Women Dying at High Rates in Mexican Cities

Much has been written about the killings of women in Juarez, Mexico, over the years. But women actually are being killed at a greater rate in towns near Mexico City. In the past two years, 223 women have been killed in small towns with names like Chimalhuacán, Ecatepec, Nezahualcóyotl, Naucalpan and Valle de Chalco. Most of the young women were sexually assaulted and strangled. None of the murders have been solved.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

We don't often hear about it in this country, but Mexico is facing an epidemic of violence against women. Over the past couple of years, hundreds of women have been murdered. Take the state of Mexico, near Mexico City, 223 have been killed there alone.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has our story and we should say before we begin, this story has some graphic depictions.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thirteen-year-old Angela Solange(ph) wanted to be a policewoman. Her father, Longino Rodriguez(ph), says she was impressed by the uniforms.

Mr. LONGINO RODRIGUEZ: (Through translator) She liked the way they look. You know, she was very social. She was very happy all the time. Of course, she had a temper. She would blow up all of a sudden. But she was very friendly. And I think that's why her trust was abused.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I speak to her parents at a quiet bird filled courtyard in a local sports club where they both work in the city of Chimalhuacan. On March 22nd last year, they tell me, Angela was walking home from her evening self-defense class. Somewhere along the normally 10-minute journey home, she was picked up by a state police officer. They say he took her to a hotel, raped her and then swore her to silence.

Her family only found out a few days later when his girl friend called them to accuse 13-year-old Angela of having an affair with him. At first, Angela lied, scared to tell her parents what had happened. But then she told them how he had offered her ride in his police car. Up until then she thought nothing bad could happen to her at the hands of a cop. Her parents filed a complaint. At first, the system worked. The policeman was sent to jail pending trial.

Angela's mother, Patricia, still refers to her daughter in the present tense. She talked in short burst, in between trying to hold back the tears.

Ms. PATRICIA RODRIGUEZ: (Through translator) Because they are afraid, people don't file a complaint. I did it because she's a female and she's my daughter. If it would happen again, I'd do it again, because it's not right. They took advantage because she's a girl. She's still growing up. And they thought they could do what they wanted.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the family's ordeal was just beginning. They say the policeman's girl friend then began showing up at Angela's school, issuing threats. And then three days before she was to testify against the policeman, Angela disappeared.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: (Through translator) It was Sunday. She left here at about 5:30. She said she was going to do some homework for school because she had exams that week. We got home about 9:00 p.m. We found the TV on and we thought she might have stepped out to get a book or something from the paper shop. After an hour, we realized she was not coming back.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In a photo that her family pasted on fliers over the next few days, Angela looks fresh faced with shoulder length brown hair and metal-rimmed glasses. She has a shy smile. Her last few hours, though, were lived in horror. An autopsy showed she was gang raped, violated in every orifice, beaten, and then finally strangled.

(Soundbite of passing truck)

GARCIA-NAVARRO Chimalhuacan is one of a string of soulless poverty stricken cities on the edge of the capital with names like Ecatepec and Valle de Chalco. Here, the streets are jammed with garbage trucks from the nearby dump. The houses looked like they've been gnawed by feral creatures. Cinder blocks and corrugated roofs jut out at odd angles. Marco Antonio Lazaro is the mayor of Chimalhuacan.

Mr. MARCO ANTONIO LAZARO (Mayor, Chimalhuacan, Mexico): (Through translator) Twenty years ago this city didn't have the inhabitants of those today. It's grown exponentially. Here, there are 200,000 people without running water. Only 20 percent of the streets are paved.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The mayor says many of the people who live here come from all over the country to work in the capital. So Chimalhuacan is a jumble of rootless displaced people of different cultures, where sometimes a dozen family members live in one room, eking out a living.

Mr. LAZARO: (Through translator) The people from here are known as the washers, because they cleaned the bathrooms in the capital. If you come here at 4:00 a.m., you'll see busses filled with janitors heading to work. The people here do the lowest-level jobs in Mexico City.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Chimalhuacan, along with other cities in the state of Mexico, is facing now a worrying phenomenon. Women and girls are being violently killed here. A hundred and eighteen women were murdered in the state of Mexico last year, 14 this January alone. And it has the women in this community worried.

Anna Maria Romero has a clothing shop in front of Angela Solange's old school. She's just closing up for the day and has her two daughters with her. One is Angela's age.

Ms. ANNA MARIA ROMERO: (Through translator) We are frightened with the insecurity here. I don't even let my daughter go to the store alone, because we are really scared.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says she was almost accosted one day recently on walking with a friend.

Ms. ROMERO: (Through translator) A black pickup stopped and inside were three guys, and they were shouting to each other, grab them, man, grab them. There wasn't a police patrol we could go to for help. And I was very afraid.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's training day at the rundown police headquarters in Chimalhuacan. New recruits taken mainly from the surrounding areas are marched up and down, while others have their pictures taken for IDs. Delesforo Rafia(ph) is the local director of public security here. He agrees that there are simply not enough police to adequately patrol the neighborhoods.

Mr. DELESFORO RAFIA (Public Security, Chimalhuacan): (Through translator) We have about 275 police for a population of 700,000 people, which is about a third of what the United Nations recommends.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: On the walls of the station is a flier showing the name and picture of yet another young girl gone missing. There are many rumours on the streets about who is killing the women and why - gangs, serial killers. Officer Rafia and most of the officials I speak to place the blame on the social breakdown of families, poverty and ignorance.

Mr. RAFIA: We are doing what we can. We've bought more police cars and hired more police.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As well as putting special offices in place staffed with psychologists.

(Soundbite of bird chirping)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back at the sports center, Angela's parents continue her story. After her brutal murder, there was even more indignity to come. Although, Angela's body was discovered dumped in a neighboring municipality, her family did not find out what happened to her for three months. Despite putting up fliers and alerting the authorities, Angela was buried in a pauper's grave. It was finally a state human rights official who helped them get their daughter back. Angela's parents believed people linked to Angela's rapist killed their daughter to stop her from testifying.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: (Through translator) My son cries when he sees my daughter's picture. He remembers her. He can't forget the girl with whom he played, whom he fought, with whom he did everything. We were all feeling the loss now.

(Soundbite of bird chirping)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The special attorney general in charge of violence against women for the state of Mexico is Patricia Martinez Cranz(ph). She said Angela's body was misidentified during the autopsy, leading to what she called the confusion over her burial. She also said that her state and her country did not have a problem with the killings of women. She says a minimum after being sexually assaulted in her state, though 50 percent, she admits, do show signs of some physical abuse.

Ms. PATRICIA MARTINEZ CRANZ (Special Attorney General In Charge of Violence Against Women, Mexico): (Through translator) It's a mess that I would like to talk about. Everybody thinks that the murder of women here and by stalking, harassment, then they kill her, mutilate her, rape her. No, no, that's an idea we have to get rid of, at least in the state of Mexico. And I would dare say that in all the country that is not true.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says most of the murders of women in her state have been resolved.

(Soundbite of radio ad)

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This ad is running on radio stations here, tied in a publication of a new countrywide law that seeks to protect women against violence. It's an acknowledgment that violence affects women across all social classes and across all states. The mayor of Chimalhuacan admits that the authorities up until now have not been responsive enough.

Mr. LAZARO: (Through translator) The government at all levels has to pay attention to the people. That's the real problem. If people go and complaint and all they receive is indifference, then people won't go. There is real impunity for those who commit crimes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The killers of Angela have not yet been found.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Chimalhuacan, Mexico.

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