Violence in Central America

girls with butterfly decoratiosn Women and children fleeing horrific violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — continue to come to the United States seeking safety. Many of them are turned away or incarcerated.

In effort to draw attention to the high rates of murder and rape experienced by women and children fleeing the region, FUTURES co-authored a report with Joan Timoney, Senior Director of Advocacy at the Women’s Refugee Commission detailing the violence and proposing recommendations to address it.  On January 11, we presented it to a packed house at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

Alex Arriaga, our Senior Advisor for International Programs, and Managing Partner at Strategy for Humanity, spoke on the relationship between organized criminal armed groups, violence against women, and the threat to State security. She emphasized that violence against women and the status of gender relations have a causal effect on State stability. She stated that “without addressing the underlying
discrimination against women, gender inequality, and impunity for violence against women, the crime rates will remain exceptionally high and fuel State and regional insecurity.”

alexandra and joan on panelThe panel event was moderated by Eric L. Olson, Associate Director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Other speakers included Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and Former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador; Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, former Attorney General of Guatemala and Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America; and Karelia Villa, Senior Citizen Security Specialist for Citizen Security and Justice at Inter-American Development Bank.

Report highlights:

  • El Salvador and Guatemala rank first and second respectively in rates of homicide against children and adolescents globally. [i]
  • The three Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) are in the top five globally for rates of female homicides. [ii]
  • Domestic violence is reportedly the leading form of abuse against women and girls in El Salvador and Honduras. [iii]
  • In Guatemala, every 46 minutes a new case of sexual violence is reported, but the number of incidents is likely much higher as many go unrecorded.[iv]
  • Discrimination and violence against women is taking place in a broader context of gang violence, organized crime, corruption, and weak institutions.
  • Research shows that violence against women is a critical indicator of instability, but also that it is a key to determining whether a society will be mired in poverty, impunity, and insecurity. The stability and prosperity in the Northern Triangle
    is in our national interest.
  • Efforts to prevent and reduce violence against women over the long-term require attention to childhood exposure to violence, and vice versa, efforts to end violence against children are more likely to succeed where there are strategies to end violence
    against women.
  • The consequences of such violence include severe trauma that can have long-term consequences, including increased susceptibility to being recruited into violent gangs or extremist organizations.
  • Research confirms the self-perpetuating nature of violence but also that there are interventions that can interrupt that cycle.
  • Trafficking of women and children for forced labor and sex is a serious concern in all three countries. [v]
  • Impunity is widespread in the Northern Triangle countries. In Honduras in 2014, for example, the United Nations reported that 95 percent of sexual violence and femicide cases were never investigated, while only 2.5 percent of cases of domestic violence
    were settled.
  • Sixty-four percent of refugee women from Central America and Mexico interviewed for UNHCR’s Women on the Run report described direct threats and attacks by armed criminal groups as one of the primary reasons for their flight, and 58 percent
    of women interviewed gave accounts of sexual assault and sexual abuse.
  • The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimates that at least one million people had been displaced by criminal violence associated with drug trafficking and gang activity in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico as of December
  • Eighty percent of Honduran refugee women interviewed by UNHCR for its Women on the Run report had tried to relocate internally before deciding to flee their country.

Read full report HERE

Watch recording of event HERE


  • [i]UNICEF, Hidden in Plain Sight: A Statistical Analysis of Violence against Children (New York: UNICEF, September 2014).
  • [ii] Geneva Declaration, Global Burdens of Armed Violence (Geneva: Geneva Declaration, 2015).
  • [iii] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from El Salvador” (March 2016) and UNHCR, “Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Asylum Seekers from Honduras” (July 2016).
  • [iv] Claudia Palma, “Cada 46 minutos se comete una violación” Prensa Libre, May 16, 2016, justicia/cada-46-minutos-se-comete-una-violacion
  • [v] U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC, June 2016).