Mexicans march to demand safety and justice for women

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Hundreds of people marched silently in Mexico’s capital Sunday to urge justice for women who suffer violence in one of the most dangerous countries to be female, victims who include students murdered by rejected suitors, girls raped before they reach puberty and single mothers who disappear without a trace.

Relatives of victims carried pictures of missing and murdered daughters and sisters. They held signs proclaiming, “We won’t stop until we find you!” The word “justice” was scrawled on tape over mouths. They choked back tears as they detailed the practically nonexistent investigations into the cases, and the ability of the perpetrators to walk free.

“This is a state that doesn’t punish, that doesn’t guarantee the rights of women, much less victims,” said María de la Luz Estrada, coordinator of the National Citizen’s Observatory of Feminicide and one of the march’s organizers.

On average, Estrada said, 10 women are murdered every day in Mexico, often after a sexual assault. At least 9,000 more have disappeared without a trace in recent years. The statistics are fuzzy because only around one in 10 crimes in Mexico is reported. Only 10% of total criminal cases result in prison sentences, and when it comes to rape, only 2% of assailants face jail time.

“This is a macho, discriminatory culture that always thinks the woman provoked the situation,” said Estrada, who has been fighting for women’s safety for more than 20 years, since hundreds of women were found slain and dumped in the desert outside Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.

The United Nations says four of every 10 Mexican women will experience sexual violence, such as unwanted groping or rape, during their lifetimes. Women who report sex crimes are often re-victimized during the investigations, facing questions about what they were wearing at the time of the assault and how many sex partners they have had. Health officials frequently fail to collect forensic evidence.

The families of those who have been sexually assaulted, killed or disappeared are painfully aware of the failures of Mexico’s criminal justice system.

Elideth Yesenia Zamudio was the first mother to arrive on Sunday, wearing a T-Shirt emblazoned with the face of her dead daughter.

Zamudio said she used to spend her weekends strolling around the capital or doing exercise. That changed in January 2016, when her daughter María de Jesús was thrown from a window of a fifth floor apartment. The 19-year-old engineering student was found semi-naked, her clothes seemingly pulled off by force. Neighbors, but not the student’s roommates or male house guests, called an ambulance.

Zamudio suspects her daughter was killed by a young professor who had expressed an attraction to the girl and who was at the apartment that night. María de Jesús was not interested in an intimidate relationship with him, the mother said. The teacher remains free and continues to give classes at the university, she said.

The mourning mother now spends most weekends advocating for justice for young women. She said that she is motivated more by love than pain and that getting out on the streets makes her feel useful as her daughter’s case stagnates. But she still struggles with the loss, and with the frustration that nobody has been punished.

“This has destroyed our lives,” Zamudio said. “Unfortunately, we are many mothers that feel this pain.”

Zamudio lost her job as an insurance agent, dismissed for missing too much work as she hunted down details of her daughter’s death. Old friends avoid her, saying she is no longer fun. She has become distrustful and all-too-aware of the gaps in public safety.

“We have the right to live without fear,” she said. “We have to change the mindset as a society. These men are used to us being submissive.”

A 2018 government survey said 80% of women in Mexico don’t feel safe. Sexual harassment and assault are so common on public transportation that the Mexico City subway reserves two cars on every train exclusively for women.

Victor Hugo Aguilar, another marcher, never imagined his family would face such a tragedy.

His sister, Tania, disappeared in July after a night out with childhood friends in Mexico City. Her siblings now care for Tania’s teenage son. The little the family knows about that evening, they have gathered themselves, unable to get police to investigate.

The slow pace of the investigation speaks to an inept criminal justice system, Aguilar said.

“They hide and distort numbers instead of facing what’s happening,” he said. “This is the consequence of so many years of ineptitude and indifference.”