Women are being murdered in Mexico at an alarming rate, but the nation's president has downplayed a surge in calls to emergency hotlines, declaring most of them are false.
Since stay-at-home measures were ordered March 23 to slow the spread of the coronavirus, there has been an increase in homicides where women are the victims, according to government data released last week. April was the deadliest month in the last five years with a record 267 murders of women.
Yet President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has dismissed the scale of the problem, blaming the "neoliberal" governing model of his predecessors. "I'm going to give you another fact, which doesn't mean that violence against women doesn't exist, because I don't want you all to misinterpret me," the leftist leader said mid-May during his daily morning presser.
"Ninety percent of those calls that serve as your base are false, it's proven," he told a journalist when asked about his government's own data on emergency calls about violence against women.
A record 26,171 emergency calls about violence against women were made in March according to the government data. The following month, when the "quédate en casa," or stay-at-home regulation was in full effect, there were 21,722 calls, the same government report states.
López Obrador's explanation for the calls has been disputed by a leading advocate for women. "It's not that the calls are false, it's more that the calls aren't followed through to completion, so they're considered incomplete," Maria Salguero, a Mexican femicide investigator and creator of a national femicide map told CNN.
Speaking by phone, Salguero added that calls frequently come from neighbors and do not always result in authorities going to the neighbors' house for a follow-up statement, which can lead the emergency calls to be considered incomplete.
Victims themselves may be afraid to call for help if they live with the aggressor, or even to file claims. "If authorities arrive, the female might not want to press charges anymore," she said. "At least the call puts the brakes on the aggression."
Overall, 987 women and girls were murdered in the first four months of 2020, according to government data.
Of those incidents, 308 are categorized as femicides, according to Mexico's Secretary of Security and Citizen Protection. The government data shows a lower number for femicide as the interpretation relies on specific evidence a woman was killed because of her gender.
For López Obrador, it is a demise of family cohesion and isolation that is fueling domestic violence. The president has often invoked "neoliberal models," referring to the decades of political leadership before his inauguration, as the cause of many of the country's ills.
"When isolation occurs, this culture perhaps causes grievances, confrontation and violence," said the president, who prides himself on defending human rights and protecting the vulnerable. "I am not saying that in Mexico there is not this confrontation. Of course there are differences in all families."
Several gruesome murders have already shocked the nation this year, including the death of 25-year-old Ingrid Escamilla, who was found brutally slain, her body skinned and missing some of its organs, and the murder of seven-year-old Fátima whose body was found inside a plastic bag, sexually abused and beaten.
In early March, tens of thousands of women took to the streets demanding justice for the many victims during a mass protest marking International Women's Day.
More recently, the government launched a much-ridiculed series of public service videos about how to prevent domestic violence during the stay-at-home order. One ad presented a selection of stressful moments in a typical household. As tension built, it advised everybody to count to ten to calm down and "take out the white flag of peace," then showed the family members smiling and waving small flags.
The campaign went viral with advocates condemning the government's approach. Some on social media associated the counting to ten to the number of murders of women that can happen in a single day while others posted ten names of women who have been brutally murdered this year.
The ads were "atrocious" and "disconnected from reality," Perla Acosta Galindo, Director of Más Sueños A.C., a women's community center told CNN. Counting to ten "won't help especially when you're attacked," adding that the campaign is simply a "Band-Aid for something much more serious."
“We need mechanisms, budgets, proper help for abused women rather than an ad suggesting the victim count to ten and wave a white flag.”