Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 12:06 GMT

El Salvador: Domestic violence; recourse and services available to victims (March 2006)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 3 April 2006
Citation / Document Symbol SLV101191.FE
Reference 7
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, El Salvador: Domestic violence; recourse and services available to victims (March 2006), 3 April 2006, SLV101191.FE, available at: [accessed 15 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005 indicated that domestic violence is "a widespread and serious problem" in El Salvador (8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 5). According to the director of the Norma Virginia Guirola De Herrara Institute for Women's Studies (Instituto de estudios de la mujer Norma Virginia Guirola de Herrera, CEMUJER), while domestic violence has become an issue of public order in El Salvador, members of the public services approach the problem with caution (Instituto CEMUJER 27 Mar. 2006).

Country Reports 2005 indicated that the Civilian National Police (Policía Nacional Civil, PNC) "received 5,389 domestic violence complaints" and the Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Women (Instituto Salvadoreño para el Desarrollo de la Mujer, ISDEMU) received "4,033 complaints of domestic violence, compared with 4,329 complaints in 2004" (8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 5).

In an interview appearing on the Website of Society Without Violence (Sociedad sin violencia), the ISDEMU's executive director stated that, from 2003 to 2005, nearly 82 per cent of women claimed they had been victims of domestic violence (25 Nov. 2005). According to the same source, victims are reporting these acts of violence more and more, which shows that prevention programs are meeting with success and that the promotion of cultural change can impact the problem (Sociedad sin violencia 25 Nov. 2005). However, Country Reports 2005 indicated that "few victims filed complaints against abusers, and the police reportedly at times were reluctant to pursue charges in such cases" (8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 5). Yakin Ertürk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, stated in the summary of a report of a February 2004 mission to El Salvador that cases of violence against women in El Salvador are very rarely investigated or brought before the courts, which "has contributed to an environment of impunity" (UN 20 Dec. 2004, 2). Excerpts of an unpublished report sent to the Research Directorate by a representative of the non-governmental organization Women's Association for Dignity and Life (Asociación de Mujeres por la Dignidad y la Vida – Las Dignas) related the case of a woman murdered in April 2005 whose former partner had been acquitted of all charges, mainly because the trial judge did not at any time during the proceedings refer to the repeated abuse that the victim had suffered – and had reported to the police – while living with the accused (Asociación Las Dignas 22 Mar. 2006, 15-16). The victim had also asked for protection, but it was refused (ibid., 16). According to the report by Las Dignas,


it is clear that the authorities underestimate ... the level of violence that women experience and that these women still consider the issue to be a "private matter." Consequently, they hold the law [in cases of domestic violence] in very low esteem. A legal system that allows abusers to commit violent acts without investigating cases further and that lets criminals go free encourages impunity and violence. This is particularly true when the abusers are high-ranking officials in the public service. There is evidence that such people use their influence to escape the punishment prescribed by law (ibid.).

In the previously mentioned report of her February 2004 mission to El Salvador, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women indicated that many "[w]omen reported that justices of the peace and police do not take complaints seriously and fail to promptly issue protection orders" (UN 20 Dec. 2004, para. 29). She also stated that "[t]he courts are said to favour reconciliation and family reunification over the prosecution of perpetrators, which further exposes victims to their abusers and may ignite reprisal" (ibid). Furthermore, "[w]omen's organizations believe that domestic violence ... is severely underreported" for the following reasons: "societal pressure; fear of reprisal; fear of publicity and stigmatization; discriminatory responses by authorities; and low confidence in the justice system" (ibid., para. 32). According to the director of CEMUJER, many measures to help abused women exist in El Salvador, yet the resources upon which they depend for their implementation are lacking (27 Mar. 2006).

Government actions

Salvadoran law "prohibits domestic violence and provides for sentences ranging from six months to one year in prison," the length of which "depends on the circumstances of the case and is at the judge's discretion" (Country Reports 2005 8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 5). However, according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, "violence that does not leave marks lasting for 10 days is classified as a misdemeanour rather than a crime" (UN 20 Dec. 2004, para. 29). In all cases, "convicted offenders are prohibited from using alcohol or drugs and from carrying guns" (Country Reports 2005 8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 5). With 262 stations throughout the country offering services to families, women and children, the PNC is responsible in large part for ensuring that the [translation] "Law Against Intra-Family Violence" is enforced (CEMUJER 27 Mar. 2006). Victims of domestic abuse can also file complaints with non-governmental organizations involved in the field of women's rights (ibid.). "[B]ecause laws are not consistently applied," according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, "domestic violence is widespread and tolerated" (UN 20 Dec. 2004, para. 28). Moreover, "[d]omestic violence was considered socially acceptable by a large portion of the population" (Country Reports 2005 8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 5).

According to Country Reports 2005, "government institutions, such as the PDDH [Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights (Procuraduría para la defensa de los derechos humanos)], the Attorney General's Office, the Supreme Court, the Public Defender's Office, and the PNC coordinated efforts with NGOs and other organizations to combat violence against women through education, increased enforcement of the law, and NGO support programs for victims" (8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 5).

The ISDEMU is a government agency (Country Reports 2005 8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 1.d) whose mandate is to [translation] "formulate and implement the National Policy for Women [Política nacional de la mujer], and to follow up on compliance with that policy" (El Salvador 20 Mar. 2006). According to the executive director, ISDEMU also ensures that the national legislation on domestic violence corresponds to international legislation (Sociedad sin violencia 25 Nov. 2005). The National Policy for Women, which defines a strategy for fighting violence against women, is being implemented by the ISDEMU through its Family Relations Improvement Program (Programa de saneamiento de la relación familiar, PSRF) (El Salvador 20 Mar. 2006). The four main objectives of the PSRF are [translation] "prevention, monitoring, research and follow-up" (ibid.). The PSRF's structure is inter-institutional and multidisciplinary and its scope is national, working alongside 14 inter-institutional committees and 50 local networks and NGOs that deal with the problem of violence against women and/or local development with a focus on gender (ibid.). The PSRF works to prevent domestic violence through awareness, education and communication (ibid.). Through the PSRF, the following resources are available to victims of abuse: [translation] "intervention during the crisis, psychological counselling after the assault, therapeutic support groups (for victims and abusers), social assistance, legal counselling, follow-up on the legal process, and temporary allowances" (ibid.). All services are confidential and offered free of charge (ibid.). Another important ISDEMU initiative involved increasing media awareness of and training on the issue of violence against women, as well as accessing airtime on national radio through which its personnel could raise public awareness (ibid.).

The PSRF operates seven regional offices: Cabañas, Chalatenango, La Paz, La Unión, San Miguel, San Salvador and Santa Ana (El Salvador 2003, 22). Two new offices in Sonsonate and Morazán are scheduled to open in April 2006 (El Salvador n.d). The PSRF's main office, that in San Salvador, operates 24 hours a day year round, while its other offices are open 12 hours a day (El Salvador 20 Mar. 2006). All offices have a local emergency hotline (ibid.). The technical team helping victims of domestic violence consists of 90 professionals who are constantly updated on the latest innovations in the field and on legal matters and reforms (ibid.). The PSFR works in collaboration with the PNC's special youth and family services division (ibid.). Only one women's shelter (centre), located in San Salvador, is managed by the ISDEMU (El Salvador 20 Mar. 2006; ibid. n.d.), yet its free and confidential services are available to the entire country (El Salvador n.d.). A multidisciplinary team of psychologists, lawyers, social workers and female police officers assists victims (ibid.). According to CEMUJER's director, the city of San Salvador manages various shelters, where CEMUJER personnel train the staff (27 Mar. 2006). No information on the number of people who have used the centre managed by the ISDEMU or those managed by the city of San Salvador could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

CEMUJER, a non-governmental organization, manages the Integrated Care Centre for Abused Women and Children (Clínica de Atención Integral a Mujeres, Niñas y Niños Violentados) and its services include a confidential telephone line, a public law consultancy (consultorio jurídico popular) and support groups (círculos de reflexión) (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Asociación de Mujeres por la Dignidad y la Vida – Las Dignas. 22 March 2006. La Violencia Contra las Mujeres a través de la Prensa 2005. Unpublished report sent by a representative.

Country Reports on Human Right Practices for 2005. 8 March 2006. "El Salvador." United States Department of State. [Accessed 12 Mar. 2006]

El Salvador. 20 March 2006. Instituto salvadoreño para el desarrollo de la mujer (ISDEMU). Government documentation received in correspondence from an official.
_____. 2003. Instituto salvadoreño para el desarrollo de la mujer (ISDEMU). Memoria de labores 2003. [Accessed 15 Mar. 2006]
_____. N.d. "Información adicional presentada por El Salvador en respuesta a la solicitud de la relatoría especial sobre violencia contra la mujer des la Naciones Unidas, Señora Yakin Ertürk." Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences. Information solicited in preparation of Thematic Report 2006. [Accessed 12 Mar. 2006]

Instituto de estudios de la mujer Norma Virginia Guirola de Herrera (CEMUJER). 27 March 2006. Correspondence from the director.

Sociedad sin violencia. 25 November 2005. "Entrevista a Zoila de Innocenti, Directora ejecutiva de ISDEMU." [Date de consultation: 15 Mar. 2006]

United Nations. 20 December 2004. Economic and Social Council. Commission on Human Rights. Integration of the Human Rights of Women and a Gender Perspective: Violence Against Women. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Yakin Ertürk. Addendum. Mission to El Salvador (2-8 February 2004). (E/CN.4/2005/72/Add.2) [Accessed 16 Mar. 2006]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Adital, Alianza latina nacional para erradicar la violencia doméstica, Asociación para el desarrollo y autodeterminación de mujeres salvadoreñas (AMS), Biblioteca virtual en salud, EFENews, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Inter-American Foundation for the Defense of Human Rights (FIDDH), ISIS Internacional, Mujeres hoy, Organization of American States (OAS), OXFAM América, PeaceWomen, World Health Organization (WHO), World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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