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ICG Risk Blog - [ Applying pattern detection to the unsolved murder and abuse of Mexican women in Juarez ]

Applying pattern detection to the unsolved murder and abuse of Mexican women in Juarez



[The] extreme end of a continuum of anti female terror that includes a wide variety of verbal and physical abuse, such as rape, torture, sexual slavery (particularly in prostitution), incestuous and extrafamilial child sexual abuse, physical and emotional battery, sexual harassment (on the phone, in the streets, at the office, and in the classroom), genital mutilation (clitoridectomies, excision, infibulations), unnecessary gynecological operations (gratuitous hysterectomies), forced heterosexuality, forced sterilization, forced motherhood (by criminalizing contraception and abortion), psychosurgery, denial of food to women in some cultures, cosmetic surgery, and other mutilations in the name of beautification. Whenever these forms of terrorism result in death, they become femicides.


Early feminist analysts of another form of sexist violence - rape -- asserted that it is not, as common mythology insists, a crime of frustrated attraction, victim provocation, or uncontrollable biological urges. Nor is rape perpetrated only by an aberrant fringe. Rather, rape is a direct expression of sexual politics, an act of conformity to masculinist sexual norms, [and] a form of terrorism that serves to preserve the gender status quo.


Like rape, most murders of women by husbands, lovers, fathers, acquaintances and strangers are not the products of some nexplicable deviance. They are femicides, the most extreme form of sexist terrorism, motivated by hatred, contempt, pleasure, or a sense of ownership of women. Femicide includes mutilation murder, rape murder, battery that escalates into murder, the mmolation of witches in Western Europe and of brides and widows n India, and crimes of honor in some Latin and Middle Eastern countries, where women believed to have lost their virginity are killed by their male relatives. Calling misogynist killings femicide removes the obscuring veil of non gendered terms such as homicide and murder.

I have long maintained that if women could find a third sex that they would take it sight unseen, and that was long before femicide entered my vocabulary. With the relative exception of the outposts of the Scottish Enlightenment, a woman’s due is oppression, violence and assault. And yet they abide and provide. I am constantly astounding that they do not more often play Judith to Holofernes.

In revisiting my 2007 Mexico destabilization forecast, I was struck by both the societal (rage) and organized (premeditated) violence against women in the Americas. Efforts such as Ciudad de la Muerte and On The Edge (En El Borde) paint a harrowing, unsolved, onslaught.


Ciudad de la Muerte’s concept of role reversal and subsequent emasculation has resonance for me. I have seen precisely that reversal on two occasions in Africa, and once in India (where caste amplified gender). In the instances with which I am familiar, the backlash was largely spontaneous, delivered by an enraged husband/male or a group of similarly enraged husbands/men bent on punishing one or more women en mass.


The Guatemala Human Rights Commission usefully described the position of women in a traditional, Catholic culture:

Women are recognized in Guatemala (and many other cultures) as the givers of life, the transmitters of culture and the pillars of the community. Raping, torturing, and killing a woman is a way to destroy not only the individual woman, but to dishonor her family, her community, and her national and ethnic identity. Her honor is destroyed (as well as her emotional, physical, and mental integrity) thus destroying the collective identity and spirit of her family, community, and ethnic group.

I find it interesting that the contributing social factors to Guatemala’s culture of violence mimic those of Mexico: 

The suffering endured by women during the internal armed conflict did not end with the signing of the peace accords. Organized crime, gangs, drug trafficking, and human trafficking are part of daily life not only in the capital city, but also throughout the countryside.


Four factors have had a particular influence on women:

  • Violence perpetrated by drug trafficking;
  • Gang activity;
  • A culture of machismo or misogyny that targets women as victims and continues the brutal sexual violence against women;
  • A lack of rule of law, including corruption, gender bias and impunity in law enforcement, investigations and the legal system.

Keeping the primary pattern in mind

Perhaps consequentially, general violence against women remains high across the Americas. Molloy's A perspective on the murders of human beings (women, men & children of both genders) in Ciudad Juárez does a good job of stripping out received wisdom to define rational measure of deaths of both men and women through the decade in Mexico:

[At] the time the killings of women [young... many of them factory workers or students, murdered and in some cases tortured and sexually abused] were occurring in Juárez in the 1990s and beyond, and during the same time period that these murders began to be noticed and reported in the local and later in the international media…during the same time period, nearly 10 times that number of men were murdered. And the killings of these men were treated with the same impunity as the killings of women. These numbers are not mysterious. They are available from both official and media sources and I’ve posted a bare outline of them below. Basically, for all the years between 1993 and 2007, the total number of murders in Juárez hovered between 200 and 300.  And during those years, the percentage of those victims who were women ranged from 8% to 16% and averaged 12% percent of the total over the course of those 14 years.


Those in the press and academia who have written extensively about the murders of women, those who coined the term “femicide” to define the killing of women as a product of their gender, seldom acknowledge the actual numbers of victims of violence in Juárez  and the fact that the killings of women are a small percentage of the total. And that this gender ratio in murder statistics is not uncommon, not in Mexico, not elsewhere. In fact, the numbers of female victims as a percentage of the total victims in the Juárez data is low in comparison to data on U.S. murder victims.  I checked an accepted and reliable source, the FBI Uniform Crime Reports [online:] for three years: 2006, 2007 and 2008...


[IPS] compared the numbers of killings of women in Juárez [in 2006] with those elsewhere in Mexico and Central America, [stating] that “an average of 1000 women a year were murdered in Mexico, a country of 103 million, between 1995 and 2005…” and that the highest numbers of female victims occurred in cities in Central Mexico, not in Juárez...


Back to Juárez. Beginning in 2008, when the number of homicides exploded, the number of women killed exploded also, but as a percentage of the total, it decreased to between 5 and 8 percent. From January 2008-July 31, 2010, the total number of female homicides (390) accounts for 6.4% of the total of 6,078 murders in that period. Added to the 427 cases of female murder victims from 1993-2007, a total of 817 women have been murdered in Juárez since 1993...

Any predictions or additional pattern proposals must keep Molloy's analysis in mind as she maintains the most rigorous open source statistics.

Molloy also manages a a committed collector group, Frontera List, that monitors US-Mexico border issues with a focus on Juarez. It offers insight unlike that rising from the high street press, provides border news that would otherwise require monitoring of local secondary US papers, captures pertinent Mexican sources with translation and commentary, and compares US-Mexican reporting by topic. Recommended.


The 'work detail' murders

Within Molloy's primary pattern, and there are those on the Frontera List that believe that hers is the only pattern in play on the border, others see another pattern.

Unlike murder and/or rape by rage or war, the series of murder-violations outlined by Balli reflect an organized intermediary, a middle man -- the anti-coyote and his supply chain -- that deliver women unto death with “Are you looking for work?”


The duration of these murder-violations show evidence of sustaining structure in the Juarez deaths equal to any white slavery ring, but with a different cost structure. In white slavery the victim is resold numerous times. There is rudimentary care extended to the victim is order to prolong her value. In these ‘work detail’  abductions these Mexican women are presumably sold once, suffer greatly and then die.


While not for sex, I was familiar with prisoner markets in Afghanistan that involved filmed killings of purchased prisoners. From Virally infected suicide terrorists: return of a reoccurring theme that finds our defenses lax, 2006:


[P]risoners of varying nationalities were sold for sport during the Russian and post-Russian incursion periods -- the closest thing in our lexicon would be a souvenir photo. It was a local affair, a personal memento to take home, rather than an external fund raising event. A video tape was made of the proud owner generally slitting the throat or shooting the purchased prisoner, but the preponderance was the throat. One has to understand the Afghan sense of humor to make any sense of this.


ECCO and Grup Pionero work-related killings


Seemingly similar work-related killings have occured in Mexico. Given the cursory research for this note, I am unable to link them beyond the presence of work or the offering of work:

A two-year resident of Nuevo Laredo who worked in a stationary shop, Olga Lidia Osorio was studying computer technology at the Nuevo Laredo branch of Grupo Premier, a privately-owned national chain with schools in several Mexican cities. Esmeralda Juarez also studied computer programs, in her instance at a Cd. Juárez branch of Grupo Pionero, commonly known as ECCO, another private national chain with a widespread presence in the Mexican Republic. Esmeralda was the seventh young woman from Cd. Juárez who had some kind of contact with ECCO to disappear or end up sexually assaulted and murdered during the last three years.


Francisco Moreno Villafuerte, director of the Cd. Juárez ECCO branch where Esmeralda Juárez attended, says ECCO is concerned about reports tying the school to murdered and disappeared women.


Moreno insists that ECCO is a serious institution that provides a safe environment for its students, and to the best of his knowledge, no school personnel are under suspicion...


Bearing different names, the ECCO and Grupo Premier chains are nevertheless alike in many ways. Both target young working-class women and men for enrollment, and locate their schools in busy downtown areas of Mexican cities where bus lines whisk passengers to and from working-class districts. The computer schools have a large student turn-over, feature flexible enrollment and charge fees on a weekly basis. In both instances, company philosophy is based on almost identical tenants. Even their names are similar: in Spanish, “Pionero” and “Premier” imply first or best.


Grupo Pionero’s and Grupo Premier’s schools are almost always situated very close to shoe stores like Tres Hermanos which attract a steady clientele of young women. Many of the shoe retailers constantly advertise for new, young female workers. Since 1995, at least 7 women who have worked at or visited Tres Hermanos outlets and another shoe store, Zapaterias Paris, have been disappeared or been murdered in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City. In Ciudad Juarez, an ECCO branch is situated within one block of two stores belonging to the Manualidades de Estrella chain, where two other apparent victims worked: Gloria Rivas Martínez, who disappeared last year and was later supposedly found murdered close to the place where Esmeralda Juárez’s body was recovered, and Maria Isabel Mejía Sapien, who is still officially listed as missing.


It is also very worth noting that near the two ECCO branches in downtown Cd. Juárez is a private school, Prepatoria Ignacio Allende, where both Laura Berenice Ramos and recent murder victim Violeta Mabel Alvídrez attended. Ramos was originally identified by Chihuahua State Police as one of the 8 serial killer victims found in a field in November 2001 across the street from the offices of the maquiladora trade industry association in Cd. Juárez, but subsequent DNA tests failed to establish a physical link between the body identified as Ramos’ and her relatives.

Terminal domination


The emasculation of Ciudad de la Muerte’s victims reminds me of pornography, notably so as rape appears a staple in these killings, which too often has more to do with subjugation and domination than it does sex. The extension of this theme is the snuff film in which the sexual victim is ultimately killed on camera after the sex act(s), in effect, is sacrificed.


Snuff films have been the stuff more of legend than fact in the US, but there could be emulation of the cartel YouTube videos showing prisoners being tortured and killed. The data line is troubling here, however, as if memory serves, the women started disappearing well before the cartels adopted social media.


Strangling is also the garrote: quiet, adjustable – accelerated then relaxed, prolonged at will, all the while demonstrating the perp’s complete domination of the victim. The garrote is often used in cartel interrogation and torture, and could have been easily adopted for these murders well before the technique flowed into video.


A market, in whole or in part, dedicated to death?


Questions rise as the available pattern wanes:


Are there employed survivors among the respondents to “Are you looking for work?” In other words, is this a valid labor market that legitimately fills an unskilled labor need in Juarez, a fraction of which is culled for killing? Or do the entire proceeds of “Are you looking for work?” result in death?


If there are living women hired in this fashion, did they at any point see any of the women that died? I admit this last question may be theoretical as the living would unlikely be willing to comment or testify. There are a few survivors of rape and assault - the Ants, but they do not appear to be escapees of our death market. Still, any answer to these questions could illuminate the structure of this labor market.


Takeout versus Dine out


Where does this structured organization end, i.e., how does it complete the transaction between buyer and seller? How far does it go?


Is the woman fetched or is she delivered? Does the perp put in a request, if so how and to whom? Does he make a down payment on a future delivery? Does he select from captives on offer?


Are there one or more safe houses where the women are housed and that the perps frequent? If so, then the house can dispose of the bodies. Safe houses, rarely compromised, abound in and around Juarez for traditional criminal enterprises.


If the perp removes the woman, I assume that her transport, completion of the act and disposal are straight forward, no different from any number of disappearances in Mexico. The process only requires that the perp does not run afoul of narcos disposing of their handiwork.


Who and how many?


Why doesn’t this leak out, yielding pointers to a possible suspect group, if not the perps themselves? How many perps are involved? My reflex answer is that the great power of a few, as opposed to the powerless many, precludes leaking. As opposed to a powerful few, do the killers comprise, or are they among, a clan, organization or extended crime family whose group loyalty binds silence?


What nationality, Mexican or Anglo, or both? My reflex answer is Mexican as I feel that Anglos would be too visible. This affair strikes me more as a family affair, so to speak.


If the death market exists as a distinct pattern, there are no countervailing actions that would act to diminish it. We do see that the overall violence is increasing and has diversified through Mexico.

2010 going forward

The Trans-Border Institute’s mid-year national forecast reinforces Molloy’s overall figures and trends:


The most observable trends [in 2010] regarding drug related violence in Mexico were (a) an absolute growth and a relative increase in the number of drug related homicides, (b) increase in the rate of drug related violence, and (c) a greater dispersion of violence throughout Mexico. The first half of 2010 has emerged with the highest rate of drug related homicides in Mexico to date... drug violence related deaths in 2010 are on track to exceed any previous year, perhaps even doubling the number of such homicides in 2009.


In relative terms, the proportion of homicides that can be linked to Mexican drug trafficking operations has elevated from 25.7% in 2007, to 36.8% in 2008, and to 42.7% in 2009. Three years ago, only about a quarter of all homicides appeared to be connected to drug trafficking organizations but during the first half of 2010, this proportion grew to the equivalent of more than two-thirds of all officially registered homicides. The first half of this year has also seen the fastest growth rate in drug related violence to date; from the first week of 2010 to the first week of July, drug related homicides tripled in quantity, increasing from 100 per week to 300 per week. Furthermore, drug related violence was distributed among more Mexican states, and it was not just concentrated in border and drug production states, as had previously been the trend from at least 2008 onward. The overall number of drug related killings has increased primarily due to the sharp increase in drug related violence in Chihuahua and Sinaloa, and the dispersion of violence to Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Guerrero, and Mexico State. Other notable increases were seen in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca; although they still represent a very small proportion of national drug related deaths.


Along with these dramatic increases in drug related violence, there has been a worrying tendency to target high profile victims, drug rehabilitation centers, and private parties... Although it is difficult to interpret these acts as signs of a growing trend, they illustrate the tremendous variety of violence Mexico is experiencing, and the diversification of strategies and perhaps a change in the scale of organized crime groups...

Updated 13 August 2010


2010 Mid-Year Report on Drug Violence in Mexico

By Angelica Duran-Martinez, Gayle Hazard, and Viridiana Rios


Trans-Border Institute

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies

University of San Diego

August 2010

A perspective on the murders of human beings (women, men & children of both genders) in Ciudad Juárez 

By Molly Molloy

Frontera List

May 11, 2010

Updated August 2, 2010


Mexico drug cartels use gory videos to spread fear

By Mica Rosenberg Mica Rosenberg


Aug 4, 2010 12:54 pm ET


On The Edge (En El Borde)

A new documentary by Steev Hise about the femicide in Ciudad Juárez.

Second pressing April 2010



Mexican Cartels Adopt YouTube

Borderland Reporter Buggs

Borderland Beat

November 27, 2009


Mexican Maquila Worker Femicide Back in Spotlight

By Kari Lydersen

Working In These Times

September 25, 2009

6:06 pm


Guatemala’s Femicide Law: Progress Against Impunity?

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA

Summer 2009


Former nun helps Mexico 'femicide' victims recover

Linabel Sarlat runs a support center to help bring economic and spiritual renewal to the women of Anapra, Mexico.

'The Ants': Linabel Sarlat runs a center to help women victims of violence in Anapra, Mexico.

By Sara Miller Llana


June 6, 2008

The Issue of Femicide in Guatemala




Femicide On the Rise in Latin America

Kent Paterson

Global Politician


Ten Years of Border Femicide

La Prensa San Diego

Posted: Mar 05, 2003

MIRROR New American Media


The Snuff Film: The Making of an Urban Legend

Scott Aaron Stine


Volume 23.3, May/June 1999


Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing

Jill Radford and Diana E.H. Russell

Twayne Publishers, NY 1992



Jane Caputi and Diana E. H. Russell

Longer version of the article written for Ms. magazine, "Femicide: Speaking the Unspeakable" (September/October 1990), that was published in Jill Radford and Diana E. H. Russell, Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992). by Jane Caputi, and Diana E. H. Russell.


Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Infrastructure Defense Public  Risk Containment and Pricing Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


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