Around 7 o’clock on the night of July 8, three assailants walked up the steps to a small stone house perched on top of a hill in the municipality of Nicolas Romero, Mexico state. Once inside, they held up their guns and opened fire on five females. One woman was shot multiple times in the head, and another died soon after. One 16-year-old and two 9-year-old girls, all related, were also shot and killed. Hours later, their bodies were found strewn on the floor and on their bunk beds. The killers had fled.
“They said something bad had happened back home, but they were unclear just how many victims there were,” said Julia (real name withheld), recounting the phone call she received that night. Her mother, two sisters, and two of her nieces had been killed, she was told. It was the beginning of her living nightmare.
This brutal incident didn’t reach the international press. It barely registered a blip on Mexico’s national media circuit. There’s a numbness when it comes to violent crimes being committed against females in Mexico, which is fast becoming one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman.
In 2019, a record-breaking 3,833 women were killed — an average of over 10 every day. Many of these are cases of “femicide,” when a woman is killed simply for being a woman. Since COVID-19 has swept through the country, gender violence has spiked even further. Women are forced to stay at home, at the whims of their abusers. Emergency calls for violence against women in April and May 2020 were 74 percent higher than those same months the year before.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, however, refuses to acknowledge that Mexican women are increasingly at risk. “Never have women in Mexico been so protected as they are now,” he told Vice News. “There is a permanent fight against corruption and impunity like never before. We don't protect the criminals.”
But such statements contradict the facts. A killer is convicted in less than 5 percent of cases, so the chances of getting justice are slim.
Julia’s sister-in-law, Antonia (real name withheld), said the family has been given no information about the case and that the investigators have stopped answering their calls. “I don't even know if they're working on it or not,” she said.
Impunity is just one reason for the rising murder rate in Mexico.
Almost half the murder cases between 2000 and 2018 involved some form of domestic violence. Male entitlement — or machismo — is ingrained in Mexican culture, and that often results in violence at home.
“All men are a bit jealous, right? Sometimes, that's the origin of violence,” said Daniel Luna Pizano. “Or otherwise, sometimes women are jealous, and they get annoying, and men cannot stand it and they explode.” Pizano was detained in Nezahualcóyotl police station, for attacking his wife, when he spoke to VICE News. He said he got jealous because he thought his wife was cheating on him. “I pushed her and I kicked her on the back. I grabbed her hands and pushed her against the bed so she couldn't move… I suffocated her with a pillow.”
Julia’s sister suffered physical attacks from her partner too. Her family described how she turned up at her father’s house just a few days before the murder with her mouth bleeding. They believe this history of domestic abuse could have contributed to what happened, but they’re still waiting for answers.
There have still been no arrests. The investigators told VICE News they’re “looking for more information.”
Within the last month, Mexico’s government cut 151 million pesos from the National Institute of Women, as part of the country’s COVID-19 austerity measures. Other cuts to gender violence alerts have also been floated, sending a message to Julia and others like her, that women’s safety is far from the government’s priority right now.
Cover: A cemetery in the municipality of Nicolas Romero, Mexico state. VICE News