Across Colombia people reacted in horror to two videos that circulated widely on social media in June, showing men violently abusing women. But the videos were just the tip of the iceberg: Statistics show an increase in domestic violence since the country went into lockdown, making it even harder for women to escape or report abuse.

The first video shows a man entering a home and dragging a woman out by her hair and then, still gripping her hair, spinning her around him several times, her back on the ground. You can hear the woman screaming. When she eventually gets up, he starts to hit her. The video was filmed in Puerto Wilches, in the northern Colombian department of Santander, and was posted online on June 27.

This video was posted online on June 27.

People were shocked by the abuser’s violence. They also expressed anger that the person filming the scene did not intervene. A few days later, local authorities announced that the man in the video had been jailed and that he had had previous domestic violence convictions.

A few days before the video emerged, another video showing domestic violence circulated widely on social media in Colombia. This video, filmed in Pueblo Bello in the northern Colombian department of Cesar, shows a man sitting on the side of the road next to a parked car, holding a struggling woman across his knees.

This video was posted online on June 23.

The office of the attorney general opened an investigation after the video was posted online and the authorities later said the man, a radio journalist, had been detained. According to a local media outlet, the woman was in a relationship with her abuser and did not want to speak out against him. But the police arrested him based on testimony by  family, the video and a photo of the woman with an injury to her face.

Increase in reports of domestic violence

Most domestic violence is not caught on camera, but such incidents have been on the rise since the country went into lockdown on March 25 in an attempt to limit the spread of Covid-19.

On June 26, Colombian Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez said that calls to a special hotline (155) for victims of domestic violence were up 150 percent from the same period last year. Ramírez added that calls reporting domestic violence to the traditional emergency number (123, for police, fire department, etc.) also increased by about 39 percent during lockdown.

However, the Instituto Nacional de Medicina Legal reported that at least 8,972 women were victims of domestic or sexual violence and 164 were killed between March 25 and June 23, 2020, which represents a decrease from the same period last year. But a close analysis of these numbers reveals a gradual increase in reports of violence in the weeks following lockdown. For example, statistics show that at least 1,241 women were victims of domestic violence during the first month of lockdown but  that the number rose to 1,859 the next month.


"Incidents of violence against women during lockdown have been vastly underreported”

Carlos Fernando Galván Becerra works at the Organización Feminina Popular, a women’s rights organization  based in Magdalena, northern Colombia.
We think that incidents of violence against women during the pandemic have been vastly underreported, firstly, because many women don’t report their abusers, especially because lockdown makes this process even more complicated than usual, even though lockdown restrictions have been loosened these past few weeks.

Lockdown makes it more difficult for women to leave the house. And while women can theoretically report domestic violence online or by calling a special number, this is not always possible. Many homes in Colombia don’t have internet access. And it isn’t easy to make a phone call reporting abuse if you live under the same roof with your abuser.

Moreover, if a woman lives with her abuser and she has to return to the home after reporting him, there is the risk that he might become even more violent if he finds out. This is especially dangerous because when women report domestic violence, institutions rarely respond immediately. There are also very few shelters where women can go stay.
"With Covid-19, help for victims of domestic violence is not really a priority"

This increase in violence can be explained by the fact that confinement can cause immense stress. Aside from physical violence, we’ve also recorded an increase in psychological violence.

Right now, the authorities are focused on the fight against Covid-19, so help for victims of domestic violence is not really a priority. Not to mention that there is historic, structural violence against women in Colombia.

In early May, an initiative called #ElTrapoAvisa (#ClothAlert) was launched to encourage victims of domestic violence to hang up a black piece of cloth in their window to indicate that they need help.

A similar initiative encouraged families who were going hungry to hang a piece of red cloth in their window to indicate that they needed food.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Out of work and hungry, Colombians protest during Covid-19 lockdown

In late June, the Colombian vice president announced that new measures would be introduced to fight the epidemic of violence against women. Colombian women’s rights organizations have consistently highlighted major failures in terms of prevention, care for victims and the response of the judicial system to these matters.

Article by Chloé Lauvergnier.