Medellin is a dangerous city for women and girls despite alleged efforts to combat gender violence and pedophilia in Colombia’s second largest city.
Forty women and girls were assassinated in the city last year, according to local authorities in the capital of the Antioquia province that is home to more than 2.5 million people.
Fifteen of these victims were murdered at home, one of the most dangerous places for Medellin’s women and girls.
In its annual report on women’s rights, the local government said that 1,568 women were physically abused by their partner and 133 girls suffered physical abuse by a family member.
At least 2,008 women and children became the victims of sexual violence in 2021. Of the 466 rape tests carried out by the Medical Examiner, 90% corresponded to underage girls.
Family environments are proportionally more dangerous for women because of the type of violence that is exercised against them, and because of the way in which this type of violence associated with coexistence, interpersonal and the relationships between couples.
Medical Examiner’s Office
The situation is considerably better than it was in 2005 when Medellin’s Women’s Secretary was founded and 61% of the city’s women said they had been beaten by their partner.
Sixty women were assassinated that year, the local government in a 2008 report.
In 2007, the Medical Examiner carried out 933 rape tests of which 70% corresponded to girls of 14 and younger.
The impoverished northwest of the city was the most dangerous for women then and continued to be so in 2021, according to Medellin’s city hall.
What is threatening Medellin women and girls?
The coronavirus and the massive influx of migrants from Venezuela has had a devastating effect on women in the city with a history of “machismo.”
According to national statistics agency DANE, 18% of Medellin’s women were unemployed. The unemployment rate among women was as high as 31.7%.
The physical and job insecurity severely affected the mental health of Medellin women of whom 36% said to be having mental health issues.
Medellin’s suicide rate was 2.7 per 100,000 women last year, which was double that of the capital Bogota and the highest of all Colombia’s major cities.
The vulnerability of women that belong to ethnic minorities is considerably higher than white women as they additionally face racist violence, stressed Maria Roa of the Afrocolombian Domestic Service Union.
The main challenges to improve equality and to be able to have a better quality of life for women and reduce the gender gap, is the guarantee of labor and human rights such as: having a fair salary, social benefits, reducing the domestic workload and the burden of the home, eliminating ethnic-racial discrimination, economic violence, sexual violence, workplace violence and having a dignified treatment.
Keeping the problem a secret
For some reason, women’s rights wasn’t an issue in Medellin until sex workers also began offering their services to reported sex tourists in the wealthy Poblado district.
Prostitution has been as common as violence against women in Medellin since before 1963 when a survey found that more than 4.5% of the local women worked in prostitution.
According to a 2012 study by the Health Ministry, a little more than 2,000 women and more than 270 children provided sex services to the male half of the city’s 2.2 million inhabitants.
I started when I was 11 years old. I was in a boarding school where met a friend who told me to come here and you know when they say “money, money,” it calls your attention.
The local child welfare service told local news station Telemedellin that it received only seven complaints of child sexual exploitation that year.
The situation caused little public indignation as prostitution mainly took place in the downtown area and the sexual violence against women and children at home.
The public indignation kicked in in 2016 after a growing number of foreigner visitors to Poblado also began attracting sex workers to Medellin’s most affluent area.
Local crime expert Fernando Quijano told Vivir en Poblado that year that “we have reported this often, but many businesses said that this was… not true.”
El Poblado has been a time bomb for many years… When looking for [the local mafia] bosses, they found them in that area.
Quijano said “the situation is now out of control after Medellin mafia syndicate La Oficina de Envigado and Poblado businessmen had been making money of Poblado’s booming sex industry for years.
The US-funded fraud
Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez embarked on a US-funded, but fraudulent witch hunt that targeted foreign visitors, but left the mafia associates of his now-jailed former security secretary alone.
Mayor Daniel Quintero, an alleged sex offender, took office in 2020 and was almost immediately confronted with the coronavirus crisis, which worsened the situation of Medellin’s women dramatically.
The pandemic was a godsent for the sex industry, however, and the local mafia flooded the city center and El Poblado with sex workers again.
The minimum price for sex in downtown Medellin dropped to little more than $1 and in El Poblado to $20, according to sex workers’ rights organization “Putamente Poderosas.”
Worse than an “open-air brothel”
After author Carolina Sanin called Medellin “an open-air brothel” on Monday, Quintero “finally” vowed to do something about prostitution, local newspaper El Colombiano reported.
Dozens and dozens of women walk at any hour along 10th Street or Lleras Park in search of a client, and those clients are mostly foreigners who pay in dollars.
The newspaper complained that the city hall’s announced efforts “don’t even directly impact” the prostitution in El Poblado.
Quintero’s policy allegedly seeks to tackle Medellin’s history of violence against women and children instead of the sensitivities of the local elite and the mafia that promote prostitution.
I have a client and first I take him to a nearby bar, or to a discotheque, the manager gives me a tip for taking that foreigner to spend money with them. That way everybody wins.
Colombia’s second largest city “continues to be an absolutely exclusive society,” sex workers’ rights activist Melissa Toro told Spanish newspaper El Pais.
While El Colombiano decried prostitution, local police arrested a taxi driver who allegedly raped and robbed a 33-year-old woman from Manrique, Medellin’s most dangerous district for women.
The city’s Women’s Secretary hasn’t spoken out about the situation of Medellin’s women for months.