According to official figures, between 2016 and the first months of 2020, 191 women were killed under different circumstances. But 87 cases aroused the interest of authorities and experts for the degree of cruelty when the crimes were committed.
According to an article in the newspaper Panamá América, the increasing level of participation women have in organized crime adds to this reality, a phenomenon that claims an average of 400 lives per year in Central America.
Belgica Bernal, the director of the Institute of Criminology at the University of Panama, argues that some of the violent deaths are the result of women being linked to members of crime groups. According to the specialist, the emergence of small organisations of women, specialising in crimes such as bank fraud, card cloning and telephone extortion, among others, is associated with the concept of empowerment, equality and competition with men.
The psychologist states that, in reality, a lot of the women are either behind bars, serving sentences instead of their partners or family members, or killed as revenge for being linked to criminals.
Data from the General Management of the Prison system show that only 20% of criminals in Panama are women but almost 80% of women are arrested for drug trafficking, hiding goods, retail thefts and for being linked to an active member of a crime group.
“If they commit crimes, they serve time which makes everything worse as they are victimized because they can’t raise their children or take care of their partners”, states Bernal. Social investigator Gilberto Toro guarantees that women are not active or important members within the crime structure, “they are sisters, mothers, wives or neighbours, they have sentimental value to gang members, so they become targets of revenge attacks or warning messages between enemies”.
And in the middle of these gang wars, women have the worst luck. This was the case in April last year, west of the Panamanian capital, when a woman and her three-month son were killed to settle the differences between rival gangs, because she was romantically involved with one of the gang members.
Statistics from Public Ministry’s (PM) murder department show that the age of women killed in recent years ranges between 18 and 36, because “being the partner of a prominent member of a gang or organised crime is very attractive to young women, especially to those seeking recognition of other women”.
According to the PM, women are abused within their own homes. Femicide, an old-fashioned phenomenon in Panama, increased during the pandemic, with cases reaching 23 between January and June this year, 11 more than the same period last year.
Therefore, 2020 ranks as the second year with more deaths caused by gender violence.
More than 400 women received assistance in Panama since the start of the compulsory quarantine due to Covid-19 on March 25, including 200 for domestic abuse.
According to Omaris Martinau, head of legal advice of the National Institute for Women, the lockdown forced victims to live with their attackers and, in order to address complaints and offer guidance, the entity enabled two phone lines.
Faced with the possibility of an increase in these cases, the Ombudsman office developed the “Quarantine without violence” campaign, which is meant to inform and warn of how vulnerable women and girls are during home confinement.
Through its restrictions and closures, the “legal vacuum” imposed by Covid-19 left helpless not only victims of violence, but also pregnant women that had their contracts suspended, self-employed and unemployed women. (PL)