Who's Killing the Women of Juarez?
Just this week, the bodies of four more women were found half buried in the desert on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The grim discovery brings to nearly 100 the number of young women who have been murdered in a grisly series of sexual homicides haunting this ramshackle border town.
February marks the tenth year the serial murders have dragged on. Mexican authorities, unable to catch the killers, are roundly accused of being inept, corrupt and even complicit in the killings. Meanwhile, as NPR’s John Burnett reports, Juarez has become -- for women -- a city of fear.
The problem has grown beyond the serial murders. In the past decade, more than 300 women have been killed in Juarez. Every type of homicide against women is common in the city, especially domestic and drug-related killings.
Finding yet another body in the vast expanse of scrub brush outside the city is becoming a common occurrence. "Sometimes the corpses are not complete because the animals disperse the bones," says Ramon Anaya, a former water department employee who volunteers with a group that searches for skeletons in the desert. "It depends on how long they've been in the desert."
Since 1993, the corpses of 90 to 100 women -- no one has an exact count -- have turned up in the desert, in vacant lots and drainage ditches. All were raped, some mutilated.
Just as troubling, hundreds of girls have disappeared from the streets of Juarez, a city of 1.5 million people. Many of the victims were chillingly similar: young, slim, dark complexion, shoulder-length hair, and poor daughters of the working class.
They were girls like Alejandra Andrade. The 17-year-old was kidnapped on Valentine's Day, 2001, and six days later her nude body was found wrapped in a blanket and dumped in an empty lot in front of the plastics plant where she worked. She had been choked, savagely beaten in the face, and parts of her breasts had been removed.
"What did she go through during those six days? I can only imagine," says the victim's mother, Norma Andrade de Garcia. "Only a person sick in the head could do this to young girls. The terror they cause in their victims... no one can describe."
Part of the problem, Burnett says, is the city itself -- an environment well suited to random violence.
"Juarez is headquarters to a major drug cartel, with its attendant violence and lawlessness. For every one woman killed in Juarez, four men die violently," Burnett says.
Another problem is the region's machismo culture. "Despite the fact that most of the victims... were schoolgirls or workers, there's a persistent belief around town that the targeted women somehow invited the attacks," Burnett says.
"Nowadays, it's a common joke when two men see a provocatively dressed woman, for one to elbow the other and say, 'She better watch out or she'll end up in desert.'"
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