Mexican women have been physically, sexually abused for participating in protests

MEXICO CITY – It was like a battle. People were running everywhere while gunshots could be heard. The 22-year-old Naomi Quetzaly Rojas Domínguez ran for her life in Cancun, wondering how a demonstration for women’s rights and against femicide or the deliberate murder of women had turned into an attack.

As the crowd around her searched for a way out, she saw several police officers beating some teenage women. She ran up to the officers and yelled at them until they left the young women, who then fled in horror.

The police next turned their attention to her, and after beating her, transferred her and other demonstrators to the City Palace, the seat of the City Council.

“They separated me for a moment,” said Rojas Domínguez. “They beat me up and sent me with the other girls. When I saw them, it was a horrible scene because they were all handcuffed in a corner on the floor. They took me away, and then I was sexual abused by a policewoman. ”

She described what happened after she and others attended a demonstration on November 9th during which civic and feminist organizations mobilized to demand justice for the murder of Bianca Alejandrina Lorenzana, a 20 year old girl named Alexis.

At the official facilities, Rojas Domínguez tried to defend herself but said she was immobilized because of the handcuffs. The officer slapped her face, pulled her hair and scratched her neck while making fun of her. Then they started transferring them without telling them where they were going.

“At that moment you don’t even know how scared we were, because as a woman you are afraid that they will rape you, that they will kill you. When they put me in the palace, I lived all of my fears. There they raped me, beat me and I had the feeling that I was going to disappear, ”said Rojas Domínguez about the events of last autumn.

The cases of Rojas Domínguez and others are recorded in a new report from Amnesty International. “Mexico: The (r) age of women: stigma and violence against demonstrators, “which analyzes various human rights violations against demonstrators who denounced gender-based violence in five Mexican states over the past year: Guanajuato, Sinaloa, Quintana Roo, Mexico and Mexico City.

The report found that women who protested peacefully saw security forces violating their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The women suffered unnecessary and excessive use of violence, arbitrary arrests, and even episodes of violence and sexual abuse.

“We have found that those who go out and march seek justice in cases involving women who have been subjected to great violence, either by the authorities or privately by their own partners. And these women cannot find justice, truth or redress when they go to the authorities, ”said Tania Reneaum Panszi, executive director of Amnesty International Mexico, in an interview with Noticias Telemundo.

In Mexico, protests against gender-based violence increased from 2015 to 2020. At the same time, the femicides examined increased every year from 411 in 2015 to 860 in 2020.

However, these investigations only cover a fraction of the crimes against women, according to groups like U.N. Women. In 2019 Mexico registered 971 alleged femicide victims and 2,862 female victims of premeditated murders. Only a quarter (25.3 percent) of the murders have been investigated as a gender crime.

A woman places flowers next to the names of femicide victims in Mexico on fences outside the National Palace ahead of a Women’s Day protest in Mexico City on Sunday.Toya Sarno Jordan / Reuters

The system is unwilling to adequately investigate and deal with crimes from a gender perspective, and there are many more suspected cases. Femicides were only officially registered in the National Public Safety System in 2015.

“The women come out and protest angrily against the state because it is absent and not responding. Anger must be seen as part of a process of social change, “said Panszi,” and not just as angry women protesting. “

On August 12, 2019, women’s groups demonstrated in Mexico City after two teenagers said they had suffered sexual violence from city police officers.

The media focused not on the attacks against the youth but on the protesters’ use of slogans and the fact that pink glitter was pelted at an official, the report said. The Mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, described the protest at the time as a “provocation”.

The comments sparked another women’s march on August 16 and since then a wave of massive demonstrations calling for violence against girls and women and for an effective response from the authorities.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has convicted Mexico of the widely publicized rash of femicides in Ciudad Juárez in 2009, the rape of an indigenous woman by the military in 2010 and of sexual abuse and rape against various demonstrators in Mexico state by relatives in 2018 the police.

“Which of these women … will a police officer be able to trust?”

Amnesty International’s investigation found that the authorities inappropriately restricted protesters’ rights by labeling them as acts of violence protected by freedom of expression, such as painting slogans on public walls or changing monuments.

While the report made it clear that the authorities could impose certain measures to prevent damage to public or private property, it noted that doing so should not restrict human rights or prevent peaceful demonstrations.

According to the report, police stigmatized and criminalized the behavior of women who covered their faces during protests, including masks to prevent contracting Covid-19, and women who dressed in black.

“We need to understand that the Mexican police live in a culture that lacks legality. If the police are able to rape, disappear, threaten to undress forcibly, threaten massive rape, it is because there are no consequences – no transparency in operations and operations, “said Panszi streets today and in the be able to trust a policeman from this country for years to come? “

María M. Ángeles, 27, an activist and single mother, said she lived in “hell” and that it was not an exaggeration as the state of Mexico has been one of the most violent and dangerous areas against women. It ranked first with 151 victims in 2020, and 12 women had been murdered in January 2021 alone.

Ángeles knew from a young age that something was wrong in her house. “My mother was the victim of sexist violence from my father. … He used all this violence on my mother and nobody said anything. Nobody got involved, they never came to help us, and nobody ever bothered to ask us or see what happened, ”she said.

Growing up, she became a human rights activist and participated in various protests, including one last September in which she denounced the way the authorities evicted those who occupied the headquarters of the Human Rights Commission.

Mothers and relatives walk with crosses during an event calling for an end to violence against women and femicide ahead of a Women’s Day protest in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Sunday.Mahe Elipe / Reuters

After the protest, Ángeles and other demonstrators, including children, were put in vans with no official logos, and the officials did not identify themselves or inform them where they were going.

When they got to the offices of the Public Ministry, Ángeles had to undergo a medical examination in the presence of two policewomen. The officer who transferred her also examined her.

“This is the tyranny that the ‘machista’ state exercises against us as long as we do not claim what is rightfully ours,” said Ángeles. “This fight will go on for many years. I may not see the results, but this is for everyone who comes after me and because there is no other way to live. In other words, it is here to fight or to die in the state of Mexico . “

A separation of the president?

The Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has touted the pursuit of justice and equality as part of the guiding principles of his “fourth transformation”. But it seems to have been thrown off by women’s rights movements and protests denouncing crimes against women.

Last week he told the press that he didn’t know what it meant “break the patriarchal pact” and had asked his wife to explain it to him. He then described the phrase as “a phrase that had been imported” and seemed to equate calls to action denouncing violence against women with those criticizing women’s groups.

The clearest case of the president’s separation from the growing women’s movement is his support for Félix Salgado Macedonio, a former senator who heads the Guerrero state elections ahead of June’s gubernatorial election. Salgado Macedonio has been charged three times with rape and several times with sexual abuse and harassment.

“We respect women very much, we have always done it, we have defended women, we are pioneers in defending and respecting women,” said López Obrador at his daily press conference last week, continuing to defend Guerrero’s candidate.

Despite his statements, high fences were installed before International Women’s Day marched around the National Palace and other historical monuments on Friday. The President’s communications coordinator, Jesús Ramírez Cuevas, called it a “Wall of Peace”.

The actions were quickly rejected on social media, and López Obrador justified the measure the following day: “There will be a demonstration by women. They have every right to protest, to demonstrate, but there are many provocations. There are many people, who infiltrate and seek to cause harm. They use violence as a form of protest and throw Molotov cocktails, and we don’t want either side to be hurt. “

The women responded to the barrier by turning it into a huge memorial with the names of the victims and the unfinished cases. On Monday morning, the billboards were turned into a flowery wall filled with offerings, photos, banners and memorabilia from missing and murdered women across Mexico.

“Femicides have increased significantly in recent years, including during this administration, and the President fails to see that this is complicated and worrying,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, associate professor at George Mason University. “The attacks on women and the violation of human rights are very important and crucial issues, and that is why they are demonstrating on the streets.”

On Monday, marches and street actions took place across the country as part of International Women’s Day. In Mexico City, protesters denounced the repression by the authorities guarding the National Palace.

Tear gas and fire extinguishers have been used repeatedly against people who gathered in the zócalo in the Mexican capital. At the end of the day, authorities said they had injured 81 people: 62 police officers and 19 protesters.

After more than four months and after numerous bureaucratic obstacles, Naomi Quetzaly Rojas Domínguez filed her complaint of sexual abuse by a police officer.

“This generation that fights may not experience all of the rewards of struggle,” she said, “but others will, and I feel more than rewarded with that.”

If you have information on cases of abuse against women in Mexico or Central America, you can write to [email protected].

An earlier version of this story was originally published in Noticias Telemundo.

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