Surviving Death: Police and Military Torture of Women in Mexico

Female federal prison, Morelos state
June 28, 2016

Surviving Death: Police and Military Torture of Women in Mexico

An unprecedented Amnesty International investigation of 100 women arrested in Mexico reveals that they are routinely sexually abused by the security forces who want to secure confessions and boost figures in an attempt to show that they are tackling rampant organized crime.

All of the 100 women held in federal prisons who reported torture or other ill-treatment to Amnesty International said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or psychological abuse during their arrest and interrogation by municipal, state or federal police officers or members of the Army and Navy. Seventy-two said they were sexually abused during their arrest or in the hours that followed. Thirty-three reported being raped.

Sixty-six of the women said they had reported the abuse to a judge or other authorities but investigations were opened in only 22 cases. Amnesty International is not aware of any criminal charges arising from these investigations.

“These women’s stories paint an utterly shocking snapshot of the level of torture against women in Mexico, even by local standards. Sexual violence used as a form of torture seems to have become a routine part of interrogations,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“Women from marginalized backgrounds are the most vulnerable in Mexico’s so-called ‘war on drugs.’ They are usually seen as easy targets by authorities who are often more eager to show they are putting people behind bars than to ensure they are finding the real criminals.”

Most of the women in prison who spoke to Amnesty International said they were sexually abused, beaten, electro-shocked, touched and groped during detention and interrogations. The vast majority have been accused of organized crime or drug related offences. Many were presented to the media as “criminals” straight after they were forced to “confess” to the crimes. Most come from low income backgrounds, which makes them less likely to be able to afford an effective defense.

Mónica, a 26-year-old mother of four, was gang-raped by six police officers, received electroshocks to her genitals, was suffocated with a plastic bag and had her head plunged into a bucket of water in the city of Torreón, Coahuila state in northern Mexico on February 12, 2013. Security officials tried to force her to confess to being part of a criminal gang. She was also forced to watch as her brother and husband were tortured in front of her.

After the torture, police took Mónica, her brother and her husband to the Federal Attorney General´s Office. On the way, her husband died in her arms as a result of the torture he had suffered. Afterwards, Mónica was forced to sign a “confession” saying she was part of a drug cartel.

Despite a report by the Mexican National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) in August 2014 confirming Mónica’s torture, none of the perpetrators have been charged. She is still in prison, awaiting the outcome of her trial on charges of involvement in organized crime. In April 2016, the CNDH issued a recommendation that a criminal investigation be opened into the case. Monica remains in prison.

Lack of justice

Data from local and national ombudsman bodies showed that in 2013 alone, more than 12,000 reports of torture and other ill-treatment were filed to such bodies throughout the country, of which 8,943 possible victims were men and 3,618 were women. Between 2013 and 2014, criminal complaints of torture filed before the Federal Attorney General in Mexico doubled, but only a limited number of investigations have been opened.