Militarization of police brings rise in sexual violence in Mexico
Mexican women take the street demanding justice and accountability after reported sexual assault by police in Mexico City. | AP

MEXICO CITY – Some 2,000 demonstrators, mostly young women, marched through the Zona Rosa area of Mexico City  Aug. 16 to protest a recent string of sexual attacks by the police. Among the attacks, accusers say, was the rape of a 17-year-old girl early in August.

The demonstrators gathered at noon at the central building of the Secretariat of Citizen Security. A large group headed towards the headquarters of the Attorney General’s Office here where they attempted to force their way into the building. At one point the secretary of security, Jesús Orta, came out to address the crowd, only to be pelted by pink glitter bombs and spray paint.

In response to the charges of rape Orta said, “All I want to say is that on my part, as head of this institution, we are totally on the side of your demand, that there is justice, I will guarantee that from this institution, and that the slogan of the Police is that there is protection of women and all citizens.”

Despite Orta’s promises, it took the police department almost half a month to suspend the six officers involved in both investigations. The first incident happened to a 17-year-old girl who stated that four police officers raped her in their patrol car after she came back from a party on August 3, 2019.  The second occurred just days later when a 16-year-old girl accused an officer of raping her in a museum. The district attorney previously stated that there was no initial arrest made because the accusers did not identify the suspects on time.

Since early July, Mexico City’s police force has increased by 50% and nearly 3,000 National Guard officers were deployed across the city. This expansion was a direct result of the government’s attempt to tackle the nation’s public security crisis. For years, local police have been bought out by the cartel, often resulting in shady practices by local law enforcement.

In an attempt to flush out corruption, authorities enacted the National Guard as a hybrid institution that combines officers from the army police, naval police, and federal police. While some have said that this is a necessary measure to address the growing violence in Mexico, others have criticized the militarization of police forces as being linked to the rise of sexual assault and femicide.

The Mexican criminal justice system has not only routinely failed to provide justice to victims of sexual violence but is also directly complicit in many ways. Police and military personnel have a long history of colluding with human trafficking networks, in addition to the murdering, kidnapping, and raping of women. In 2006 Amnesty International reported that at least 23 women were sexually assaulted and tortured by the police during a land rights protest in May, in Atenco.

Authorities covered up the rape and abuse of demonstrators throughout the unrest – prosecutors destroyed witness statements and prison doctors refused to verify claims of abuse. Despite the police’s extensive history of weaponizing sexual violence against women activists, Governor Enrique Pena has repeatedly rejected calls for an independent investigation on the matter.

Now activists are facing similar challenges as they continue to push for continued police oversight. Many city officials have dismissively called the mass protest “reactionary” and accused demonstrators of inciting violence. It seems, however, that vandalism is a minuscule cost compared to the harm enacted by the country’s militarized police forces.

The mass protest served to expose the disturbing pattern of police violence against young women and girls. The popular mantra of “No nos protegen, nos violan” (they don’t protect us, they violate us) trended across the internet and shed light on the failures of the country’s political leadership in addressing human rights violations. The demonstrations also forced Mexico to reconcile with the reality of implementing dangerous policies that increase police presence and allow them access to military-grade weapons.

Although the Mexican government has vowed to pursue legal action against the police involved, the complicity of prosecutors and public defenders with corrupt law enforcement is not uncommon. The country’s push for police accountability continues to be led by the working class, Mexican women taking to the streets and demanding justice, all whilst setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.


CONTRIBUTOR

Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias is a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias has invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. She has written and conducted research in several parts of the world; most recently Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where she presented on disability awareness at the U.S. Consulate. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities. She considers her experiences a privilege, one that she hopes to use as a platform for spreading socio-political consciousness. In her spare time Michelle enjoys drinking pricey wines and watching old school zombie flicks.  

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