According to authorities south of the border, 1,646 people were murdered in Juarez in 2020, with 192 victims being women. The murder tally reached 1,497 the previous year, with 172 female victims. Homicides against women have doubled in three years, with only 96 such crimes reported in 2017.
Police in Juarez attribute the spike to the ongoing drug cartel wars. Eighty-five to 90 percent of all homicides last year were drug-related, Chihuahua state officials say.
“We had a substantial increase in homicides from June to August. Our investigators presume many of those cases were related to fights among drug dealers,” state police spokesman Alejandro Rubalcava said.
But Yadira Cortez, member of the nonprofit group Red Mesa de Mujeres (Women’s Roundtable Network), attributes at least part of the spike to domestic violence exacerbated by COVID-19 lock-downs.
“Violence against women increased during the pandemic. More women were left in a vulnerable situation being confined with (men) accustomed to using violence to control others,” she said.
Cortez said domestic abuse calls in Juarez increased from the usual 250 to 300 per month to 800 at times during the pandemic. The group receives monthly updates from the Crimes Against Women unit of the Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office.
“It wasn’t just your typical (conjugal) violence but also sexual violence and homicide,” she said.
Cortez admits some of the female murder victims may have been part of the drug scene but were targeted because of their gender. “The police say a murder is drug-related if the woman used drugs. But the aggressor may have been a former boyfriend. Even when they find a body on the street, the (murderer) may have been someone she was romantically involved with” and tried to disguise the motive, she said.
Police reports document several instances of female bodies with signs of violence found in public settings.
On Dec. 7, passers-by reported coming across a body wrapped in a blanket in the working-class Oriente neighborhood. Police discovered it was a woman with injuries consistent with torture.
On Nov. 15, the lifeless body of a woman in her 20s was found by police on a street in the Melchor Ocampo neighborhood. An investigation pointed to domestic violence gone awry.
On Oct. 11, police came across the bodies of two women wrapped in blankets in the Satelite neighborhood. Investigators concluded the women were drug distributors.
A month earlier, relatives had discovered the body of a woman inside her house, bound nude and apparently beaten to death.
Cortez said it’s hard to accurately document the extent of the violence that women suffer in Juarez.
“It’s difficult to file a complaint. It is an ordeal, more so since the pandemic,” she said. “It used to take three hours to get it done. Now it takes eight hours or going back from one day to the next because the few employees that are working are busy or the right person is not there. That will have repercussions.”