Hundreds of young women have been murdered with impunity since 1993 just across the U.S.-Mexico border in the city of Juarez — a place known for brutal cartel violence and rampant corruption.
Many activists say authorities are failing to protect women or pursue their killers. In response, a number of young women in Juarez have turned to hip-hop and street art to raise awareness of the violence, saying they want to show that consequence-free bloodshed is not inevitable.
“We have to remind people that there are criminal cases, and many things here have not been resolved,” said Susana Molina, aka Oveja Negra (Black Sheep), who formed the Batallones Femeninos, a hip-hop collective aimed at uniting women against the violence.
“That is why we keep organizing and creating alternative ways to show that another world is possible,” she said. “Our hope is that women go out together to paint and demand that they let us live.”
The Batallones Femeninos said that in the past two decades at least 370 women have been murdered in the northern state of Chihuahua, where Juarez is located, and that authorities have done little to investigate. More than 100 others have simply disappeared, the group said.
One of those women, Fabiola Janeth Valenzuela Banda, went missing on Aug. 23, 2010, and her charred body was later discovered. She left behind a husband and a young son, and no one was ever prosecuted for the crime.
“When they found her body, she had been burned,” said Silvia Banda Pedroza, Valenzuela Banda’s mother. “I can’t imagine the pain that my daughter must have felt.”
Banda Pedroza said she wants the authorities to look into these cases.
“I don’t know how many more young women have to disappear in Ciudad Juarez before justice is done and they are arrested,” Banda Pedroza said.
Mexican authorities have been widely criticized for failing to investigate and prosecute cases involving violence against women.
In 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Mexico had failed to properly investigate the murders of eight young women whose bodies were found dumped in a cotton field.
In response, the Justice Center for Women — an umbrella organization of government agencies, judiciary and civil society aimed at providing services to victims of violence and their families — was formed in March 2012 in Juarez and is now investigating cases dating from 1995 to the present, according to local news website WFAA.
The center’s special prosecutor, Rafugio Jauregui Venegas, said earlier this month that of 283 young women who went missing in Chihuahua State over the past year, only 8 remained missing, WFAA said.
But Irma Guadalupe Casas Franco, of Casa Amiga Esther Chavez Cano — an organization that works with victims and families of disappeared or murdered women — disagreed with the statistics.
“For every 10 cases we bring them, one gets resolved. It’s really not true,” Casas Franco told WFAA.