New Report Exposes Systemic Sexual Assault by Mexican Police and Military

Mexican police and military forces are mass-arresting women on flimsy accusations that they are the girlfriends and accomplices of “criminals” and then using those numbers to justify spending on the U.S.-backed war on drugs, a harrowing new report by Amnesty International reveals.

Once in state custody, the women are routinely subjected to sexual assault and torture, including “severe beatings to the stomach, head and ears; threats of rape against women and their families; near-asphyxiation, electric shocks to the genitals; groping of breasts and pinching of nipples; rape with objects, fingers, forearms and the penis,” the investigation states.

Based on interviews with 100 women who had reported violence during their arrests, the report determines that 72 of them say they were sexually assault in the immediate aftermath of their detention.

Here is the story of one woman, included in a summary of the report:

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 12 February 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.

The women targeted are disproportionately likely to be poor, single parents, sex workers, and/or LGBTQ—and are swept up precisely because “multiple and intersecting discrimination” makes them vulnerable, the report determines.

According to the report, Fernanda, a 22-year-old single mother of two, “worked in a bar in a down-at-heel neighborhood in Valle de Chalco in Mexico state, where she meets clients for sex work. Fernanda told Amnesty International that on 21 March 2014, at about 3am or 4am, when she was at the house of one of her clients, over 20 undercover Federal Police officers dressed in black with assault rifles stormed into the house. They ripped off Fernanda’s clothes, groping her breasts and buttocks and yelling threats at her. She told Amnesty International that the officers took her to a house where she could hear cries of other people being tortured. One police officer screamed at her: ‘You are going to jail coz you're a stupid fucking whore.’”

After extended beatings and electric shocks, Fernanda was taken to the PGR where she was presented before the media in a press conference as a member of an organized criminal gang,” the report continues. “The accusation against her came from one of the other people who was also arrested at the time.”

As Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, put it: “Sexual violence used as a form of torture seems to have become a routine part of interrogations.”

Mexican forces have near impunity to carry out such atrocities. “Despite the high number of complaints of sexual violence as torture or other ill-treatment by the armed forces, the Ministry of Defense informed Amnesty International that not a single soldier had been suspended from service for rape or sexual abuse from 2010 to 2015, and the Ministry of the Navy informed that only four marines had been suspended in the same time period,” the report states.

There are also signs that authorities are going to great lengths to conceal these abuses, as evidenced by the fact that they actively obstructed the Amnesty International investigation, according to the organization’s researchers.

While authorities evade consequences, the women targeted are denied medical care and forced to languish in prison. The scale of the abuses is far wider than the sample interviewed by Amnesty International. In 2013, there were more than 12,000 reports of torture and abuse submitted to local and national ombudsman bodies.

Mexico’s war on drugs is backed and armed by the U.S. government. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. accounted for more than half of all weapons shipments to Mexico from 2011 to 2015—a time when the country’s arms imports spiked by 331 percent.

"The one thing missing from the Amnesty report is the U.S. role and the fact that they're bolstering the military and the police and the intelligence apparatus of Mexico and that levels of violence have grown much more extreme," Alex Main, senior associate for international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told AlterNet. "It's a system that's feeding into the violence and the horrible human rights abuses we've been seeing over the past seven or eight years."


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