutor’s Office counted 36 femicides in the first half of 2021, and 31 in the first half of last year (the figures vary because the prosecutors only define the criminal type after an investigation that can last years, while the activists describe them as they learn know about the case).

The death of Jensy Morales is being investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office as a murder, not as a femicide. In the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code, there are two different crimes with penalties ranging from 22 to 26 years, but the classification, which in Ecuador has only existed since 2014, is key to making visible the violence that women face in the country. Cristina Cepeda, a lawyer from the Paula Shelter and who supports the family of Jensy Morales, says that the possible perpetrator of Morales’ murder could have been her partner. In other words, her death is the product of gender violence.

In either account, it is clear that there is an increase in 2021. Specialists say that the change from one year to another may actually be due to an underreporting in 2020, when the mandatory confinement measures were still in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Because of the pandemic, I feel that many deaths of women may have been made invisible,” says lawyer Jacqueline Veira, Coordinator of Legal Services of the Ecuadorian Center for the Promotion and Action of Women (Cepam) Guayaquil. In the first months of 2020, hospitals were filled with patients with Covid-19, and there were those who did not reach a health center and died at home. The bodies were collected by Forensic Medicine to be buried. Every day at least 150 bodies were collected.

Hundreds of bodies were lost or mistaken for others. Due to the health crisis, autopsies were stopped to determine the causes of deaths. Women could not go out to report the violence they lived inside the home because there was a strict quarantine that prevented free movement. That, Veira says, made some (it is not known how many) of the deaths from femicides be counted as deaths from Covid-19. “Thus, the true figures were not known,” she says. The Covid-19 pandemic was also the pandemic of gender violence.

Geraldine Guerra, a Guayaquil lawyer, and the representative of the National Network of Shelters of Ecuador and the Alliance that monitors femicides in the country, agrees.

“We are absolutely sure that there are under-registered femicides,” says Guerra, pointing out that in the health emergency, complaints of violence decreased but that did not mean that there was less violence in the homes.

“In 2020 there was a tense calm because the institutions were not working at 100%,” added Guerra. Many femicides, she says, could have been counted as suicides.

Delays in “cause of death” challenging

Femicide is the last step in violence against women. Cristina Cepeda, a lawyer for the relatives of Jensy Morales, read the death certificate: suffocation due to hand strangulation and airway obstruction. “She was hanged,” says Cepeda, who works at the Paula de El Coca House of First Reception.

Geraldine Guerra learned of this femicide through a story from a local media outlet that reached one of the WhatsApp groups in which she is, and where several local organizations generate alerts of violence. Guerra immediately contacted Casa Paula and confirmed the crime.

She added the data of the death of Jensy Morales to the long list of femicides that the Alliance has. In this first half of 2021, the list says that of the 68 femicides, there were 4 transfemicides (murders of transgender women) and 33 violent deaths due to organized crime (related to hit men or fights between gangs).

The data from civil society organizations and the State are separated by a mountain of criteria. In the first semester of 2021, the Prosecutor’s Office registered 36 femicides, almost half of those counted by the Alliance.

This happens because the Prosecutor’s Office counts the femicides when the criminal process begins, while the Alianza – which works with organizations in the 24 Ecuadorian provinces that sends alerts when a woman is violently murdered – counts them since the death of a woman is known in a situation of gender violence.

Jacqueline Veira says that when prosecutors come to lift the body of a woman, they should first rule out that it was a femicide and then investigate the death as a suicide, murder, poisoning or accident. “The gender perspective must be immersed in all the work of justice,” says Veira. Guerra agrees and says that it is also important that the police fill out the police report (the document in which the facts of a contravention, accident or crime are recorded).

For example, if they come for a call for the death of a woman, they should write in the part the gender self-identification. “This is where information about transfemicides could be lost,” explains Guerra. In many cases, the police look at the data on the identity card and see that the victim is biologically male, says Guerra, but they do not make the observation “she is a trans woman.” That leaves the transfemicides in the dark of underreporting.

Since March 2017, the Alliance, made up of various organizations that defend women’s rights, has kept track of femicides in Ecuador. “The monitoring is to question the State and civil society about the real situation of violence in Ecuador,” emphasizes Geraldine Guerra. The Alliance receives and finds femicide alerts, which are analyzed by the Women’s Movement for Justice and the Ecuadorian Center for the Promotion and Action of Women (CEPAM) Guayaquil.

The members of the Alliance review each case to define whether that death is a femicide or not. For example, the Alliance analyzed the news of the death of Jensy Morales and concluded that it should be registered in the monitoring as a femicide, because there was a power relationship with his murderer and “her body was beaten as if it were worth nothing.” Geraldine Guerra says, adding that “there is a denial of seeing violence against women as a crime, rather it tends to naturalize from the instances of justice.”

The data published by the Alliance, released every three months, have variables of province, city, the woman’s age, whether she had children, the weapon that was used to kill her, her gender identity.

Of the 68 counted until June 2021, the three provinces with the most cases were Guayas, with 21 cases, Pichincha with 11, and 7 in Manabí. The Alliance delivers this information to the Latin American Association for Alternative Development (Aldea) foundation for it to process and publish on a map and produce an infographic.

The organizations that monitor femicides do so on a voluntary and activist basis. Guerra says what should be done by the State that has the personnel, equipment, and sufficient resources for it. It is also their legal obligation.

Law requires a national registry of femicides

In addition to the State Attorney General’s Office, other institutions that keep records of femicides (and other crimes against women) are the Council of the Judiciary and the Secretariat for Human Rights. The figures of these institutions do not always coincide and to ensure that there is only one accounting, the Law to eradicate violence against women proposed the creation of a single registry.

In May 2018, the government of that time created the Single Registry of Violence Against Women (RUVCM) through the Regulation of the Comprehensive Organic Law to Prevent and Eradicate Gender Violence. In June 2021, the government of Guillermo Lasso began plans to implement.

Rocío Rosero, spokeswoman for the National Coalition of Women of Ecuador, a civil society collective, says that the Registry is “a tool to save women’s lives.” Rosero, one of the activists who has worked the longest for gender equality in the country, says that the RUVCM will serve to link the information, so that the State institutions act in a network when attending to a possible victim of femicide.

The RUVCM, according to Rosero, will serve so that the Cantonal Board of Rights, the Secretariat of Human Rights, the Network of Shelters, the Comprehensive Care Centers, the Health Centers, and the Community Police know about the situation of violence that a woman who seeks their services lives in daily.

For example, she says, if there is already a violence alert for the third time, through the RUVCM you can see the level of risk that exists. The Human Rights Secretariat could take measures, for example that the woman goes to a shelter, and receives an aid ticket, psychological, legal and economic attention. Risks could be avoided. Femicides could be avoided.

The impact of femicides

Femicide is not just the death of a woman. Femicide cuts off dreams and goals, it is the disintegration of families, and the cross to bear for mothers, fathers, and brothers seeking justice for their lost loved ones. Femicide is the result of other types of violence that are not dealt with in time, and which are ignored in justice units. “When someone is saying that they beat her or that she suffers psychological violence, they minimize it,” says lawyer Veira.

Before Jensy Morales’s body was found, she was reported missing. Neighbors in the vacant lot saw the body and called 9-1-1 ECU 9-1-1 on the morning of July 1st.

She had been murdered eight hours earlier. In the El Coca newspapers, a pixelated photo of Jensy Morales circulated – her image fades like so many other femicides that we will not know about.

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