Domestic Violence During a Global Pandemic: Lockdown Policies and Their Impacts Across Guatemala

Date01 November 2021
Published date01 November 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2021, Vol. 37(4) 589 –614
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862211044867
Domestic Violence During a
Global Pandemic: Lockdown
Policies and Their Impacts
Across Guatemala
Laura Iesue1, Felicia O. Casanova1,
and Alex R. Piquero1,2
This study uses official data from Guatemala’s Departamento de Atencion a la Victima
(Victim Attention Department), a specialized unit in Guatemala’s National Civil Police,
to assess the long-term impacts of a government mandated lockdown and reopening
on domestic violence. It also considers how the lockdown and reopening impacted
domestic violence across administrative departments in the country. Our findings
suggest that combined, daily cases of domestic violence were already decreasing prior
to the pandemic lockdown and that both the shutdown and the reopening altered the
patterning of domestic violence, first to increase domestic violence and then to decrease
it, respectively. When assessing this trend across departments, not every department
exhibited the same, national-level trend, but instead domestic violence trends varied.
This study provides a starting point in analyzing long-term pandemic-related policy
responses and their impacts on domestic violence in international contexts.
Guatemala, domestic violence, COVID-19, interrupted time series analysis
In March 2020, the World Health Organization [WHO] categorized the COVID-19
outbreak as a pandemic, resulting in government officials to implement restrictive
social distancing policies to reduce the spread of the virus (WHO, 2020). By April
1University of Miami, Coral Gables, USA
2Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Corresponding Author:
Laura Iesue, Department of Sociology & Criminology, University of Miami, 5202 University Drive,
Merrick Building, Coral Gables, FL 33146, USA.
1044867CCJXXX10.1177/10439862211044867Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeIesue et al.
590 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 37(4)
2020, a third of the world was under some form of a lockdown (Bucholz, 2020;
Kaplan et al., 2020). Soon after, multiple organizations reported to the media that
they were experiencing an increase in the number of women seeking help for domes-
tic violence, compared to the same period in the previous year (Beggin, 2020;
Graham-Harrison et al., 2020; Taub, 2020). This pattern became so well documented
that the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, claimed that
the world was experiencing a “shadow pandemic” of violence against women and
girls (Mlambo-Ngcuka, 2020).
Latin America has not been immune to this “shadow pandemic.” Anecdotal reports
suggest that more than 1,200 women have potentially disappeared in Peru between
March 11th and June 30th of 2020 (Gilbert, 2020) and Brazil reported a 22% increase
in femicide in 2020 compared to 2019 (Bond, 2020). However, research on the rela-
tionship between COVID-19 and domestic violence within this region is still needed
as most of the research linking the pandemic and pandemic-related responses to
domestic violence has been predominantly conducted in the United States (cf. Evans
et al., 2020; Nix & Richards, 2021; Payne et al., 2020; Piquero et al., 2020), Canada
(Bucerius et al., 2021), within Australia (Payne et al., 2020; Pfitzner et al., 2020), and
more recently in places such as China (Dai et al., 2021). Unfortunately understanding
COVID-19 lockdowns and their impact on domestic violence has not been empirically
analyzed in countries across the Americas, such as Guatemala, where domestic vio-
lence continues to be a rampant criminal justice and health issue (Beltran & Freeman,
2007; Meeker et al., 2020; Minnick & O’Brien, 2018; Wands & Mirzoev, 2022).
There are several objectives for this study. First, we aim to move past the current,
anecdotal evidence of domestic violence during COVID-19 in Guatemala that was
highlighted in the media at the start of the lockdown. Pulling from the previous
research conducted in the United States (Evans et al., 2020; Nix & Richards, 2021;
Piquero et al., 2020), Australia (Payne et al., 2020), and other locations we empirically
consider whether government-mandated shutdowns affected domestic violence within
Guatemala. Second, we also seek to understand whether this trend is further impacted
by the reopening of Guatemala after the lockdown as much of the current research on
domestic-violence and COVID-19 only focus on the short term.
Third, we consider the impact of the lockdowns and subsequent reopening on
domestic violence across administrative departments. It is important to analyze such
potential variation across departments as policy analysis often document that less-
developed regions of Guatemala may choose to engage outside the criminal justice
system (OSAC, 2019). Furthermore, women in indigenous and rural communities may
underreport domestic violence as some areas of Guatemala continue to experience a
general fear and mistrust of the police due to prior police abuses that occurred during
the Civil War (Walsh & Menjívar, 2016).
This study asks two research questions: First, how do COVID-19 lockdowns and
subsequent reopening’s impact domestic violence? Second, how do these trends vary
based on the administrative department? Using data from Guatemala’s specialized
National Civil Police Unit (PNC), Departamento de Atencion a la Victima (Victim
Attention Department) collected between January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020,

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