Who is investigating murder in Mexico

Femicides in Mexico are getting more - and more brutal

On the night of August 3, 17-year-old Yolanda returned from a party at her home in Azcapotzalco, a district of Mexico City. She broke up with friends near her home and went on alone. Suddenly a police car stopped next to her and the police asked what she was doing alone on the street. They put her in the vehicle and there, they said, she was sexually assaulted by four officers. After that, they left the young girl in shock on the street. That same night, accompanied by her parents, she went to the public prosecutor's office and filed a complaint.

The next morning, the police confiscated all video recordings from the private security cameras of the shops in the street, although according to the law only the public prosecutor could have done this. There are also government security cameras on the street where the attack occurred, and these are managed by the Mexico City Government Public Security Agency.

A few days later, the child's parents reported that they were no longer keeping the charges up because they had been threatened. The suspected police officers declared themselves innocent and have not yet been charged. Oddly enough, the prosecutor's sex crime experts failed to take DNA samples from the victim as quickly as possible, as the prosecution itself had to admit. The young woman was summoned three days after the incident. At this point, however, all biological evidence was long lost. So the authority messed up the main pieces of evidence.

Two murders out of many

On August 6, the naked body of 29-year-old Angelica, wrapped in a sheet, was found in Atitalaquia, in the state of Hidalgo, under a car bridge. The day before, relatives had reported her disappearance in a neighboring village - a few kilometers from the place where her body was found with traces of torture and sexual violence.

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Six-year-old Cristina traveled to Cuernavaca, the capital of the state of Morelos, this summer to spend the holidays with her grandparents. She spent most of the time with her grandmother in the tortilla shop. And while the handmade tortillas were placed on the flat grill plate and a sweet-smoky scent of corn filled the room, Cristina played and sang.

On August 10th, Cristina went to bed earlier. When the grandparents later wanted to make sure that everything was in order, they found Cristina lifeless and with stab wounds. Her grandmother tried to resuscitate her, but Cristina was already dead. The emergency doctors who were called discovered that she had previously been abused.

Harder and harder to understand

The number of women and girls in Mexico is just over 63 million, which is around 60 percent of the total population. Yolanda, Angelica, and Cristina are on the long list of victims of the growing violence against women in Mexico. This violence is becoming more common, more brutal and more difficult to understand.

DW columnist Anabel Hernández

The violent gender-based violence that erupted in Ciudad Juarez in the 1990s, killing hundreds of women, spread to other parts of Mexico, forcing the government to act. The program against gender-based violence (AVGM) has existed since 2007 in order to "combat and eradicate violence against women in a specific area". The program provides for a number of preventive and emergency measures that are mandatory for the authorities.

In addition to the premeditated murder known to all criminal codes in the world, the brutal violence against women in Mexico forced the government to create a new criminal offense in 2012: the murder of women. "The crime of femicide occurs when a woman's life is taken for gender-specific reasons". Gender-specific reasons include signs of sexual violence, mutilation, degrading injuries, if there is a history of domestic violence, if the body is dumped in a public place, or if there was a sentimental, affective or trusting relationship between the murderer and the victim.

America and Africa at the top

In 2017, the United Nations published a study that found women are the most common murderers in America and Africa - with rates ranging from 3.1 percent to 1.6 per 100,000 women. For comparison: Oceania has a rate of 1.3, Asia 0.9 and Europe 0.7.

From 2015 to June 2019, at least 3,080 women were murdered in Mexico. According to official information from the Mexican government, the victim rate per 100,000 women was 0.66 percent in 2015, 0.93 in 2016, 1.16 in the following year and 1.19 in 2018. That means the rate has almost doubled in just three years.

Analyzing the causes of this violence against women in Mexico is complicated. One could assume that violence against women is mostly concentrated in the states with the highest overall rates of violence. Then it would be the case that the violence is not intentionally directed against women, but against the population in general, and that much can be traced back to the violence of the drug cartels. But this is not the case.

A lot of murders does not automatically mean a lot of murders of women

I checked the crime rate in the 32 states of Mexico for this column. I looked at the number of deliberate killings with female victims and the number of femicides in particular. Result: the states with the highest number of murders in Mexico are not necessarily the same as those in which most women are killed. And the states with the most common killings of women are generally not the states where the most femicides are committed.

Since 2015, the Mexican government has launched the AVGM prevention program in 18 of the 32 states. This means that 56 percent of the national territory is considered a dangerous place for women. The distribution of the affected states shows no uniform pattern for violence against women: There are states in the north, south, east and west of the country. In the states of Veracruz, Morelos, the state of Mexico, Puebla, Guerreo and Colima, the AVGM program has so far not led to a reduction in violence.

Protest for the Ministry of Public Security in Mexico City

Protest against the increasing violence

On August 16, a protest march by women and men took place in Mexico City in memory of Yolanda and against gender-based violence. The protesters shouted "We believe you" and "They are killing us and you are doing nothing". They also called for the AVGM program for the capital.

However, unless the specific circumstances and social dynamics of each place where feminicide occurs are properly investigated, it will not be possible to combat violence against women in Mexico. Representatives of national and international organizations and, last but not least, journalists must take part in these investigations and studies in order to find answers and develop possible solutions.

The journalist and author Anabel Hernández has been reporting on drug cartels and corruption in Mexico for many years. After massive death threats, she had to leave Mexico and has lived in Europe ever since. For her work, she received the DW Freedom of Speech Award 2019 at Deutsche Welle's Global Media Forum in Bonn.