In Paraguay, complaints of family violence increased by 243% between 2015 and 2023

Illustration made by Bianca Fernández in 2023. Used with permission.

This article was written by Noelia Díaz Esquivel and Johana Cuenca and published in Revista Emancipa on February 10, 2024. An edited version is republished in Global Voices under a media partnership agreement. 

Trigger warning: This article contains mentions of murder and violence against women that may be disturbing to some readers.

The Public Ministry of Paraguay launched its first Open Data platform to promote transparency and citizen participation throughout the country. The platform has a section on punishable acts of violence against women, where an extremely alarming fact is highlighted by the platform: according to the annual evolution of complaints of family violence received at the Public Ministry throughout the country, between 2015 and 2023 there was an increase of more than 243 percent in complaints received.

Infographic by the Public Ministry of Paraguay, translated by Global Voices. Public domain.

Family violence is also considered the most reported crime in Paraguay during 2023, with 34,898 cases: an average of 95 victims per day, which is an increase from the 86 cases per day recorded in 2022.

Violence against women is defined as any systematic act and/or actions that can result in psychological, physical or sexual harm derived from gender and gender roles in society. Likewise, threats, coercion, or deprivation of liberty, or other types of harm, whether they occur in public, work, or private life.

Femicide is the most extreme expression of violence against women, and the figures provided in the open database show that from January to December 2023, 45 victims of feminicide were registered in Paraguay. The report also highlights that the age of the victims is between 12 and 70 years old, while the age of the aggressors is between 18 and 82 years old.

The Central Department of Paraguay, the smallest but most densely populated state in the country, continues to lead the high numbers of family violence with 14,605 ​​cases throughout the year. Asunción follows, with 4,757, which also maintains a high figure, as does Alto Paraná, with 3,546. In Caaguazú, 1,747 cases were reported; in Itapúa, 1,549; in Cordillera, 1,483, and, in San Pedro, 1,339.

The platform shares guides and support materials to complement the information and data provided by the state. Its objective is to promote and make available data that can be reused in strategic sectors for innovation, generating solutions and designing public policies to address social and security problems; as well as promoting citizen participation and access to public information.

Making violence against women visible is of utmost importance for several reasons, including promoting public policies, creating social awareness, recognizing and validating the experiences of victims, prevention and adequate response, access to justice with comprehensive care, and promoting cultural changes.

However, the government of Paraguay still has far to go regarding its public policies focused on preventing and containing gender violence in the country.

A poorly investigated feminicide

An iconic case of family violence in Paraguay is that of Meliza Fleitas, 18, who was reported missing in August 2017, in the city of Ypacaraí, in southern Paraguay. She was last seen in July of that year in the company of her partner Jaime Fernández Vera. Given the lack of responses and actions from the competent authorities, a search was undertaken by family and friends through social networks.

In July 2018, one year after her disappearance, a march was organized demanding that the case be properly investigated. From there, the case reached the media, which was able to prove that the Public Ministry did not act according to the lawful protocol in the recommended timeframe.

One year since the disappearance of Meliza Fleitas. These are the data we obtained about the last hours of the young woman who lived with her boyfriend Jaime in Ypacarai.

After the investigation carried out by journalist Rolando Rodi, it was possible to collect important data for the case, and testimonies from neighbors who claimed that on the night of Friday, July 21, 2017, at approximately two in the morning, they heard Fleitas's desperate screams begging for her life. Fearing getting involved, they decided to lock themselves in their homes and remain silent.

After the publication, the house (which had supposedly already been inspected) was raided, and firearms and receipts for money from the US were found. Despite the evidence found, the investigation did not continue.

On October 13, 2018, a group of workers found a grave while carrying out work in the patio behind the house where the couple lived. The pertinent authorities were notified and responded that they went to inspect the place and that it was nothing more than a false alarm. But at the insistence of feminist groups concerned about the search for Fleitas, on October 16, 2018, agents from the National Police showed up at the scene for a second time. The authorities confirmed that it was a grave that contained remains of firearm projectiles and the remains of a human body.

Fleitas had been there for 14 months, and the ineffectiveness of the entities in charge of seeking and providing the necessary answers to protect the women of Paraguay is evident. The actions of the Public Ministry and local authorities are striking, as they omitted essential steps for the investigation. The disinterest of the prosecutor Soledad González, who was the first intervener in charge and forced to resign from the investigation, as well as her successor Milena Basualdo, who was later investigated by the state due to negligence in the case, provided sufficient time for the main suspect to escape and hide. Which points to the conclusion that the inaction from authorities is due to the condition of the victim: being a woman and poor.

Almost five years after Fleitas’ murder, the case is still not moving forward — there are neither arrests nor culprits.

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