LATIN AMERICA

Most sex crimes committed in Mexico go unpunished, new report reveals

The official study also shows that the majority of rapes and assaults are not even reported

Demonstration against gender-based violence on April 24 in Guadalajara.
Demonstration against gender-based violence on April 24 in Guadalajara.EFE

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No institution in Mexico can offer exact numbers on the incidence of sex crimes in the country but they all admit that most of these offenses go unreported. They also all agree that what they do know about the problem is just the tip of the iceberg. Civil organizations and the federal government say that victims just don’t trust the country’s judicial system.

“Many people do not want to file a report because they say the authorities will not believe them,” says Laura Martínez, director of Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral de Personas Violadas (Adivac), an organization that provides medical, legal and mental health services to victims. “We talk to 140 for the first time every month. Of those, maybe 10 percent file [a complaint].”

There are fewer than 20,000 preliminary investigations of sex crimes every year. That clearly indicates that there is great impunity around these offenses CEAV report

The Mexican federal government has also admitted the failures of the judicial system and its 32 states. The Executive Commission for Attention to Victims (CEAV) has published its first progress report on sexual violence but it warns that the study is based on the number of investigations and not the number of actual cases of abuse. “On average, there are fewer than 20,000 preliminary investigations of sex crimes every year. That clearly indicates that there is great impunity around these offenses,” the report says.

CEAV says there were an estimated 1,414,627 unreported cases from 2010 to 2015 in the 16 states (half the country) that contributed to the study. The commission says lack of confidence in the judicial system, mistreatment by authorities and a judicial framework that threatens the dignity of the victims by not providing specialized attention to these crimes are some of the culprits of impunity. “There is great ignorance on the part of officials in the judicial-penal system [prosecutors and judges] about the rights of victims of sexual violence, which leads to institutional violations of their human rights. Besides ignorance, there is a lack of sensitivity,” the report says.

A complete and meticulous registry of sex crimes would reduce the need to repeat interviews in different departments, which would prevent making victims feel re-victimized, the commission adds. “Based on our experience, they are afraid of reporting because there is a double victimization,” Martínez says. “They don’t believe them or they fail to lodge the complaint correctly. They don’t write the reports correctly and then most of them are archived.”

In four states, the law punishes rape with a foreign object more harshly than forced copulation while five other provinces do the opposite

In order to reduce the likelihood of errors when recording a victim’s statement, the report recommends that the staff that interviews the victim also file the official complaint. This policy would require an adjustment in working hours to provide enough time for processing.

CEAV also criticized the judicial system’s inconsistency when it comes to punishments for the aggressors. In four states, the law punishes rape with a foreign object more harshly than forced copulation while five other provinces do the opposite. CEAV recommends that the law punish all violations equally without distinguishing between forced copulation, rape by foreign object or rape of a passive subject – persons unable to defend themselves – including drug-facilitated sexual assault, statutory rape of a minor or sexual abuse of a disabled individual.

“In Mexico, we still defer to each sovereign state, but violence against women is the same everywhere. Why not come to a consensus about how to handle the same types of crimes in the entire republic?” Adivac asks. Only half of Mexican states define sexual assault as a crime. The federal penal code fails to clearly define the offense. CEAV says even human rights agencies at the state level cannot agree on the facts about sex crimes within their own jurisdictions.

The report also emphasizes the lack of medical attention and training offered at health clinics. Health officials interviewed by the commission admitted that not all staff members comply with regulations that require them to educate the victim, provide preventive medications, contact the Attorney General’s Office and relay all pertinent information. According to the report, the Health Ministry failed to report more than half of the 29,501 cases it received. “It is of vital importance that the medical staff be trained to detect cases of sexual abuse,” the commission says.

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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