Today marks the first day of Women’s History Month. It is also International Women of Color Day, so to kick off Women’s History Month on this blog, I begin by acknowledging a large group of women whose murders remain ignored by the mainstream media:
Since the days of Prohibition, Juarez has been a place for First World visitors to come and indulge in any number of illicit pleasures (alcohol, guns, drugs, sex). It is also the site where global capital has been making a killing to the tune of billions of dollars in annual profit…Because pollution laws are conveniently lax, the factories can emit fumes and dump waste without much concern or coversight. For all these reason, the U.S.-Mexico border has been made into something of an international sacrifice zone.
I’m not sure how old I was when I first heard about the women who were being sexually violated, horribly mutilated, and discarded like garbage in the desert surrounding Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The femicide that has claimed the lives of hundreds of women–with thousands more unaccounted for–began in 1993, although no one can really know for sure. Looking at several of the time frames listed in Making a Killing: Femicide, Free Trade, and La Frontera and doing the math, I was stunned to realize that I’ve been hearing about this femicide for at least fifteen years now. Over the years, I’ve been even more stunned to learn how many people still don’t know that the murders are even taking place.
To give a brief overview: since 1993, hundreds of women have been found in the desert, deserted lots, and landfills, as well as in more public areas. Mexican government officials and various NGOs estimate that around 350-600 murders have occurred, though there’s no way to get an exact figure, especially since thousands of women have disappeared without a trace over the years. The youngest of the (known) victims are five years old and the oldest are in their seventies, but most of the victims are teenagers and young women in their early twenties, many of whom worked in maquiladoras along the border. Before dying, many of the women suffered through various forms of unimaginable cruelty–stabbings, burnings, beatings, rape, genital mutilation, breast mutilation. Because of the nature of the murders, the femicide has often been sensationalized by the media. But as one of the book’s contributors, a forensic psychologist named Candice Skrapec, writes:
[The crime scenes in Juarez] are like what we see in North America in cases involving the sexual violation of the victims…the motive may be less sensational, and, in fact, more like what we are accustomed to seeing: sexual violations of victims for purposes of personal gratification on the part of the offenders who then discard the bodies.
Yet to this day, the crimes continue to go unpunished. As more information about the femicide came to light, the victims were the ones who were initially blamed by the government, police, and the media for their own murders and disappearances; they were rumored to be prostitutes or wild girls who liked to stay out and party, leaving themselves vulnerable to attack.