The phenomenon of the female homicides in Ciudad Juárez, called in Spanish feminicidio (“femicide”) involves the violent deaths of hundreds of women and girls since 1993 in the northern Mexican region of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, a border city across the Rio Grande from the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas. The number of murdered women in Ciudad Juarez since 1993 is estimated to be more than 370. The murders of females in Ciudad Juárez since 1993 have received international attention, primarily due to perceived government inaction in preventing violence against females and bringing perpetrators to justice.
The nature of female homicides
Evidence suggests that a specific group of women and girls is being targeted in Ciudad Juarez. Similarities exist across the characteristics of female victims and in the violent nature of the crimes against them. In terms of the victims, most are young women that come from impoverished backgrounds that either work in maquiladoras, as waitresses, other sectors of the informal economy, or are students. In addition, many victims share similar appearances including dark skin, slender physique, and dark hair. In terms of the crimes, similarities across cases include the rape, torture, mutilation, and murder of the victims.
The term femicide is widely used by activists and scholars to describe the murders of women and girls in Ciudad Juarez and the impunity that surrounds them. Femicide as a term was first publicly introduced in 1976 by Diana Russell while testifying at the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Brussels in 1976. According to Russell, femicide is defined as “the killing of females by males because they are females.” Since this introduction, there have been various definitions for femicide that appear in the literature. In 2001, Russell introduced an edited definition which is the one of the most relevant today. There are distinctions that exist between homicide and femicide. Typically, in order for a homicide to be considered femicide there must include one or more of the following characteristics: a victim-perpetrator relationship, history of violence, including threats of violence, toward the victim or other women, and indications of gender-related factors, such as sexual assault. There are various motives for femicide which can include: hate, pleasure, ire, malice, jealousy, separation, arguments, robbery, the sensation to possess women and exterminate the one that is dominated. The victimizer can be a father, a lover, a husband, a friend, an acquaintance, a stranger or a boyfriend. There are various forms of femicide including: intimate partner femicides, familial femicides, femicides by other known perpetrators, stranger femicides, and serial femicides among others.
A study conducted in 2002 using the Femicide Database 1993–2001 at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, which documented incidents of femicide that occurred in Ciudad Juarez from 1993–2001, found that sexual serial femicide was one of the main forms of femicide that took place in Ciudad Juarez. According to Monarrez Fargoso, the categorization of serial femicide includes, “the location where the victim was found, generally a vacant locality; if the coroner’s report indicated a rape had occurred; when no such information was available, the fact that the body was unclothed, the state in which the body was left as well as the various tortures or mutilations the body was subjected to.” The study also found cases of non-serial sexual femicide using the same criteria. In addition, many of the crimes identified as non-serial sexual femicide were committed within the home.
Some researchers have adopted the term feminicide which is defined as,”the misogynous murder of women by men” to describe the gendered violence occurring in Ciudad Juarez. The murders of females in Juarez have received widespread attention due to perceived lack of action on behalf of the government to both prevent the murders and bring perpetrators to justice. The characterization of feminicide primarily allows researchers to frame research around the analysis of the response or non-response of the State to murders of females. There are five factors that characterize feminicide which include: motives, victimizers, violent acts, structural changes in society, and tolerance by the State and other institutions.
A study was conducted in 2008 on the Feminicide Database 1993–2007 at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte which documented incidents of feminicide that occurred in Ciudad Juarez from 1993–2007. Of the various different kinds of murders that were analyzed, the study found two common patterns in the data which were classified as intimate feminicide and systemic sexual feminicide. Intimate feminicide refers to women who were killed by men that were close to them. According to the study, intimate feminicide accounted for 30.4% of the murders of females in Juarez from 1993–2007. Systematic sexual feminicide refers to systematic patterns in the killing of women and children including kidnapping, sexual violence, torture, and body abandonment in areas such as desert areas, garbage dumps, and sewage ditches among others. According to the study, systemic sexual feminicide accounted for 31.8% of the murders of females in Juarez from 1993–2007.
There are various media reports with different numbers ranging from hundreds to thousands of female homicides in the Ciudad Juarez region. For this reason Amnesty International reports, “Inadequate official data on the crimes committed in Chihuahua, particularly accurate figures on the exact number of murders and abductions of girls and women, has led to disputes around the issues that obscure the quest for justice.” According to Amnesty International, as of February 2005, more than 370 young women and girls have been murdered in the cities of Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua. More recently, prosecutors from the state of Chihuahua reported that in 2010, 270 women were killed within the state, of these murders 247 occurred in Juarez. In 2011, Chihuahua’s Attorney General, Carlos Manuel Salas, announced during a briefing in August 2011 that 222 women had been killed in Chihuahua since January of that year. Of these 222 murders, 130 of them occurred in Ciudad Juarez. In total, more than 300 women were murdered in Mexico in 2011. According to Wright, while the murder rate for females in Juarez is less than the murder rate for males, the statistics of female homicides per capita in Juarez is significantly higher than any other major city in Mexico or the United States.
The uncertainty about the characteristics of the perpetrators, their relationships to the victims, or their motives is primarily due to the dysfunction of the Mexican justice system as most cases have been inadequately investigated and documented. While in many of the cases in Ciudad Juarez it has yet to be determined who exactly has committed the murders of females, much of the literature on this issue purports that patriarchal backlash against working women may be a potential motive for the killings. This patriarchal backlash may be the result of lack of employment opportunities for men and more women entering the workforce which has altered traditional gender dynamics and created a situation of conflict between the sexes. Other researchers attribute the murders to Mexico’s structural crisis including increasing poverty, unemployment, the disintegration of the peasant economy, migration, and a dysfunctional justice system. Overall, in considering the potential motives for gendered violence against women in Juarez, it is important to recognize that femicide is a mechanism of domination, control, oppression, and power over women.
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