The Bedrooms of Mexico's Missing Women


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The Bedrooms of Mexico's Missing Women

Mayra Martell has been photographing the bedrooms of some of Ciudad Juárez's missing women.

This article originally appeared on VICE Mexico

In July 2003, the international community shuddered as José Luis Soberanes – then president of the Human Rights Commission of Mexico – announced that somewhere between up to 1000 women were registered missing from the city of Ciudad Juárez. Today, it looks like that number could be much closer to 3000.

I grew up in that city. As a child I was very sheltered – my mother was extremely careful and rarely let me stay with other family members or friends. She was afraid that I'd find out just how dangerous my hometown actually was.


When I was 24, I started paying attention to the hundreds of missing person posters hung throughout the city. One day while looking at a poster, I noticed a phone number amidst all the other details. It was for the home of a missing girl called Yesenia. I was intrigued and wanted to call. To this day, I'm not sure why I felt the need to do so. I decided that my story was that I was interested in interviewing the mother and in some way, I suppose I was. It didn't take long to long to convince her.

I guess my initial interest lay in learning more about the girl – who she was and what kind of life she led before she went missing. That's how this whole photo project got started and slowly, over time it's transformed itself into a study of the violence and repeated acts of terror that plague the city.

So far, I've visited the homes of 78 missing women and 27 victims of femicide. One thing a lot of the families have in common is they've kept their daughters rooms exactly the way they were when they left them, on the day they went missing. I've never witnessed so much pain firsthand – watching these parents torture themselves by walking into the untouched bedrooms of their loved ones.

Mothers have shown me photos, toys, diaries and pieces of clothing they keep because they still smell like their daughters. It seems as if hanging onto these things keeps their children in their life somehow.