Women Struggle With Violence In Mexico (#GotBitcoin?)
Violence against women has been met with indifference and impunity, rights groups say, as the problem only gets worse. ‘Culture of Machismo’: Women Struggle With Violence in Mexico (#GotBitcoin?)
For months after 22-year-old Lesvy Berlín was found strangled to death in a phone booth on a Mexican university campus, police told her parents that their daughter had committed suicide.
The police only agreed to investigate the killing as a homicide motivated by her gender after a rush of national media attention and outcries from her family and women’s rights groups.
Two years later, with Ms. Berlín’s abusive boyfriend behind bars and charged with the killing, Mexico City’s government publicly apologized to her family on Thursday, a rare admission of fault by law enforcement and judicial authorities in a country where violence against women has risen alarmingly in recent years.
“It was a crime that was poorly investigated, a file that was mishandled and a case that was poorly presented before the judges,” said Ernestina Godoy, Mexico City’s top prosecutor, at a commemoration ceremony held Thursday with Ms. Berlín’s mother and other relatives at National Autonomous University. “It was a crime that almost went unsolved, and that happened in an environment of violence against women, where they brutalize us, harass us on the streets, in our workplaces, and in our schools.”
Women’s rights groups say violence against women has been met with indifference and impunity in Mexico. One of the most urgent complaints surrounds how Mexico investigates and prosecutes femicides, a legal term denoting cases when gender is the motivation behind a woman’s killing. The Mexico City prosecutor’s office assigns femicide investigations to a special investigative unit with extra resources, and a femicide charge can lead to heavier jail sentences than a simple homicide.
In several prominent cases, Mexican authorities have investigated killings of women first as suicides, a practice that activists say places blame on the victim and absolves their killers of responsibility long before the facts of the case have even been determined.
Prosecutors initially ruled Ms. Berlín’s death a suicide, even though she was strangled with the metal cable of a public telephone booth, and surveillance videos showed her boyfriend, Jorge Luis González, beating her minutes before she died.
The apology comes at a sensitive time: gender violence in Mexico has risen steadily in recent years, the result of increased crime overall, but also of the legal system’s inability to effectively prosecute violent crimes against any victims, male or female. Fewer than 5% of crimes in Mexico are punished, according to the University of the Americas’ Global Impunity Index.
Mexican government statistics released in January show that last year, 834 homicides were investigated as femicides, nearly twice the level of 2015, when the government started tracking the statistic.
Through March, investigators had opened 244 femicide cases across the country, putting the country on pace for a 17% increase from the previous year. Activists and academics have long argued that femicide is severely underreported.
In 2017, 3,430 women were killed in Mexico, more than three times as many as in 2007, according to government statistics. Last year, 14,558 women were raped, the statistics say, a figure that has risen steadily from 12,638 in 2014.
“Everything comes back to impunity,” said Ana Katiria Suarez, a Mexico City attorney who specializes in cases of gender violence.
Several recent cases in Mexico have raised alarm about how homicides of women are investigated.
In March of 2018, Graciela Cifuentes, a 60-year-old photographer, was found dead in her burned home, along with her daughter Sol, a 22-year-old architecture student. The elder Ms. Cifuentes had been bludgeoned to death with a construction tool. Sol Cifuentes’ body was so badly burned that it was difficult to determine the cause of death but evidence suggested she had been sexually assaulted.
Family members were frustrated by what they saw as a reluctance on the part of investigators to investigate the case thoroughly.
The case was initially investigated as a normal homicide, until the elder Ms. Cifuentes’ brother and ex-boyfriend met with local prosecutors and persuaded them to reclassify it as a femicide.
Even then, there were no breakthroughs in the case until the family held a press conference at the site of the burned house and gave local TV interviews. Two days after the press conference, detectives found Ms. Cifuentes’ stolen car, leading them to the suspected killer.
In August, police arrested Alan Sánchez Romero, a 23-year-old gym employee who had been friends with the younger woman. Mr. Sánchez told arresting officers that she had humiliated him by rejecting his romantic advances, according to a person involved in the investigation. “She never took me seriously,” Mr. Sánchez allegedly told police.
Mr. Sánchez, in jail awaiting a verdict, couldn’t be reached for comment, but in court he has denied involvement in the killings. He has previously been represented by two public defenders, but currently doesn’t have legal representation.
Sociologists offer up a historical cultural explanation for both the region’s gender violence problem and the impunity with which cases of femicide is often met. They stem from a deeply-rooted sense of machismo: men are raised to understand their role in society as providers and protectors, and when that role is challenged, many react with violence.
“There has been a social and cultural expectation in Latin America since the Spanish conquest, that men are entitled to women, and it’s how they express their sense of masculinity,” said Pamela Neumann, an assistant professor of Latin American Studies at Bucknell University who has studied gender violence in Central America. “Crimes against women are simply seen as less important because women are not as important in society.”
Mexico’s leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador provoked a backlash from women’s groups this year by proposing to slash federal funds for 42 battered women’s shelters across the country that often serve as the last resort for victims of extreme domestic violence.
The president backed off the proposal after protesters filled Mexico’s central square to criticize it.
In 2016, 11 of the top 23 countries with the world’s highest homicide rate for women were in Central America, South America or the Caribbean, according to the Small Arms Survey. El Salvador, Venezuela and Honduras trail only war-racked Syria in the homicide rate for women, according to a report by the Geneva-based agency, which tracks global violence.
“It’s terrible, because here, women are not given the value they deserve, simply because they are women, and because there exists in Mexico a horrible culture of machismo,” said Raúl Cifuentes, Graciela’s brother. “Now, with what I’ve lived through, I understand it perfectly.”
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