Female homicides in Ciudad Juárez
The phenomenon of the female homicides in Ciudad Juárez, called in Spanish feminicidio ("femicide") involves the violent deaths of hundreds of women and girls since 1993 in the northern Mexican region of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, a border city across the Rio Grande from the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas. The number of murdered women in Ciudad Juarez since 1993 is estimated to be more than 370.[when?] The murders of females in Ciudad Juárez since 1993 have received international attention, primarily due to perceived government inaction in preventing violence against females and bringing perpetrators to justice.
The nature of female homicides
Evidence suggests that a specific group of women and girls is being targeted in Ciudad Juarez. The victims share common characteristics, and there are many similarities in the violent crimes committed against them. Most of the victims are young women who come from impoverished backgrounds and work in maquiladoras, as waitresses, in other sectors of the informal economy, or are students. In addition, many victims share common physical attributes, including dark skin, slender physique, and dark hair. In terms of the crimes, similarities across cases include the rape, torture, mutilation, and murder of the victims.
The term femicide is widely used by activists and scholars to describe the murders of women and girls in Ciudad Juarez and the impunity that surrounds them. Femicide as a term was first publicly introduced in 1976 by Diana Russell while testifying at the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Brussels in 1976. According to Russell, femicide is defined as "the killing of females by males because they are females." Since this introduction, there have been various definitions for femicide that appear in the literature. In 2001, Russell introduced an edited definition which is the one of the most relevant today. There are distinctions that exist between homicide and femicide. Typically, in order for a homicide to be considered femicide there must include one or more of the following characteristics: a victim-perpetrator relationship, history of violence, including threats of violence, toward the victim or other women, and indications of gender-related factors, such as sexual assault. There are various motives for femicide which can include: hate, pleasure, ire, malice, jealousy, separation, arguments, robbery, the sensation to possess women and exterminate the one that is dominated. The victimizer can be a father, a lover, a husband, a friend, an acquaintance, a stranger or a boyfriend. There are various forms of femicide including: intimate partner femicides, familial femicides, femicides by other known perpetrators, stranger femicides, and serial femicides among others.
A study conducted in 2002 using the Femicide Database 1993–2001 at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, which documented incidents of femicide that occurred in Ciudad Juarez from 1993–2001, found that sexual serial femicide was one of the main forms of femicide that took place in Ciudad Juarez. According to Monarrez Fargoso, the categorization of serial femicide includes, "the location where the victim was found, generally a vacant locality; if the coroner’s report indicated a rape had occurred; when no such information was available, the fact that the body was unclothed, the state in which the body was left as well as the various tortures or mutilations the body was subjected to." The study also found cases of non-serial sexual femicide using the same criteria. In addition, many of the crimes identified as non-serial sexual femicide were committed within the home.
Some researchers have adopted the term feminicide which is defined as, "the misogynous murder of women by men" to describe the gendered violence occurring in Ciudad Juarez. The murders of females in Juarez have received widespread attention due to perceived lack of action on behalf of the government to both prevent the murders and bring perpetrators to justice. The characterization of feminicide primarily allows researchers to frame research around the analysis of the response or non-response of the State to murders of females. There are five factors that characterize feminicide which include: motives, victimizers, violent acts, structural changes in society, and tolerance by the State and other institutions.
A study was conducted in 2008 on the Feminicide Database 1993–2007 at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte which documented incidents of feminicide that occurred in Ciudad Juarez from 1993–2007. Of the various different kinds of murders that were analyzed, the study found two common patterns in the data which were classified as intimate feminicide and systemic sexual feminicide. Intimate feminicide refers to women who were killed by men that were close to them. According to the study, intimate feminicide accounted for 30.4% of the murders of females in Juarez from 1993–2007. Systematic sexual feminicide refers to systematic patterns in the killing of women and children including kidnapping, sexual violence, torture, and body abandonment in areas such as desert areas, garbage dumps, and sewage ditches among others. According to the study, systemic sexual feminicide accounted for 31.8% of the murders of females in Juarez from 1993–2007.
There are various media reports with different numbers ranging from hundreds to thousands of female homicides in the Ciudad Juarez region. For this reason Amnesty International reports, "Inadequate official data on the crimes committed in Chihuahua, particularly accurate figures on the exact number of murders and abductions of girls and women, has led to disputes around the issues that obscure the quest for justice." According to Amnesty International, as of February 2005, more than 370 young women and girls had been murdered in the cities of Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua. More recently, prosecutors from the state of Chihuahua reported that in 2010, 270 women were killed within the state, of these murders 247 occurred in Juarez. In 2011, Chihuahua's Attorney General, Carlos Manuel Salas, announced during a briefing in August 2011 that 222 women had been killed in Chihuahua since January of that year. Of these 222 murders, 130 of them occurred in Ciudad Juarez. In total, more than 300 women were murdered in Mexico in 2011. According to Wright, while the murder rate for females in Juarez is less than the murder rate for males, the statistics of female homicides per capita in Juarez is significantly higher than any other major city in Mexico or the United States.
The uncertainty about the characteristics of the perpetrators, their relationships to the victims, or their motives is primarily due to the dysfunction of the Mexican justice system as most cases have been inadequately investigated and documented. While in many of the cases in Ciudad Juarez it has yet to be determined who exactly has committed the murders of females, much of the literature on this issue purports that patriarchal backlash against working women may be a potential motive for the killings. This patriarchal backlash may be the result of lack of employment opportunities for men and more women entering the workforce which has altered traditional gender dynamics and created a situation of conflict between the sexes. Other researchers attribute the murders to Mexico's structural crisis including increasing poverty, unemployment, the disintegration of the peasant economy, migration, and a dysfunctional justice system. Overall, in considering the potential motives for gendered violence against women in Juarez, it is important to recognize that femicide is a mechanism of domination, control, oppression, and power over women.
Maquiladoras are widely known for their cheap labor and their exploitative conditions, such as regularly violating basic human rights, that often target women. Women and girls often migrate from villages or rural areas in other parts of Mexico in search of work in the maquilas. According to Livingston, this migration of women created, "a new phenomenon of mobile, independent and vulnerable working women," in cities like Ciudad Juarez. Women and girls are often funneled to work in areas that require lower education, and pay lower wages. Maquiladoras construct their female workforce under the notion that female workers are temporary workers, therefore justifying lower wages and creating a high turnover rate of laborers. According to Monarrez Fragoso, "the practices of the maquiladora industry towards the workers reveal a consume and dispose cycle." This consume and dispose cycle represents how the maquila industry creates "disposable" women referencing the devaluation and expendable nature of their labor.
Many of the murder victims in Ciudad Juarez have been maquiladora employees. Despite the expansion of the maquila industry, Juarez still remained a relatively poor and undeveloped city lacking infrastructure in some parts such as electricity and paved roads. As a part of their daily commute, many women maquila workers walk through such areas to and from company buses creating vulnerability to be victimized. In addition, the increased involvement of women in the labor force may also be a contributing factor to the victimization of women and girls because of the competition for economic resources in decades in which male unemployment has been high.
The implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 resulted in the expansion of the maquiladora industry and created new opportunities for employment for females outside of the home and in the factories. The availability of cheap labor was attractive for business owners to open factories in Mexico and the availability of employment attracted many, especially females, to border towns such as Ciudad Juarez. Research has shown correlations between economic and political issues and violence against women along the border. Specifically, Pantaleo states research has shown, "NAFTA, as a capitalist approach, has directly created a devaluation of women and an increase in gendered violence." Further, according to Wright, in the time period between the implementation of NAFTA in 1994 and 2001, "the homicide rate for men increased by 300 percent, while for women it increased by 600 percent." Such studies indicate the importance of exploring the effects of NAFTA when considering the possible causes of the murder of women and girls in Ciudad Juarez. Consequently, it has been suggested that amendments be made to NAFTA that include human rights provisions.
Machismo and Marianismo ideology
Sociocultural factors in relation to traditional gender roles have impacted violence against women in Mexico. According to Pantaleo, "Under the view of patriarchy, two expressions are commonly used in Mexico to show the difference in status of males and females; these expressions are machismo and marianismo." Machismo is characterized by male power and aggression; while marianismo is characterized by subordination and domestic gender roles. As part of the marianismo ideology, women are expected to fulfill domestic roles as wives and mothers and to refrain from paid labor outside of the home. Women who leave their homes to seek employment in the maquila industry directly challenge the marianismo ideal of womanhood. Olivera suggests that this changed situation challenges hypermasculinity, in which aggressive aspects of male identity are exaggerated in order to preserve their identity. According to Livingston, gender-directed violence in Ciudad Juarez may be a negative reaction as women "gain greater personal autonomy and independence while men lose ground."
Organized crime and drug trafficking
In examining femicide in Ciudad Juarez, it is important to consider the impact of the drug trade. Juarez is the seat of the Mexican drug cartel which has resulted in high levels of violence that have been directed at the Mexican population. It is believed that the femicide in Ciudad Juarez may be related to the powerful drug cartels along the border. Further, gangs have become a permanent threat particularly to females on the border. Gang activity creates high risk for females especially due to very little institutional protection. Oftentimes, misogyny is a common trait of gang activity. According to a study conducted in 2008 using the Feminicide Database 1993–2007 at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, which documented incidents of feminicide that occurred in Ciudad Juarez from 1993–2007, 9.1% of the murders of females were attributed to organized crime and drug trafficking activities.
Police and governmental response
The murders of females in Juarez have attracted global attention since 1993 given suspected police and government inaction to prevent the murders of females and bring perpetrators to justice. There have been several international rulings against Mexico for its inadequate response to the increasing violence against women. Police and government officials have been accused of responding with indifference to the crimes against females as well as exhibiting tolerance for such crimes, conducting inadequate and negligent investigations, ineffectively responding to the crimes, and failing to prevent and protect females from violence. As a result of international attention, police and government officials have been politically pressured to respond to the murders of females. Consequently, due to political pressure for justice, police have been accused of rushing to make arrests and solve cases while the crimes continue to occur. Further, out of hundreds of cases, only three convictions have ever been made and there is much skepticism involving the integrity of the convictions. The methodology and integrity of police investigations has been questioned due to allegations of torture and human rights violations of alleged suspects. Amnesty International Reports, "The government [has] failed to take effective measures to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the abduction and killing of three women in Ciudad Juárez... or to combat the ongoing pattern of violence against women and discrimination in the city.
According to Pantaleo, "While around 400 girls and women have been abducted and murdered, few arrests and convictions have resulted." For convictions that have been made, there is a great deal of controversy that surrounds them. Police have been accused of conducting rushed investigations with questionable methodology and integrity. Further, suspects that have been apprehended have claimed that they were tortured into confessing. This has caused uncertainty of the legitimacy of both investigations and convictions.
In 1996, an Egyptian national, Omar Sharif Latif or Abdul Latif Sharif was convicted of 3 murders and sentenced to a 30 year prison term. After his arrest in 1995, the murders continued and authorities claimed that Sharif directed members of the "Los Rebeldes" gang to continue the murders while he was incarcerated. These members were indicted and convicted as a result of this connection. The gang members accused of carrying out murders under Sharif's orders claimed they were tortured while in police custody. According to Monarrez Fragoso, "In the year 2000, it was known that the body of Elizabeth Castro Garcia, whose murder was attributed to Omar Sharif Latif, does not belong to her." His conviction is currently under appeal.
In 2001, Victor Garcia Uribe and Gustavo Gonzalez Meza were apprehended for eight murders. Gustavo Gonzalez Mesa died suspiciously while in police custody. In 2004, Victor Garcia Uribe, a bus driver, was convicted of eight murders that took place in 2001. He confessed to these murders but claimed that he was tortured into confessing by police.
There have been several international rulings against Mexico for its inadequate response to the increasing violence against women. According to Livingston, "In 1998 the National Commission for Human Rights issued a report charging gross irregularities and general negligence in state investigations, including the misidentification of corpses, failure to obtain expert tests on forensic evidence, failure to conduct autopsies or obtain semen analysis... failure to file written reports, [and] incompetence in keeping records of the rising tide of women murders."
In 2004, under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) conducted an inquiry into the allegations that hundreds of murders of women and girls had taken place in the area of Ciudad Juarez since 1993 at the urging of several NGOs. In order for the inquiry to take place it was required that there was reliable evidence that showed that Mexico was in violation of rights established by CEDAW. The Committee analyzed the gender-based crimes occurring in Ciudad Juarez and found the two common forms were murder and disappearances. The Committee also analyzed the response of the government and found that the their initial response was indifference and that the government exhibited tolerance of these crimes for years. Further, the Committee concluded that the measures undertaken by the Mexican State in response to gendered violence against women leading up to the time of their inquiry were, "few and ineffective at all levels of the State". The Committee made several recommendations for Mexico to adhere to. Although these recommendations were not legally binding, they were influential in the public sphere.
According to Amnesty International, "In , the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled on the “cotton field” (Campo Algodonero) case that Mexico was guilty of discrimination and of failing to protect three young women murdered in 2001 in Ciudad Juárez or to ensure an effective investigation into their abduction and murder." The Court ordered Mexico to conduct a new investigation of the murders, create a national memorial for the victims, pay reparations to the families of the victims, and to improve measures which prevent and adequately investigate the murder of females.
According to Simmons, "The murders in Juárez would not have drawn such national and international attention if it were not for the heroic efforts of the victims’ families and other women." There have been numerous local and international organizations that have helped draw attention to the issue of the murders of females in Juarez which has helped to create pressure for the Mexican government to agree to further its efforts to respond to violence against women. Further, the work of political leaders, activists, artists, academics, and journalists combined have also been instrumental in bringing international attention to the murders of females in Juarez and the issues that surround them.
In 1999, a group of feminist activists founded Casa Amiga, Juarez's first rape crisis and sexual assault center. The center works to provide females in Juarez with a refuge against violence, therapy, legal council, and medical attention. Casa Amiga also works to raise public awareness both locally and internationally regarding the exploitation and dehumanization of females in Juarez.
In 2002, a social justice movement named Ni Una Mas, which in Spanish means "not one more," was formed to raise international awareness to violence against females in Juarez. The movement consists of a variety of domestic and international organizations and individual activists. Ni Una Mas participants demand that the Mexican state implement strategies that prevent violence against females including murder and kidnappings and that the state conduct competent investigations on crimes already committed.
In addition to Casa Amiga and Ni Una Mas, family support groups such as Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa A.C., which in Spanish means "Our Daughters Back Home," have also formed in response to the violence against women in Juarez. Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa A.C. has also worked to bring domestic and international media attention to the violence against women in Juarez.
In popular culture
- The film Bordertown (2006), starring Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Banderas, is loosely based on these murders.
- The film Backyard: El Traspatio (2009), directed by Carlos Carrera, is based on these events.
- Tori Amos wrote a song about these incidents titled "Juárez", for her album To Venus and Back (1999-2000), after reading about them.
- At the Drive-In's song "Invalid Litter Dept." (2001) contains lyrics about the murders.
- In Roberto Bolaño's novel, 2666 (2004), the murders serve as inspiration for a major section entitled "The Part about the Crimes".
- Alicia Gaspar de Alba's mystery novel, Desert Blood (2005), addresses this topic.
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- Ortega Lozano, Marisela (24 August 2011). "130 women killed in Juárez this year; Chihuahua AG says fight for women's rights painful and slow". El Paso Times. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
- "Annual Report: Mexico 2011". Amnesty International. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
- Wright, Melissa W. (December 2002). "A Manifest against Femicide". Antipode 33 (3): 550–566. doi:10.1111/1467-8330.00198. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
- Olivera, Mercedes (2006). "Violencia Femicida : Violence Against Women and Mexico's Structural Crisis". Latin American Perspectives 33 (104): 104–114. doi:10.1177/0094582X05286092. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- Sokhi-Bulley, Bal (2006). "The Optional Protocol to CEDAW: First Steps". Human Rights Law Review 6 (1): 143–159. doi:10.1093/hrlr/ngi029. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
- "Mexico - Amnesty International Report 2010". Amnesty International. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
- Pantaleo, Katie (2006). "Gendered Violence: Murder in the Maquiladoras". Sociological Viewpoints. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
- Blanco, Lorenzo; Sandra M. Villa (October 2008). "Sources of crime in the state of Veracruz: The role of female labor force participation and wage inequality". Feminist Economics 14 (3): 51–75. doi:10.1080/13545700802075143. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
- Alicia Gaspar de Alba (2010-10-15). "Home - Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders". Desert Blood. Retrieved 2012-11-06.