Police, Gangs Major Perpetrators of LGBT Violence in El Salvador

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Data collected by activists suggest security forces and gang members are the principal perpetrators of violence against members of the LGBTI communities in El Salvador, highlighting the under-prosecution of crimes against sexual minorities in Central America. 

Karla Avelar, president of the Trans Communication and Training Association (Asociación Comunicando y Capacitando Trans – COMCAVIS TRANS) in San Salvador, says data her organization collected on over 600 murders of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, or Intersex (LGBTI) community since 1993 shows that police officers and gang members are the principal perpetrators, reported ACAN-EFE

Activists had to track down and investigate the circumstances of these deaths because there is no public agency in El Salvador that registers the sexual orientation or gender identity of homicide victims. 

Avelar says that crimes against members of the LGBTI community are not isolated, that they generally follow a certain pattern, and go systematically unprosecuted. She says that transgender men and women are particularly targeted. 

According to ACAN-EFE, in the first three months of 2016 Avelar’s organization has documented 29 cases of sexual minorities forced to flee their homes — and sometimes the country — due to threats, extortion, and attempts on their life by police officers or gang members. 

In 2015 there was a rash of prominent attacks carried out against members of the LGBTI community in El Salvador, including the separate murders of two transgender women and the police-beating of a transgender man. 

El Salvador’s penal code does not include provisions for hate crime penalties for crimes targeting victims based on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

InSight Crime Analysis

This is not the first time police and gangs have been identified as principal perpetrators of violence against the LGBTI community in El Salvador. A 2012 report on Sexual Diversity in El Salvador from the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley cites instances of gangs requiring new members to carry out attacks against members of the LGBTI community as part of their initiation. It also documents instances of rape, abuse, and physical attacks carried out by police officers against gay men and trans women in particular. 

The report echoed Avelar’s concerns regarding lack of investigation and prosecution of violence against the LGBTI community, particularly when police officers were named in the complaint.

Regionally, civil society organizations in Honduras have also identified police and gangs as principal perpetrators of violence against the LGBTI community. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Rights

Amid a broader crisis of violence and impunity in El Salvador, in which gangs and security forces are often pitted against each other, the victimization of LGBTI-identified individuals by security forces and gangs alike points to a shared culture of unchecked violent masculinity. 

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