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The solutions to El Salvador’s security problems are neither easy, nor immediate. It will be a long and difficult road for El Salvador to address the issues at the core of the violence and insecurity ravaging the country. But there are things that can be done to improve conditions in the short term and set the country on a path to see peace and justice. U.S. policies and assistance can be part of the problem or part of the solution.  

El Salvador’s mounting security crisis has been met by a heavy-handed government response, which centers on sending the military and police into the streets to outgun the gangs and filling the country’s jails with even the lowest-ranking of alleged gang members. Beyond escalating violence and presenting extremely serious human rights concerns, this plan is simply not working. But, as 2016 unfolds, the government has a chance to set a new course and roll out an existing strategy to curb the violence.

After the murder of three transgender activists and the brutal beating of a transgender man, the Salvadoran legislature passed a hate-crime law in September 2015, placing El Salvador among a handful of Latin American nations with such laws to protect LGBTI citizens. The reforms to the legal code increased the sentences of those convicted of killing someone because of their sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, political affiliation or gender.

The violence gripping El Salvador affects women in a different way than men. Within the current security crisis, gang and security force violence has exacerbated a broader, long-standing acceptance of violence against women. More than half of all Salvadoran women say they have suffered some form of violence in their lives. Over a quarter of these women were victims of sexual or physical violence.

The horrific violence gripping El Salvador has contributed to a humanitarian crisis that has forced hundreds of thousands of citizens to flee their homes. But the Salvadoran government has not fully recognized the problem of internal displacement and has failed to provide solutions.

In El Salvador, over 80 percent of murders were carried out with guns in 2015. Loose enforcement of existing Salvadoran laws, limited U.S. gun controls, military corruption and lax oversight of large caches of civil war-era arms have made it relatively easy for criminals to access such firepower.

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