Femi­cide cri­sis rocks coun­try’s largest state

Killings of women plague sprawl­ing area of 16 mil­lion res­i­dents

The Dallas Morning News - - Nation&world - Gus­tavo Martínez, The As­so­ci­ated Press

VILLA CUAUHTÉMOC, Mex­ico — Like any other day, Dr. Jes­sica Sevilla Pe­draza went to work at the hospi­tal that morn­ing, came home for a quick lunch and then left again. The plan was to see more pa­tients, hit the gym and be back in time for her usual din­ner with her fa­ther be­fore he went to his night­shift job.

In­stead, a hospi­tal co­worker showed up at the fam­ily’s door that evening. She said a man had come in with a bul­let wound in his leg and had told doc­tors he had been with Sevilla when gun­men in­ter­cepted them, shot him and took off with the doc­tor in her own car.

“Ma’am,” the wo­man told Sevilla’s mother, Juana Pe­draza, “it’s my duty to tell you that we can­not lo­cate your daugh­ter.”

Two days later, Pe­draza iden­ti­fied 29-year-old Jes­sica’s body at the morgue. She had been shot in the head and de­cap­i­tated, and the skin had been flayed from her skull.

“I can’t un­der­stand why,” Pe­draza said. “Why so much fury? Why so much hate?”

Wave of killings

Sevilla’s grue­some death was part of a wave of killings of women plagu­ing the sprawl­ing state of Mex­ico, which is the coun­try’s most pop­u­lous with 16 mil­lion res­i­dents and sur­rounds the cap­i­tal on three sides. The cri­sis of femi­cides — mur­ders of women where the mo­tive is di­rectly re­lated to gen­der — prompted the fed­eral govern­ment to is­sue a gen­der vi­o­lence alert in 2015, the first for any Mex­i­can state.

Some­times the deaths are caused by do­mes­tic abuse. Other killings ap­pear to be op­por­tunis­tic, by strangers. Of­ten the bodies are mu­ti­lated and dumped in a pub­lic place — which many read as a mes­sage to other women: There is no safe place, time of day or ac­tiv­ity.

The week be­fore Sevilla’s killing, 18-year-old Mar­i­ana Joselín Baltierra van­ished when she walked to the cor­ner store in Ecate­pec, a hard­scrab­ble sub­urb of Mex­ico City. Her body was found in a butcher shop next door; she had been sex­u­ally as­saulted and dis­em­bow­eled. The sus­pect, an em­ployee at the butcher shop, al­legedly took the money in the reg­is­ter and fled. He re­mains at large.

The State of Mex­ico of­fi­cially ranks sec­ond to the na­tion’s cap­i­tal with 346 killings clas­si­fied as femi­cides since 2011, ac­cord­ing to govern­ment sta­tis­tics.

“This prob­lem is dif­fi­cult to erad­i­cate be­cause it is rooted in ideas that as­sume that we as women are worth less than men, that we as women can be treated like trash.” said Dil­cya Gar­cía Espinoza de los Mon­teros, deputy state pros­e­cu­tor for gen­der vi­o­lence crimes.

Ground zero

The govern­ment’s clas­si­fi­ca­tion of “femi­cide” al­lows sig­nif­i­cant room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion, and many say the of­fi­cial fig­ures are un­der­stated and un­re­li­able. Vi­o­lent crimes such as dis­ap­pear­ances of­ten go un­re­ported and un­pun­ished, and the state of Mex­ico is widely con­sid­ered ground zero for killings of women in the coun­try to­day. The non­profit Cit­i­zen Ob­ser­va­tory Against Gen­der Vi­o­lence, Dis­ap­pear­ance and Femi­cides in Mex­ico state counted 263 femi­cides in 2016 alone.

Be­fore Mex­ico state, it was Ci­u­dad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, that was no­to­ri­ous for killings of women, with nearly 400 slain there since 1993 and only a hand­ful of cases re­sult­ing in con­vic­tions.

Com­mon to both places are marginal­ized, pe­riph­eral com­mu­ni­ties with high lev­els of vi­o­lent crime, cor­rup­tion and im­punity.

Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto, who was Mex­ico state’s gover­nor be­fore as­sum­ing the pres­i­dency in 2012, said dur­ing his state of the union ad­dress this year that the coun­try’s ris­ing mur­ders have more to do with com­mon crime than or­ga­nized crime. But that has been no com­fort for fam­i­lies who grieve for lost moth­ers, sis­ters and daugh- ters, and who too of­ten face daunt­ing hur­dles when seek­ing jus­tice.

Jes­sica Sevilla’s mu­ti­lated body was found on a high­way about 20 miles from where she was last seen alive at a gas sta­tion in her new red Mazda. A week af­ter the burial, Pe­draza marched across town with fam­ily mem­bers car­ry­ing a stone cross to mark her grave. The mur­der re­mains un­solved.

Pe­draza raised her five daugh­ters to be con­fi­dent that they are equal to men and that no­body can hold them back. She is now tasked with rais­ing her grand­son, León.

“With lit­tle León, we have the idea that we are go­ing to teach him how to be a man,” Pe­draza said. “You don’t hit women. You don’t in­sult them. If she can clear your plate, you can do it, too. … Equal­ity and re­spect, above all.”

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