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Brainstorming Juarez and Beyond

Brainstorming Juarez and Beyond
Juarez and Beyond Links
Forum without Borders
Brainstorming Juarez and Beyond

It hardly matters where in the world you look. The struggles to end violence against women have found brave voices, but remedies remain maddeningly out of reach. The violence against women rages on.

In some places homicides of women are increasing at such a frightening pace that the terror they engender threatens to crush women's advances on all fronts. In Guatemala, for example, murders of women increased from 60 in the year 2000 to 624 women murdered last year, 2005. In other places, like Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, a decade of local and international efforts to stop the homicides of women has exposed some disturbing consequences.

We need new strategies; new ways that those of us who work to end violence against women can join forces across borders, new ways of leveraging off new technology and changing political trends, new ways of listening. In short, it seems like a good time for some New Year's brainstorming. We offer a couple of our thoughts. And we'd like to hear yours. When we do, we'll put your ideas on our web site on the Brainstorm Billboard.

Guatemala and Juarez at a Glance
In the year 2005, there were 624 women murdered in Guatemala, a country the size of Tennessee. This marked a dramatic increase of femicides over the year before when 527 women were murdered, which was a dramatic increase over the year before that when 383 women were murdered. Daunting as these numbers are, there is an even more staggering statistic. Of the more than 2200 homicides of Guatemalan women over the last five years, Guatemalan justice officials have succeeded in obtaining only one conviction.

This drastic situation for women in Guatemala, and the utter failure of officials to respond, has been spotlighted over the last couple years by Guatemalan women's groups and international human rights groups. (See Juarez and Beyond Links.) One significant result has been Guatemala's creation of specialized police and prosecution units for investigating homicides of women. But the police unit, according to a June 2005 Amnesty International report, had only one cell phone and one computer. The investigations, for the most part, are thoroughly inept, And today, there is still only one conviction in the homicides of the more than 2200 Guatemalan women.

In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where there has now been more than a decade of international pressure on Mexican officials to remedy a similar record of impunity for homicides of women, the results are far from encouraging. There is a continuing toll of murdered women, and the alarming emergence of what local critics have called 'a second cycle of injustice'. A September 26, 2005 New York Times article sums up what local activists have been saying for years. In response to the local and international pressure, Mexican law enforcement has simply embarked on years of wholesale fabrication of cases; rounding up innocent men, falsifying evidence, torturing the men into confessions, and convicting them.

By now, even senior Mexican officials, including the office of Mexican President Vicente Fox, have had to admit the truth of the accusations. They are starting from scratch, the top Mexican officials say, and reopening upwards of a hundred cases. But, as the article notes, "...virtually all agree, the problems swirling around the investigations are profound, and far from fixed." The bungling, corruption, and abuses of power have been found to reach high levels, having implicated the now former state prosecutor and former head of the state police.

Moreover, the New York Times article states, "...there are growing signs that the serial-style killings have spread to other cities." Whether these homicides of women are, in fact, spreading to other cities, or whether other cities are just now recognizing the extent of the carnage, is difficult to say. What is certain is that a rising toll of violence against women in developing countries represents, at least in part, a violent repression of women's efforts to advance. And that the urgency for all of us to create effective remedies is not only on behalf of the individual women victims, but on behalf of the freedom of all women.

What's Next?
The questions are relatively easy to pose. As international human rights organizations succeed in applying top-down pressure on government officials, what can we who work on violence against women do to strengthen bottom-up efforts of victims, victims' families, advocates, and investigators? In what ways can advocates, detectives, and prosecutors join forces across borders? How do we facilitate and press for evidence-based investigations, without unleashing police state tactics?

Here are some of our beginning thoughts.

Translating to Spanish and Web Placement of Investigation Protocols for Homicides, Missing Persons, Sexual Violence, Forensics, Domestic Violence, Sex Trafficking, and More
In doing a cursory Google search for Spanish language investigation protocols, I found only one; a medical forensic protocol buried in the middle of a U.N. document. There are so many quality law enforcement protocols and field guides in English for all of these crimes and specialties. Getting the best of the them translated into Spanish and placed on the web would make them immediately available to every law enforcement officer throughout the Spanish-speaking world who wants to do the job right. The procedural logic for criminal investigations is the same the world over. These protocols need minimal user adaptation for variations in the law.

No doubt, a great deal of the poor law enforcement response to violence against women stems from lack of will, sexism, and, as the local advocates all agree, outright official complicity with the violence against women. But, as everywhere, there are also certainly officers among them who do want to do the job right and who lack the tools. These officers shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel.

A couple of the topnotch English-language protocols that come immediately to mind are the classic, Practical Homicide Investigation, Checklist and Field Guide by Vernon Geberth - which is certainly copyrighted and would require permission. Then there is Joan Archambault's superb acquaintance rape investigation training manual, already online in English at http://www.evawintl.org/ncwp.htm . And there are scores more time tested protocols in the public domain on all the relevant subjects.

The benefits of making these protocols accessible across continents goes far beyond just giving Latin American police the means to properly respond to the pressure. It arms victims, advocates, and communities with the means to more accurately evaluate their police response and more effectively press for change.

Detectives Without Borders, Forensics Without Borders, Advocates Without Borders
The concept of a Detectives Without Borders type organization poses some unique difficulties not faced by the well known Doctors Without Borders or Journalists Without Borders groups. Unlike medicine or journalism, law enforcement missions are intrinsically and fiercely jurisdictional. During the last decade, FBI agents from the United States went to Ciudad Juarez to help solve the femicide cases there. Though neither side has said much publicly about the problems that developed, it doesn't take much imagination to understand the frictions that kept this endeavor from being a rousing success.

Nonetheless, there must be an unlimited number of ways that individual community-level officers can assist more informally across borders without stepping on toes. For example, according to the Amnesty report, Guatemalan Police don't have a missing persons data base. It seems ridiculous that Guatemalan officers should have to go through the time, trial, and error of determining how best to set up a missing persons data base, when all the bugs have long ago been worked out on such data bases in the US. A bilingual officer from the US could probably select the best and set the whole thing up to meet the Guatemalan officers' needs in a matter of days. Guatemalan Police forces don't have a national forensics lab either. Certainly there's ample room to collaborate on that need, too, and on so many more, both across the Internet, by going there, or by setting up a Detectives Without Borders Internet platform.

And what about Advocates Without Borders? How about starting with a violence against women Email list with a paid translator - three or four hours a week - so that all messages would be received in both languages? The purpose of the list would be solely to bring together advocates from as many countries that speak Spanish and English in order to brainstorm and initiate other Advocates Without Border projects.

Downloadable Poster/ Graphics/Ad Campaign Library
Wouldn't it be great to have a web site where you could go to find a cornucopia of great posters, photos, graphics, ad campaigns, and radio and video spots for ending violence against women? Gathered from around the continents? All expertly catalogued and formatted for easy downloading? In Spanish and/or in English? A couple weeks ago, I came across an online article on Brazil's billboard ad campaign against child sex tourism. The article had photos of the powerful images on the billboards. Imagine if the artwork and concepts of this campaign, and many others, were available on the web in downloadable form for all to use.

Targeted Material Needs, Like Cell Phones for Victims, Victim's Families, and Advocates
Cell phones in developed countries are one more toy. But in poor countries where women and their families often live in the isolation of terrible transportation and no telephones, a cell phone is a wide spectrum gateway, not just to the world of help, but to independence and commerce. Even the poorest countries like Guatemala now have extensive cell tower coverage. Making sure that advocates in developing countries have piles of functioning cell phones to hand out to every victim, or victim's family, is just one of the campaigns advocates in developed countries could undertake. What would others be?

These are just some beginning ideas.
What are yours?

Feel free to photocopy and distribute this information as long as you keep the credit and text intact.
Copyright © Marie De Santis
Women's Justice Center,


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