A state of impunity for gender violence

January 26, 2016

This article, written last year by socialist feminist Gabriela Corona, tells the story of one of the thousands of acts of gender violence that take place in Mexico every day--a phenomenon that has become too well known in Mexico, epitomized by the wave of femicides in the 1990s in the border city of Ciudad Juárez in northern Mexico.

Femicides are a specific type of hate crime that target women because of their condition as women. They involve not only murder, but sexual violence, torture, genital mutilation and rape, and are also characteristically public displays since the bodies are typically left exposed in the open. Because of the authorities' failure to prosecute the perpetrators, and even to protect them--which activists refer to as a "state of impunity"--very few of these cases are ever resolved. Although the wave of femicides in the northern city of Ciudad Juárez, has subsided, they have increased further south, specifically in the state of Mexico neighboring Mexico City. According to a documentary by Vice News, rates of femicide in the state of Mexico are higher than those reported in Ciudad Juárez at the height of the crisis.

Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was governor of the State of Mexico between 2005 and 2011. Under his tenure, in 2006, more than 3,000 police forces raided the town of San Salvador Atenco as revenge for resisting the construction of an international airport on communal lands. Some 200 people were arrested, tortured and 26 women were raped by police forces.

The current PRI governor of the state of Mexico, Eruviel Ávila, reluctantly declared a "Gender Violence Alert" for 11 municipalities in 2015 after years of pressure by a growing movement of community and women's organizations. These Gender Violence Alerts would force the government to dedicate more resources to programs to combat gender violence. The initiative has been taken up in several states, but not all state governments are supportive of the alerts, and in most cases, they actively oppose them.

Corona is a member of the Workers' Revolutionary Party (or PRT, the Mexican section of the Fourth International). She is a contributor to the newspaper Bandera Socialista and a participant in the radical feminist reading group "The Voices of Lilith". This article originally appeared in Bandera Socialista in April 2015 and was translated by Héctor A. Rivera, who also wrote this introduction.

ON APRIL 23 at 6 p.m. around the Sendero shopping center in the city of Chalco, in the state of Mexico, a 20-year-old woman leaving a job interview lived through one of the worst experiences that a state of impunity, complicity and deception could let happen.

Around 6:05 p.m., as she was walking across the parking lot in the back of the shopping center, the woman was verbally intimidated by four men who were playing music and drinking inside a Hummer parked nearby (the license plates have yet to be identified). The men got out of their vehicle and began to scuffle with her as she tried to defend herself until the four men put her inside the vehicle. They forced her into the car, where she remained with them from 6:10 p.m. until midnight.

Inside the vehicle, the woman was beaten, intimidated, assaulted and humiliated. She couldn't or scream or get out of the car because the men drugged her with sedatives. After forcing her to give them her cellphone password, they proceeded to view her photos and even send texts to her family and her friends.

Protesting the murder of women in Mexico
Protesting the murder of women in Mexico

Regaining consciousness after several hours, the woman remembers being abruptly dropped off around midnight in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Ixtapaluca, more than five miles from where she was abducted. As soon as she could, she dialed one of her nearby friends, since her family lives in in Santa Marta Acatitla, more than an hour away. Half an hour later, she sent a text message home, saying that she was "alright, but not ok," and that she would head home.

That woman is my sister. I saw her a day after these events took place. I hadn't heard from her since she had sent her text message the night before.

WHAT HAPPENED is not a coincidence. In fact, in the same shopping center, a woman was murdered inside a shoe store three months before, and at least 10 women have been kidnapped in the area. Five of those kidnapped were murdered. All of these murders were committed against women who worked in the shopping center or who were just out for the evening, according to the local district attorney.

Ixtapaluca has the third largest rates of femicides ("feminicidios"), or murders of women, in the state of Mexico. What happened to my sister is typical of these kidnappings. According to the DA, "the only thing that saved [my sister] from death was that she was submissive" since their investigations show that "when women try to defend themselves, they end up dead and abandoned in the side of the highway to Chalco or Texcoco."

This is how this massively cynical system justifies and covers up the perpetrators' crimes. In more serious cases, they can't do anything because the perpetrators are the sons or friends of local politicians or the sons of narco-traffickers from the western region of the state of Mexico.

When I went to report her as missing the night she didn't return home and when we filed a police report the afternoon she returned home, the questions they asked were: "What was she doing there? What was she wearing? Why did you let her go alone? What if she was not kidnapped, but took off with her boyfriend?"

As if any of these facts justified why my sister didn't come home and why she would have been hurt. As if we'd just had a stroke of bad luck and hadn't been worried sick after losing her for hours without being able to do anything. As if she was to blame because she had gone on job interview instead of staying home.

Until then, I hadn't faced up-close the full state of impunity, even in the midst of suffocating pain. Patience is a necessity when facing such a normalization of violence against women. Despite this normalization, I have to say that there were times when I didn't feel like this, but these are exceptions and not the rule when it comes to the cases of forced disappearances and femicides.

Just like me, that night there were two other families that had reported their daughters missing because they hadn't arrived home. From what I heard later, one of them never returned. The whole process was very slow, and if the name of the woman you were looking for wasn't reported in an accident or detained, they wouldn't do anything. They would only tell you, "If you already know how bad it is around here why did you let her go out?"

Eruviel Ávila, the PRI governor of the state of Mexico, says that there are more important problems to resolve than femicides. But in one night, three women, including my sister, were harassed and abducted. Three women were abducted that night. But only two men were arrested that same evening--one for drug dealing and another one for an accident.

It's clear that the state is complicit and that its institutions only serve to defend the perpetrators instead of providing attention, support and investigations for the victims.

We have a lot of work to do. What's important is to form networks and organizations to stop this wave of violence that punishes women for living their lives. Since the state doesn't care, we'll have to do it ourselves.

Not one less, not one more! Keep fighting against the femicides! No more lies and impunity!

Translation by Héctor A. Rivera.

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