Female homicides in Ciudad Juárez
crosses erected in the place where the corpses of eight women were found in 1996
|Location||Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua|
|Cause||robbery and gang wars|
|Deaths||More than 370|
The phenomenon of the female homicides in Ciudad Juárez, called in Spanish feminicidio ("feminicide") 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. As of February 27, 2005, the number of murdered women in Ciudad Juarez since 1993 is estimated to be more than 370.
After surveying 155 killings out of 340 documented between 1993 and 2003, a government committee found that roughly half were prompted by motives like robbery and gang wars, while a little more than a third involved sexual assault.
The murders of women and girls in Ciudad Juárez since 1993 have received international attention, primarily due to perceived government inaction in preventing violence against women and girls and bringing perpetrators to justice.
Nature of female homicides
Evidence suggests that a specific group of women and girls are 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 factory workers, 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, shoulder-length hair. In terms of the crimes, similarities across cases include the rape, torture, mutilation, and murder of the victims.
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 the city in 2011.
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 women and girls 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 women in Juarez from 1993–2007.
According to Molly Molloy, a research librarian and professor at New Mexico State University (also founder and maintainer of "Frontera List", a long-running mailing list dedicated to information and discussion about issues in the U.S.-Mexico border), the situation in Juárez is one of "impunity regardless of gender". She states that "female murder victims have never comprised more than 18 percent of the overall number of murder victims in Ciudad Juarez, and in the last two decades that figure averages at less than 10 percent. That’s less than in the United States, where about 20 to 25 percent of the people who are murdered in a given year are women".
Other scholars also state that femicide rates in Ciudad Juarez are lower than in American cities such as Houston and Ensenada, and as a share of overall homicide rates they are typically lower than in other cities.
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, much of the literature on this issue purports that patriarchal backlash against working women may be a potential motive for the killings.
It is believed that the femicide in Ciudad Juarez may be related to organized crime (like prostitution rings) given the presence of the powerful drug cartels in the region. Further, criminal gangs have become a permanent threat particularly to women on the border. Gang activity creates high risk for women especially due to very little institutional protection.
This patriarchal backlash may indeed 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, academic Mercedes Olivera has argued that femicide is a mechanism of domination, control, oppression, and power over women.
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 women on the border. Gang activity creates high risk for women especially due to very little institutional protection.
Often, 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 women were attributed to organized crime and drug trafficking activities.
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 women 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 women, to border towns such as Ciudad Juarez. Research has shown correlations between economic and political issues and violence against women along the border.
Academic Katherine Pantaleo has argued that, "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."
Police and governmental response
The murder of women in Juarez have attracted global attention since 1993 given suspected police and government inaction to prevent the murders 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 women as well as exhibiting tolerance for such crimes, conducting inadequate and negligent investigations, ineffectively responding to the crimes, and failing to prevent and protect women from violence.
As a result of international attention, police and government officials have been politically pressured to respond to the murders. 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.
In 2008 16-year-old Ruby Frayre Escobedo was murdered by Sergio Barraza Bocanegra who was acquitted at his first trial for lack of evidence. Following two years of activism, a retrial convicted Bocanegra who remained on the run. In 2010, Ruby's mother, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, was assassinated by a shot to the head at point blank range while demonstrating for justice in front of the Governor's Palace in Chihuahua.
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 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 women and girls.
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 murder of women 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 murder of women 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 women 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 women 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 women 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 women 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 American television series The Bridge (2013) used the disappearance of the girls of Juarez as part of the backdrop to a series of murders.
- The film Blood Rising (2013) directed by Mark McLoughlin, documentary which examines the phenomenon of femicide in Juarez through the work of an artist, Brian Maguire.
- The film Backyard: El Traspatio (2009), directed by Carlos Carrera, is based on these events.
- The film Bordertown (2006), starring Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Banderas, is loosely based on these murders.
- The film Señorita Extraviada/Missing Young Woman (2001) by Lourdes Portillo, is a documentary following the femicides of Juarez.
- The film Sicario (2015) - a principled FBI agent is enlisted by a government task force to help bring down the leader of a powerful and brutal Mexican drug cartel.
- 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.
- Los Tigres del Norte's song "Mujeres de Juarez" discusses the lack of government action in finding the perpetrators.
- The Misfits wrote a song about Juarez titled "Where Do They Go?" from their 2011 album The Devil's Rain. In the lyrics, the incidents are referred to as femicides.
- The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die's song "January 10th, 2014" is about the murders and the vigilante justice that took place in their aftermath.
- In Roberto Bolaño's novel, 2666 (2004), the murders serve as material for a major section entitled "The Part about the Crimes".
- Alicia Gaspar de Alba's mystery novel, Desert Blood (2005), addresses this topic.
- "Each and Her" (2010) by Valerie Martinez is a book-length poem that addresses the murders in the context of politics, gender oppression, mythology, art, and more.
- "If I Die In Juarez" (2008) by Stella Pope Duarte.
- In Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues female homicides in Juarez feature in the monologue "Memory of Her Face."
- "Señorita X - Song for the Yellow-Robed Girl from Juárez" (2007) by Juan Felipe Herrera
- "The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border" (2007) by Teresa Rodríguez
- "Mexico: Justice fails in Ciudad Juarez and the city of Chihuahua". Amnesty International. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
- Widyono, Monique (2008). "Conceptualizing Femicide" (PDF). Strengthening Understanding of Femicide: Using Research to Galvanize Action and Accountability: 7–25. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
- Simmons, William (2006). "Remedies for the Women of Ciudad Juárez through the Inter-American Court of Human Rights" (PDF). Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights. 4 (3): 492517. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
- Livingston, Jessica (2004). "Murder in Juárez: Gender, Sexual Violence, and the Global Assembly Line". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 25 (1): 59–76. doi:10.1353/fro.2004.0034. JSTOR 3347254.
- Monarrez Fragoso, Julia (April 2002). "Serial Sexual Femicide in Ciudad Juárez: 1993-2001" (PDF). Debate Feminista. 25. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
- Pantaleo, Katherine (2010). "Gendered Violence: An Analysis of the Maquiladora Murders" (PDF). International Criminal Justice Review. 20 (4): 349365. doi:10.1177/1057567710380914. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
- "Ten years of abductions and murders of women in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua: Developments as of September 2003" (PDF). Amnesty International. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
- 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.
- Monarrez Fragoso, Julia (2008). "An Analysis of Feminicide in Ciudad Juárez: 1993–2007" (PDF). Strengthening Understanding of Femicide: Using Research to Galvanize Action and Accountability: 78–84. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
- Q&A with Molly Molloy: The Story of the Juarez Femicides is a ‘Myth’, Texas Observer, January 9, 2014. http://www.texasobserver.org/qa-molly-molloy-story-juarez-femicides-myth/
- Grassroots Press, May 12, 2010, http://www.grass-roots-press.com/2010/05/12/3615/
- A Statistical Evaluation of Femicide Rates in Mexican Cities Along the US-Mexico Border. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1112308
- Olivera, Mercedes (2006). "Violencia Femicida : Violence Against Women and Mexico's Structural Crisis" (PDF). Latin American Perspectives. 33 (104): 104–114. doi:10.1177/0094582X05286092. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- Wright, Melissa M. (2006). "Public Women, Proﬁt, and Femicide in Northern Mexico" (PDF). South Atlantic Quarterly. 1054: 681–698. doi:10.1215/00382876-2006-003. Retrieved 14 March 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" (PDF). Sociological Viewpoints. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
- "Matan a la activista que pedía justicia por su hija". Informador.com.mx. Retrieved 31 December 2013.
- "Matahan a activista Marixsela Escobedo". El Universal. digital edition. 16 December 2010. Retrieved 31 December 2013.
- Wright, Melissa W. (December 2002). "A Manifest against Femicide". Antipode. 33 (3): 550–566. doi:10.1111/1467-8330.00198. Retrieved 16 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.
- Painted back to life: Brian Maguire's portraits of the victims of Mexico's 'feminocidio' http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/may/04/brian-maguire-portraits-victims-mexico-feminocidio-ciudad-juarez
- Alicia Gaspar de Alba (2010-10-15). "Home - Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders". Desert Blood. Retrieved 2012-11-06.