Mexico: Sexual torture is an institutionalized practice

Orsetta Bellani, Latinamerica Press (Photo: O.B.)

On the morning of Aug. 7, 2012 Claudia Medina Tamariz, natural products saleswoman, was arrested by members of the Mexican Navy at her home in the port of Veracruz. She was tortured with electric shocks and asphyxiation; they threw buckets of water on her and inserted their fingers into her vagina. When they threatened to harm her children, she confessed to a crime she did not commit:  belonging to the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel.

Medina Tamariz remained detained for 23 days. She was released on bail, and on December 26 a judge ruled to continue her prosecution for organized crime, possession of grenades and operating with illegal proceeds, among other crimes. According to the governmental organization National Human Rights Commission, there is strong evidence of serious violations of human rights committed by the Navy against the woman, who was tortured psychologically, physically and sexually. However, none of her torturers have been prosecuted.

On Sept. 30, 2014, Amnesty International submitted to the Mexican Attorney General’s Office a petition with nearly 350,000 signatures from people from various countries to conduct a “prompt, impartial and thorough investigation into the allegations of torture presented by Claudia Medina Tamariz .” Her case is currently being analyzed by agencies of the United Nations.

“Sexual torture is a form of torture that can be exercised towards men or women and that, in the case of women, always carries a connotation of misogyny through phrases [and] touching of private parts and takes after the gender roles that are ingrained in police, military, and navy officers,” said Araceli Olivos Portugal, lawyer of Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (Prodh Center), to Latinamerica Press. “The sexualization of torture against women includes calling them whores, bitches, insisting that they like that, that this is their role.”

Guilty parties at large
According to the Prodh Center, some states of the Mexican federation, such as the state of Mexico, have no information on the number of complaints of torture against women committed by state agents in the past five years, while the states of Campeche, Hidalgo, Durango, Jalisco, Morelos and Nuevo Leon expressed they have not received any complaint. Stephanie Erin Brewer, lawyer at the Prodh Center, said that this does not mean that there are no problems, but rather it raises questions about the conditions of women in these states.

The states of Aguascalientes, Oaxaca, Sinaloa, Veracruz and Zacatecas, which claimed they have received complaints from women between 2010 and mid-2014, recorded a total of 112 cases and no convictions.

However, some international organizations are analyzing allegations of sexual torture of Mexican women, and in some cases these institutions have issued sentences. For example, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled on the cases of Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú, who were tortured by the military in 2002, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a report on the case of the González Pérez sisters, victims of sexual torture in Chiapas in 1994.

Furthermore, the case of women who reported sexual torture during the police operation in San Salvador Atenco, State of Mexico, on May 3 and 4, 2006 is undergoing legal proceedings. Police officers raided the village under the justification of imposing order after acts of social protest by groups of flower sellers. The raid left two young people dead and resulted in more than 200 people arbitrarily detained, including 47 women.

“I can assure you that when I was in prison, all women were tortured,” said Medina Tamariz to the audience gathered at the end of the “Breaking the Silence, together against sexual torture” campaign, which took place on Nov. 24 on the premises of the Prodh Center in Mexico City.

The case of San Salvador Atenco
The 17 women who promoted the campaign have denounced the pattern of subjugation of women by members of security forces. Violence and torture may be committed to create scapegoats in the context of the war against drug trafficking — as in cases of Medina Tamariz, Veronica Razo Casals, Belinda Garza Melo and Miriam Isaura López Vargas, who were forced to confess crimes they did not commit — or to punish social activism, as in the case of the women who were arrested during the operation in San Salvador Atenco and were sexually tortured by police during transfer to prison.

The campaign “Breaking the Silence: together against sexual torture” was launched on May 5 by 11 female survivors of the sexual torture in San Salvador Atenco with the goal of raising awareness of other cases of sexually tortured women and to follow their cases.

“With this campaign, we wanted to give to other women the solidarity we received from many,” told Italia Méndez, one of the women who has denounced the Mexican state for the sexual torture committed in 2006 in San Salvador Atenco, to Latinamerica Press. “Our goal is to report that sexual torture is a state strategy. These are not isolated cases, but they are part of the structural violence perpetrated against women. We could have filed an anonymous complaint but decided against it; we carry the stigma of rape, the fact that our sexuality has been publicly exposed, and we think that by showing our faces we reclaim our struggle, our body, and this helps us overcome fear.”

Article published by Latinamerica Press on 1.16.2015:

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