Since 1993 the city of Juarez, Mexico has been home to massacred women and their killers. An estimated 1,000 women have been brutally murdered for the past two decades in a phenomenon dubbed “femicide.”
Every year hundreds of sexual assault homicides go unsolved on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Mexican government and drug cartels work hand-in-hand to keep the public’s eye out of this murder spree, said Marisela Ortiz, an anti-femicide activist.
Ortiz was a schoolteacher in Juarez in 2001 when one of her students, 17-year-old Alejandra, became another victim of femicide. Her mutilated body was found next to the factory where she worked. She was strangled, raped by various men and had her lower lip detached. A month later her family was given an unidentified bag of bones, claiming to be their daughter’s.
Ortiz and her son, Rowe, spoke out against these crimes at Dominican Oct. 6. They have been targeted and threatened by the police and drug cartels for starting the organization Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, which in English means “may our daughters return home.”
Marisela Ortiz is a woman in her mid-50’s, with sorrowful eyes but a gentle disposition. She explained her story with tears streaming down her face.
This type of scenario is an all too common occurrence in Juarez. The police blame the victims for “prostitution or domestic violence,” Ortiz said. Most of the community believed this was the case until the number of deaths for this demographic rose exponentially in recent years.
The program Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, which was started the same year of Alejandra’s disappearance, pushes the police to open files and start investigations on these deaths. They are also working on getting use of a forensic lab so that the bones returned to families might be confirmed to be who the police say they are.
In the past, activist Ortiz has been beaten, chased and stalked for holding political campaigns against the injustice. During demonstrations, Rowe had guns pointed at him. Their apartment has been raided by the military twice. Rowe’s brother-in-law was murdered and he believes that it was by the same people who target these women, mistaking his brother-in-law for Rowe, since they shared the same car and apartment.
The death threats towards Ortiz and her family continued, so in March, Ortiz and Rowe fled to the United States. They are currently residing in Michigan and have formed a U.S. based organization called Esperanza, or “hope.” It is run by children of the murdered mothers and hopes to spread awareness of the situation through art.
When asked what it would take to stop these killings, Ortiz replied, “Legalize drugs.” These potent drug cartels are the rule of the land in Juarez, and while they hold power the women will continue to disappear.
– Agata Kubinska, Contributing Writer