Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mexico`s cancer: domestic violence, a virtual license to kill

Local cases illustrate continuing problem of violence against women in Mexico

By Eduardo Cabrera Ruiz
Translated by Edward V. Byrne for The Yucatan Times
August 16, 2011

Mérida, Yucatán -- The traditional macho male has neither died out nor disappeared from this country, nor even gone on break.  And nowadays he no longer has to go it alone.  Nowadays someone helps him abuse.  The failure of authorities to deal seriously with domestic violence places Mexican women in grave danger and indeed enables their assailants, often giving the abuser a virtual license to kill without fear of  legal consequences.

Today communities throughout the Yucatan, like Kanasín, Ciudad Caucel and San José Tzal, are experiencing a significant increase in violence against women, and gender-based crimes are on the rise. Frequently they go unpunished.

Organizations which have tried to promote gender equality in the Yucatan have proved ineffective against domestic violence, due to bureaucratic ineptness and the fact that most people are unaware of their existence or purpose.  Despite their best efforts they’ve been unable to change Mexican cultural and social attitudes about male-female relationships.

Like a cancer, the problem has spread throughout the country: the National Institute of Statistics and Information reports that 67% of Mexican women have experienced some incident of violence committed by a family member, spouse or other person well-known to the victim in the home, workplace or school.

Over the past decade many international human rights organizations have urged Mexico to confront and eradicate a culture of discrimination against women.  Gender inequality (de facto or otherwise) in all of its varieties is the continuing symptom and the major challenge, but domestic violence to and including femicides remains.

Female victims of abuse in Mexico are of all ages – from young girls to adult women – and are found across the entire social strata.  No female is immune from the possibility of domestic violence, including murder.  The common denominator in all such cases is that before the ultimate event occurs, there is always a documented history of abuse, threats and mistreatment.

Jalisco, Tabasco, Chihuahua, Morelos, Sonora, the Federal District and Guerrero are the states with the highest number of reported cases of violence against women according to the Gender-Based Violence Report of 2010, published by the National Commission for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women, a division of Mexico’s Department of Government.

The National Survey of Violence Against Women undertaken by the Department of Health in 2004 indicates that one of every three Mexican women has suffered some form of violence during her life, and one of every five has been abused by her current spouse, boyfriend or significant other.  Based upon available data, the rate of homicide per 100,000 women grew more than 40% between 2005-2009, from 2.45 to 3.52.  The states with the highest rate of female homicide (per 100,000) are Chihuahua (13), Baja California (10), Guerrero (10), Durango (7), Sinaloa (6), Sonora (5), Tamaulipas (4.5), Oaxaca (3.8), Michoacán (3.8) and Nayarit (3.7).  Between January 2009 and June 2010, there were 1,728 femicides across 18 Mexican states.

The Yucatan press has popularized the case of Grettel Rodríguez Almeida, who was brutally attacked with a knife by her ex-boyfriend in her own home.  The case received even more attention when a local judge reduced the charges against Grettel’s assailant from attempted murder to assault, which resulted in him serving a sentence of just under 21 months.  Despite efforts on her behalf by some authorities, apparent threats and harassment by Grettel’s assailant have continued since the attack, leaving her in constant fear and forcing her to move repeatedly.

In her desperation Grettel reached out to an international agency, the High Commission of the United Nations.  In a letter she told U.N. officials that she believes Germán Alyn Ortega (the attacker) is responsible for several intimidating e-mail and text messages which she has received since November 2010.  In one Ortega supposedly wrote, “Grettel, I have so many things to talk about with you,” and “each time you think you’re getting away from me, I’m actually [getting] closer [to you].”  In another message he allegedly told her, “you’re going to be so happy to see me,” and in yet another, “it was daring of me just to try to communicate with you, but I managed to find you, and here I am sending you greetings.”  Even though the messages came from an unknown e-mail account, Grettel is convinced they originated with her attacker – a thought which terrifies her despite the fact that he is still locked up.

Grettel eventually left the Yucatan and went to Mexico City, both to escape the area and to deal with the perceived threats.  On June 20 of this year she filed a formal complaint with the office of the Federal District’s Special Prosecutor for Crimes of Violence Against Women, seeking their assistance.  She also solicited help from the Federal District Commission on Human Rights.  On June 21 the latter office promulgated procedures designed to protect her, which were then forwarded to the Yucatan’s chief prosecutor, where she plans eventually to return.  Legislators have written to Yucatan authorities, particularly to Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco, asking her to guarantee Grettel’s safety and security.  They’ve received no official response.  Grettel’s advocates have also called for an investigation to determine why Ortega Hernández was dealt with so lightly in court.

Grettel says that “despite our repeated requests for protection, as well as calls by the federal Human Rights Commission and legislators for action on my behalf, Yucatan authorities have done nothing to help me.  Their lack of action has put me in a situation of extreme vulnerability, with the risk of another attack.”

Grettel’s case illustrates the sad reality of how ignored domestic violence can often have fatal consequences.  On August 1, Hermenegildo Isaías Chim Zupo shot and killed his wife and young children and then committed suicide in the family home in Mérida`s San José Tzal neighborhood.  Neighbors reported that the man was drunk and began quarreling with his wife, whom he apparently suspected of infidelity.  Other acquaintances reported that his behavior was often bizarre and abusive, that the children rarely were permitted to leave the home to play on the street and that cries and yells from the house were common events.  No one called police until gunshots were heard, along with the desperate screams of a 13 year old girl who, although shot twice, managed to survive.  By then it was too late for the others.

But for victims like Grettel, the nightmare continues.  She asks when – if ever – will it end?

Oct. 31, 2012 - Mexican Supreme Court hands legal victory to woman almost killed by boyfriend

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