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Violence against women in Latin America: Is it getting worse?

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"Women are asking for rights, and men get very violent; and because the system is so cumbersome and does not provide responses quickly enough, violence gets worse and worse," Gasman says.

Femicides in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have all shot up in recent years, registering some of the highest rates in the world. The latter has seen the biggest spike in femicide in Latin America, with 637 women murdered in 2011, almost quadruple the rate from a decade ago, says Silvia Juarez, who heads the violence against women program for the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace.

In 2009, Mexico recorded its highest number of femicides since 1985, recording 1,858 deaths, according to a UN report.

"We have documented an alarming growth of femicide in the country," says Jose Martinez Cruz, the head of a human rights organization in the state of Morelos in central Mexico.

Patsili Toledo, a Chilean lawyer active in women's rights issues, says the drug war, like most armed conflict, is particularly dangerous for women. They become more vulnerable amid a breakdown of law and order and social mores.

Women have certainly become victims of the drug trade as they participate in it; but in some cases, women are used as a form of social cohesion among gang members. The men can bond over inflicting violence against women. That may have been a motive in another setback for women in Mexico, when a group of teens on a spiritual retreat in July was overtaken by a gang that raped five women and girls.

Three of the suspects admitted to doing so after other gang members pressured them.

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