Foto: Tomada de El Tiempo.

In Chile, security is a priority on the political agenda. Despite investing more resources and enacting laws, levels of insecurity and fear among the population continue to rise.

It’s Tuesday, March 21, 2024, and in a neighborhood of Viña del Mar, filled with large houses and trees, sits Margot on a plastic mat outside a house with a cracked window, a dwelling where the curtains conceal what lies within, a home where the white paint appears dull from the passage of years. There, in the midst of a large overgrown backyard, she sits. The young psychologist, dressed in a black shirt, red pants, and black boots, is 30 years old with a 16-year-old son.

Since childhood, her mother inflicted physical punishments on her, repeatedly saying, «I wish you would leave here.» One afternoon in 2005, when she was just eleven, she met a twenty-four-year-old man from Temuco via Fotolog. In her desperate search for an escape route, she saw him as the most feasible option to break free from her oppressive family environment.

Three months after meeting him, Margot became pregnant. «In my childish mind, I thought, since I don’t have my family, then I’ll create my own,» she recalls. At 15, after enduring various physical and sexual abuses, she decided to press charges. The young woman returned to her mother’s house. From that age until she was 20, she was in another relationship, with someone eleven years her senior, who also abused her. The psychologist, at 30, had three complex relationships. In none of them, she says, did she find justice.

According to a report from the Ministry of Women in 2018, the prevalence of Violence Against Women (VAW) in Chile has remained stable in recent years. According to data, 38% of women in the country (aged 15 to 65) have experienced some form of violence at some point in their lives. It is important to note that one in three women reports being a victim of violence by their partner or ex-partner, representing approximately 3 million women in Chile.

Regarding the nature of the violence suffered, 36% of women reported experiencing psychological violence, 16% suffered physical violence, and 7% experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives.

However, despite the magnitude of the problem, only 30% of women who have experienced violence reported the crime. It is relevant to mention that a considerable portion of these reports have not been ratified, with a percentage ranging from 40% to 67%. Of all reported cases of Domestic Violence (DV), only 9% resulted in conviction.

According to the Ipsos study, «Chile ranks fourth in the percentage of those agreeing with the statement ‘Violence against women is usually provoked by the victim’, with 21% agreeing. This opinion rises to 25% among men surveyed in the country.»

Despite efforts to raise awareness and combat this problem, a large proportion of cases go unreported or do not result in conviction, perpetuating a climate of impunity and abandonment for victims.

Furthermore, entrenched societal attitudes regarding violence against women also contribute to this security crisis. The Ipsos study reveals that a significant portion of the population, including a considerable percentage of men, blames the victims themselves for the violence they experience.

On the other hand, the Ipsos survey reveals worrying data on social attitudes towards violence against women in Chile, specifically regarding the responsibility attributed to the victims themselves. The fact that a significant percentage of the population, including a considerable number of men, believes that violence against women is provoked by the victims themselves reflects a persistence of gender stereotypes and a lack of understanding of the power and control dynamics underlying gender-based violence.

In this regard, Ariel Erazo, a lawyer and academic in Procedural Law at the Santo Tomás University, points out that: «The criminal procedural reform can influence the way cases of violence against women are investigated and judged. However, before the Criminal Procedural Reform, there was an inquisitorial level in the prosecution of crimes. At that time, there was an idea that greater convictions were achieved than there are today.» He also indicates that «with the reform and with the attempt to align Chilean legislation with a much more international idea, an attempt was made to balance the scale a bit, with the defendant and the defense. This is how the figure of the Public Ministry was created.»

Thus, Erazo states that a shift occurred from an inquisitorial system to an accusatory one. «Now, the Public Ministry is the one with the purpose of investigating, prosecuting, accusing, and formalizing. Before, it was the judge, the court. On the other hand, there is the defense, a clash of forces.»

He also argues that the Prosecutor’s Office has a heavy workload, and the standard of prosecution must be as detailed and as perfect as possible so that the defense does not undermine the Public Ministry’s thesis. Thus, the Guarantee Court has the duty to safeguard the rights of the accused. Therefore, with this clash of forces, the balance was leveled, there are no longer as many convictions as before, which means that there are not as many successes as before.

In mid-2017, Chile stood out as one of the most stable countries in Latin America. Thus, in the Global Peace Index of that same year, the country ranked 24th on the list of the safest countries in the world, positioning itself as the leader in terms of security. Costa Rica followed in 34th place and Uruguay in 35th place. On the other hand, Argentina ranked 55th, followed by Peru in 71st. In contrast, Mexico ranked 142nd, followed by Venezuela in 143rd and Colombia in 146th, standing out as the most dangerous countries in the region, according to the mentioned index.

In Chile, during 2017, the victimization rate in households for crimes of greater social significance reached 28%. People’s perception of the increase in crime in their neighborhoods stood at 45.2%, while the perception of the increase in crime at the national level was 80.8%.

Furthermore, the personal victimization rate for crimes of greater social significance stood at 10.4%, including those who were victims of robbery with violence and intimidation, surprise robbery, theft, and injuries. According to the National Statistics Service, the number of women victims of gender-based violence with protection orders or precautionary measures registered in the Registry was 29,008.

In Argentina, according to the National Victimization Survey, in 2017 the insecurity rate was 85.1%, while 19.9% of people aged 18 and over were victims of at least one crime of this type in 2016. 7.5% of people were victims of the most prevalent crime: personal theft. Likewise, regarding murders globally, Argentina ranked 118th with 2,317. Regarding gender-based violence, there were 86,700 complaints.

With respect to Mexico, according to the National Urban Public Security Survey (ENSU) in the same year, it was estimated that 75.9% of the population aged 18 and over perceived living in their city as unsafe.

During the last three months of 2017, at the national level, 62.9% of the population stopped carrying valuable objects with them; 55.9% restricted the outings of minors from their homes; 53.1% avoided walking at night around their homes; and 35.9% decided not to visit relatives. 66.1% of women over 15 years of age suffered some incident of violence by any aggressor. Of these aggressions, 43.9% came from their partner (whether husband, current or former partner, or boyfriend) during their last relationship.

What has happened in these years in Chile?

In the current Chilean political landscape, security has emerged as a persistent issue on the legislative agenda of the Chilean Government. Despite efforts to address this concern, the results seem not to be as expected. As greater financial resources are allocated and a significant number of security laws are enacted, insecurity indices and fear among the population continue to rise.

According to the 2023 Global Peace Index, Chile climbed to 58th place in the world security ranking, an increase of 34 places in seven years. At the same time, although the perception of insecurity in Chile is at 78 globally.

Although the budget allocated to public security for 2024 has increased by 5.7%, along with a substantial increase in Carabineros’ revenues. However, these efforts have not managed to decrease the perception of insecurity, which has reached a historical high of 90.6% according to the 2022 National Urban Citizen Security Survey (Enusc). Nevertheless, Chile still ranks among the safest countries in Latin America, specifically in fourth place after Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Argentina.

According to Emilio Olguín, a psychologist in the Adolescent Drug Use program for Law-Abiding Adolescents, one of the main factors contributing to individuals’ violent or criminal behavior are traumatic experiences in childhood. This is because the human brain does not complete its development, especially the prefrontal cortex, which is heavily involved in prosocial skills and proper social interaction, until after the age of 20. In this sense, experiences, especially early ones, tend to shape much of our daily functioning, including our emotional response to stimuli and how we cope with everyday experiences.

For the psychologist, living through a traumatic experience significantly affects emotional development, which can lead to dysfunctional functioning in all aspects of life. A traumatized mind will compromise its functioning capacity, which can manifest in criminal, violent behavior, and substance abuse. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how the social environment influences the generation of violence and crime. Observing the histories of my users, it is evident that in all of them, without exception, there are repeated instances of violence, whether in the family environment, among peers, or in neighborhoods.

This indicates that when a citizen learns to function in a violent context, it becomes the only known possibility of existence. They do not know other ways of relating beyond violence, and many are not even familiar with the concept of compassion.

In fact, for those who have experienced traumatic experiences, compassion can be perceived as threatening since the brain processes it as a threatening stimulus. This makes working with these profiles quite difficult, as they do not recognize what a safe environment or a safe relationship is; they are accustomed to violence.

According to Ariel Erazo, insecurity and crime are influenced by three main factors: education, urban planning, and lack of trust in police forces.

In recent years in Chile, victimization data has shown a less alarming trend. Only 21.8% of households report being victims of crimes, a figure that marks the lowest point in a decade. However, this apparent relief contrasts drastically with the crime fear panorama. According to the 2023 Index of the Paz Ciudadana Foundation, this has experienced a vertiginous increase, tripling in the last five years and reaching a worrying 30.5%.

Therefore, Chilean President Gabriel Boric recognized on January 30 the increase in crime, describing the situation as a «security crisis» that has plunged the country into deep concern for citizen well-being. This acknowledgment marked a turning point in the security debate in Chile, generating urgent calls to action to address the problem and restore trust in society.

In this context, it was in April 2023 that the Chilean government enacted the Nain-Retamal Law, which provides greater protection to police officers, allowing them to use their service weapons if they feel threatened, and increases penalties for kidnapping and carrying weapons offenses. The emergence of this law responds to the significant increase in crime experienced in Chile during the year 2022, as well as the pressures exerted on the Government and Congress following the murder of three police officers in less than a month.

Specifically, the violation of the arms law was the crime that grew the most in the country between 2021 and 2022, registering an increase of around 70%. In addition, the crimes of receiving stolen goods and attempted robbery also increased by more than 50%.

Public concern about crime, assaults, and robberies is clearly reflected in the survey of the Center for Public Studies (CEP), which reveals that more than half of those surveyed believe that this should be the government’s main focus.

According to Olguín, in Chile, inequality is a very marked trait, which makes violence more common in social interactions, especially among those who are more marginalized and vulnerable. This is exacerbated by cultural factors derived, in many cases, from a lack of formal education. Therefore, in more vulnerable strata, it is more likely to experience and observe violence.

«Many times we find families where crime and substance abuse are transmitted from one generation to another. These are stories that repeat themselves over and over, perpetuating an intergenerational cycle of problems,» he said.

According to data from the National Health, Sexuality, and Gender Survey (ENSSEX) for the period 2022-2023, six out of ten Chilean women over 18 have experienced one or more episodes of street harassment. This alarming number exceeds the population average, set at 52%. On the other hand, 11.6% have suffered sexual abuse in their lives (7.0% men; 15.9% women). In this context, during 2022, 56 women were murdered by femicides, while in 2023 there were 48. As for this year, as of the date (March 2024), there have been 11 femicides.

Gender-based violence represents a flagrant violation of women’s human rights. According to UN Women, violence against women and girls (VAW) is defined as «any act of gender-based violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.» This form of violence has significant repercussions on women’s physical, sexual, and mental health, both in the short and long term, even in its most extreme form, leading to death.

The «Statistical Report on Homicides with a Gender Perspective: Femicides and Parricides 2022», prepared by the Gender Specialized Unit in collaboration with the Studies Division of the agency, revealed revealing figures. During the period between 2020 and 2022, a total of 154 femicides were recorded. The year 2021 stands out as the one with the highest incidence, with 55 reported cases.

Regarding the defendants, the majority are Chileans, representing between 79% (in 2022) and 84% (in 2021) of the total. However, the year 2022 showed a two-percentage-point increase in the group of foreign defendants compared to the previous year, going from 15% to 17%.

Regarding the link between the victims and the defendants, the analysis for the year 2022 reveals that the most frequent is that of cohabitant, covering 52% of the cases, followed by those without any link, which represent 17% of the total.

In recent days, a clamor has resonated in the halls of power and in the streets of the Metropolitan Region: is the intervention of the Armed Forces the answer to the growing wave of violence and crime that plagues our communities?

From various sectors, especially among the mayors of the Metropolitan Region, an urgent request has been made to the Executive Branch: to make the military power available to local authorities to face what they call «the fight against crime.» This call could translate into a deployment of the Armed Forces to safeguard critical infrastructures or carry out preventive tasks on the streets.

One of the first to raise his voice was the mayor of Maipú, Tomás Vodanovic, a prominent figure within the government. In a meeting with the Interior Minister, Vodanovic expressed the urgent need for military support to guarantee security in his commune, arguing the shortage of police personnel and the security crisis it faces. His request received support from various political sectors.

About this possibility of deploying the military to support the Police. «We agree on the need to process the critical infrastructure project sent by the Government,» said the minister, hinting at the possibility of deploying the Armed Forces in support of urban security strategies, with a deterrent presence in critical infrastructure points.

Child Violence and Abuse Cycles in Margot’s Life

In the quiet residential neighborhood where Margot spent her childhood, appearances were deceiving. Behind the closed doors of her home in the upscale neighborhood of Viña del Mar, there was an atmosphere charged with tension and fear. Margot, raised as an only child, in a home where her father’s alcoholism and physical and psychological abuse by her mother were the norm from her earliest memories. Lack of love that would mark her life in a pregnancy at only 11 and in the mistreatment of her three partners that almost led her to death, all in search of a happy family.

“My first memories regarding the subject were the groping/abuse of my dad’s friends. He took me to the pools to play. I was about 5 years old and his friends touched me, then when I was 9 years old my best friend’s father tried to rape me. I had a lot of problems at home (…) They never believed me in all these episodes”.

It was like this until she was eleven years old when, through Fotolog, an online platform, she met a twenty-four-year-old man who lived in the city of Temuco. Hoping to build her own home and have a happy family, Margot made the decision to move south to live with this man who was twice her age, eventually becoming her first partner. As for her mother, in Margot’s words, «She didn’t care, she told me that I would finally leave the house and she was happy to never see my face again, she was content.» At just 12 years old, she became pregnant.

The man in question wouldn’t let her study; she was in seventh grade and with a baby to care for, he would lock her in the house with a key so she couldn’t leave. Since he didn’t work, she had to climb over a wall to seek financial support, study, and take care of her child. «It was a terrible situation, where I really suffered.»

Amidst a desperate situation, Margot found herself abandoned by authorities and her school environment when she became pregnant. Although a teacher became aware of her situation, she chose to remain silent to avoid tarnishing the school’s reputation. The hospital filed a report, but pressure from her mother and mother-in-law led her to lie to protect the man involved.

Faced with constant violence, Margot decided to flee with her baby back to Viña del Mar, only to be met with her mother’s refusal to receive them. Desperate, she sought help from a Child Rights Protection Office, which triggered a new report of rights violations. Subsequently, in a Family Court hearing, her mother was forced to take her back with her child, considering her minority, at 14 years old, and that of her child who was in his early years of life.

Due to the desire to start a happy family, at fifteen, Margot found herself once again in a relationship with an older man, this time twenty-six years old. She stayed with this individual until she was twenty. He was a sexist and violent man, even going to the extent of causing injuries that required hospital attention due to beatings. «He almost killed me,» she recalls. He was arrested and faced a legal hearing, but the court determined that a restraining order was a sufficient measure.

The cycle of abuse persisted. «It was the only form of love I knew,» she comments. In her third relationship, once again, gender violence reared its head. The individual suffered from narcissistic disorder and exerted psychological and physical violence, leading Margot to report domestic violence. However, the response was repetitive: the Family Court and the Prosecutor’s Office imposed a restraining order, and the individual wasn’t even declared guilty.

Margot recounts her experience of trying to get help: «I went to the police twice to report. They told me to solve the problems at home or simply took the statement and did nothing more. When I chose to report through the Court, they told me there were no available lawyers and that I had to hire one privately, thus exposing that the system was overwhelmed. Furthermore, when trying to get help from the National Women’s Service, they informed me that there were no slots available for assistance. In the end, without support from the state or justice, I had to be my own representative.»

Despite everything she experienced, Margot decided to start anew. «It was difficult, I felt submerged in a dark pit, I basically felt like dying to be able to rebuild myself. It was my son who saved me and pushed me to seek help from a private psychologist. In the office, I had a session with the psychologist once a month for half an hour, but it wasn’t helpful to me.»

Margot points out that gender violence has always existed, although it is now more visible. However, despite this, those perpetrators know that it is unlikely they will face consequences. Aware of the lack of justice and the collapse of the system, they take advantage of the situation and act with impunity.

For Margot, «unfortunately, to find peace in Chile, one must understand that there is no justice and there will not be, at least not in the near future. I think by understanding that, I managed to be calm and try to see how to survive or cope with things.» She concluded.


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