Where Women Say They Are Assaulted & Raped In The Hands Of Authorities

Photo: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International's Americas program director, poses during the presentation of the report, "Surviving Death," about the torture of women in Mexican jails, on June 28, 2016, in Mexico City.
Violence against women in Mexico has been well documented for years. But women are also suffering at the hands of the institutions that are supposed to protect them.

That's according to a new report by Amnesty International investigating the treatment of women in Mexican jails. The report, released this month, outlines how sexual violence is used as a form of torture by the authorities to draw confessions, with virtually no consequences.

Out of 100 women who were interviewed by Amnesty International during the course of eight months, 72 said they had been sexually abused at the time of their arrest, and 33 had been raped. A staggering 93 women told the organization that they were also beaten by the authorities during their arrests and interrogations.

The majority of the women interviewed were accused of being involved with organized crime or having committed drug-related offenses. Most of them were also young — the average age of these women at the time of their arrests was 27 — and came from low-income backgrounds. This made it easier for the authorities to target them as part of the so-called war on drugs and accuse them of being the romantic partners or accomplices to other criminals "without solid evidence," the report argues. Without money to hire lawyers, many of the women were unable to defend themselves or pursue legal action against alleged abusers.

In the report, Amnesty International included multiple anecdotes of the abuse many of these women had suffered at the hands of the authorities.

It was after midnight on Mother's Day in 2013 when armed Mexican navy marines allegedly broke into María Magdalena Saavedra's house, accusing her of being "the financial controller for a major drug gang," she told Amnesty International. For the next 20 hours, she said she was suffocated with a bag, electrocuted and raped by the officers, then forced to sign a confession. A judge she appeared in front of days later noted that "the suspect was sobbing, with tension, depression, and manifest anxiety," according to Amnesty International. In contrast, the navy doctor that had examined her after the arrest had said the "the detainee is 'physically healthy.'"

When Saavedra was interviewed in early 2016, researchers noted that "the scars were still visible, and she showed clear signs of trauma."

Organizations such as Amnesty International and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have long denounced the state of violence and impunity throughout Mexico, and the impact it’s having on human rights.

When it comes to violence inside the prison system, official documents of the Mexican government show that, in 2013 alone, nearly 12,000 reports of torture and other ill-treatment were filed to local and national agencies, Amnesty says.

But, as the burden of proof is on individuals filing the complaint, the cases are rarely brought to justice. According to the report, only 15 complaints of torture or similar violations have resulted in federal convictions since 1991.

Amnesty International is calling for President Enrique Peña Nieto to "publicly recognize the magnitude of the problem of torture and ill-treatment in Mexico, in particular the use of sexual violence against women, and send a clear message that these acts will no longer be tolerated."

The Mexican government has yet to comment publicly on the report.

"The message to other women is that this could happen to anyone, at any time. Many of the women we talked to were simply coming home or were on the street, on their way to pick their kids up from school," Madeleine Penman, a researcher on Mexico for the organization, told Newsweek. "The message also for other women is the importance of making a complaint. Speaking out about these things is paramount."

You can read the report in its entirety here.

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