Who's Killing the Women of Juarez?

Mexican City Haunted by Decade of Vicious Sex Crimes

Listen: Julia Monarrez and Socorro Tabuenca, professors at Mexico's College of the Northern Frontier, talk about the factors contributing to Juarez' violent culture.

Activists paint a cross on streetlight poles.

Activists paint a cross on streetlight poles every time another body is found in Juarez. John Burnett, NPR News hide caption

itoggle caption John Burnett, NPR News
Norma Andrade de Garcia holds a picture of her daughter, Alejandra

Norma Andrade de Garcia holds a picture of her daughter, Alejandra, kidnapped on Valentine's Day 2001. Her nude, mutilated body was dumped in an empty lot six days later. John Burnett, NPR News hide caption

itoggle caption John Burnett, NPR News
Not One More

At the border crossing leading to the bridge over the Rio Grande and El Paso, Texas, a memorial to the slain women reads: "Not One More." Marisa Penaloza, NPR News hide caption

itoggle caption Marisa Penaloza, NPR News

Just this week, the bodies of four more women were found half buried in the desert on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The grim discovery brings to nearly 100 the number of young women who have been murdered in a grisly series of sexual homicides haunting this ramshackle border town.

February marks the tenth year the serial murders have dragged on. Mexican authorities, unable to catch the killers, are roundly accused of being inept, corrupt and even complicit in the killings. Meanwhile, as NPR’s John Burnett reports, Juarez has become — for women — a city of fear.

The problem has grown beyond the serial murders. In the past decade, more than 300 women have been killed in Juarez. Every type of homicide against women is common in the city, especially domestic and drug-related killings.

Finding yet another body in the vast expanse of scrub brush outside the city is becoming a common occurrence. "Sometimes the corpses are not complete because the animals disperse the bones," says Ramon Anaya, a former water department employee who volunteers with a group that searches for skeletons in the desert. "It depends on how long they've been in the desert."

Since 1993, the corpses of 90 to 100 women — no one has an exact count — have turned up in the desert, in vacant lots and drainage ditches. All were raped, some mutilated.

Just as troubling, hundreds of girls have disappeared from the streets of Juarez, a city of 1.5 million people. Many of the victims were chillingly similar: young, slim, dark complexion, shoulder-length hair, and poor daughters of the working class.

They were girls like Alejandra Andrade. The 17-year-old was kidnapped on Valentine's Day, 2001, and six days later her nude body was found wrapped in a blanket and dumped in an empty lot in front of the plastics plant where she worked. She had been choked, savagely beaten in the face, and parts of her breasts had been removed.

"What did she go through during those six days? I can only imagine," says the victim's mother, Norma Andrade de Garcia. "Only a person sick in the head could do this to young girls. The terror they cause in their victims... no one can describe."

Part of the problem, Burnett says, is the city itself — an environment well suited to random violence.

"Juarez is headquarters to a major drug cartel, with its attendant violence and lawlessness. For every one woman killed in Juarez, four men die violently," Burnett says.

Another problem is the region's machismo culture. "Despite the fact that most of the victims... were schoolgirls or workers, there's a persistent belief around town that the targeted women somehow invited the attacks," Burnett says.

"Nowadays, it's a common joke when two men see a provocatively dressed woman, for one to elbow the other and say, 'She better watch out or she'll end up in desert.'"

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.