The Pandemic Has Triggered Dramatic Shifts in the Global Criminal Underworld

Published in Foreign Policy

By Robert Muggah

To say that COVID-19 changes everything is already a cliché. But it’s also true. The pandemic is deepening tension between China and the United States, accelerating the digitalization of commerce, and shining a bright light on the inequalities that divide our societies. It is also triggering dramatic knock-on effects in the criminal underworld. After a temporary lull in homicidal violence in some countries, there are signs that it is rising once more. Meanwhile, crime groups are migrating online to where the action is. If left to their own devices, they could make the world a more dangerous place.Police shortages and market shocks are triggering fresh waves of violence in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, where criminal groups are fighting over a diminishing pie.

Many countries actually witnessed declines in some types of crime and increases in others shortly after the imposition of social distancing and lockdowns to slow the virus. In much of North America and Western Europe, for example, murder and violent assault plummeted as people stayed at home. On the other hand, reported domestic abuse and sexual violence exploded. Predictably, the confinement of people to their homes increased exposure to abusive partners.

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