For six long years, Evangelina Arce has been searching for her daughter
Silvia. Missing since March 12, 1998, from her home in Ciudad Juárez,
Mexico (across the border from El Paso, Texas), Evangelina has continued
to press local authorities to take action. Instead authorities have
ignored her daughter’s case and have taken no action.
Probing deeper down the rabbit hole, it appears Silvia’s case
is not an isolated one.
Over the last 10 years hundreds of women have “disappeared”
from the Mexican cities of Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua. Many
are never found; those who are provide evidence of violent sexual
abuse and rape at the hands of their murderers. The authorities
admit that approximately 70 individuals remain missing in Juarez
while many non-governmental organizations claim the number is more
than 400. The number of missing fluctuates as bodies are found days
or even years after women have been reported missing.
Viviana Rayas was on her way home on March 16, 2003 from her high
school study-group. She would never make it home. Her body was found
in May 2003 in an isolated area of Chihuahua. The discovery of Viviana’s
body also brought the uncovering of three additional young women,
16-year-old Esmeralda Juárez, 18-year-old Violeta Mabel Alvirez,
and 17-year-old Juana Sandoval Reyna. All four of the women had
been raped and murdered following the consistent pattern of other
murdered women in the state.
The situation in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico is a grave humanitarian
crisis; one in which the local authorities have failed both victims
and families. Amnesty International reports that in the last 10
years approximately 370 women have been murdered of which at least
137 were sexually assaulted prior to death.
Many of the women killed in Ciudad Juárez are migrants living
in marginalized communities, often with no support structure, and
working in the industrial maquiladora factories set up by U.S. and
other foreign companies drawn by cheap labor and favorable tariffs
in the region. These cases emphasize the link between economic globalization
and violence against women. While globalization has created economic
opportunities for women in some areas, increased poverty and loss
of labor have led thousands of women to migrate in search of work,
which may make them vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and violence.1
Mexican women live in a harsh environment that often denies them
access to effective protection from the criminal justice system.
While the Mexican government has implemented measures to improve
the administration of justice and to strengthen women’s rights,
it is too early to assess fully how effective such measures will
be. In July 2003 a 40-point action plan was announced and put into
place which included the transfer of large numbers of police to
Ciudad Juárez to increase the presence of security. However,
claims of false imprisonment, coerced confessions, and torture have
been made against local law enforcement officials in Juárez.
In January 2004 at least 11 bodies were found in a house in Ciudad
Juárez, which led to a number of state judicial police, including
a commander, being detained and charged with direct involvement
in the abductions and murders.2
The message must be made clear to perpetrators, administrators,
law enforcement, and politicians: Violence against women is a human
rights issue and will punishable as such. Only when the message
is made clear will officials sincerely strive to prevent the abuses
that have taken place. Then the murdered women of Ciudad Juárez
and Chihuahua may rest in peace and the mothers of those victims
may walk the streets again without fear.
You can join Amnesty International in writing to President Vicente
Fox Quesada and urging him to ensure all needed resources and full
authority is given to the special prosecutor investigating the cases
of abuse. Your letters can help bring those perpetrators to justice,
and ensure that this type of violence against women is never seen
again in the afflicted areas in Mexico. For more information log
on to Amnesty International web site: http://www.amnestyusa.org/stopviolence/mexico.html
You can also join your local Amnesty International chapter or club
on campus. The Santa Monica College club meets every Tuesday from
11:15am-12:30pm in Library Village 7.
1. Ending the brutal cycle of violence against
women in Ciudad Juárez and the city of
2. Stop Violence Against Women. http://www.amnestyusa.org/stopviolence/mexico.html
3. Intolerable Killings: Ten years of Abductions and Murders in
Ciudad Juárez and
Chihuahua. Amnesty International.
Matthew Dearing has been a student
at Santa Monica College for 2 years. During this time he has served
an active role in the campus Amnesty International club speaking
at forums and helping out with letter writing campaigns. He was
recently accepted to University of California Berkeley and will
major in Political Economy of Industrialized Societies.