Valeria del Carmen was beaten to death in 2016 in Milpa Alta. Mariana Santillán Ramírez was gunned down in 2017 in Iztapalapa, and Eloisa, 89, burned to death in her home in Gustavo A. Madero last year. We know their names because of one woman whose mission is to make the victims of violence more than statistics.
In the era of #sayhername, Maria Salguero’s work for the past three years has been founded in that idea, mapping femicides in Mexico including the women’s names, how and where they died, age, and their relationship to the murderer, if possible.
Between 2014 and 2017, 8,904 women were killed in Mexico, according to the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) and while statistics are more often fodder for discussions about the violence in the area, Salguero is making the identities of these women a part of the narrative.
She started the project after seeing how very little was being done to fix the problem, and information was sparse.
“There was only talk of femicide in the State of Mexico but they had forgotten Ciudad Juarez and the problem was growing throughout the country and nobody talked about it,” she told HipLatina in an email that has been translated. “But the most important thing is that when doing the documentation and this being a data project, is not to forget that they have a name, it is paramount to name them.”
Salguero, 40, graduated from the National Polytechnic Institute with a degree in geophysical engineering and is originally from Mexico City.
After her full-time job at the National Search Commission of Mexico, she dedicates time to compile information for the map, sometimes taking upwards of five hours depending on the cases.
Through the combined use of Google Maps and Google tools, she began monitoring crimes against women in Mexico in 2016 and collecting the information on her site.
The green crosses belong to the 1,649 cases of the first six months of 2018, the violet ones correspond to the 2,200 murders in 2017, while the red crosses indicate the 2,100 killings in 2016.
She activated Google alerts including “Woman murdered,” “woman stabbed,” “femicide,” “woman’s remains,” “girl murdered,” “woman’s corpse,” and “woman dismembered” and scans the local newspaper for stories.
Her findings show a pattern of beatings and gunshots as being the main causes of death for women between the ages of 18-59, mainly in the central areas of Mexico.
From 2016 to January 2019 she’s recorded 6,583 femicides throughout Mexico but says the numbers may not be accurate.
“Only a part of the problem is documented by the press and not all. There is a 15 percent national bias in the official data. There are women who arrive injured in health systems and die because of the seriousness of the injuries and are not reported by the press, women who are murdered or in their homes or communities far away and there was not a means to cover them,” she adds. “The bodies which are found but the sex is undetermined, are cases that can not be documented.”
As the sole source behind this map, she’s hyper-aware of the various factors that lead to these deaths but also the corruption in Mexico’s police force that also play a major role.
Almost exactly a year ago, Insight Crime reported that 205 municipal officers of Tehuacán in central Puebla state were disarmed and another 113 officers were suspected to have run off. This is just one example of how the lure of a higher paying opportunity with organized crime groups can seem like a better alternative when the force is notoriously overworked and underpaid.
The Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI) released a report that found the number of police officers patrolling the streets was below the national average in 22 of Mexico’s 31 states, including some of the deadliest states.
Salguero is “outraged” at the misconduct of the police force and the lack of due diligence for these cases.
“They do not take care of the murder scene, they lose the evidence, the investigators are the relatives of the victims and know who the aggressor is and they do not arrest him or they let them go,” she said.
She also highlights a factor that isn’t often looked by authorities but plays a major role in the death of women.
“In places where there is presence of criminal groups is where more women are killed, so it is important to know both the role of women in issues of organized crime as of the same criminal structures in femicide,” she says.
The Associated Press reported that in 2018 3,580 women and girls were killed in Mexico, victims of both domestic violence and organized crime.
“All of them have a common factor: the lack of timely and diligent intervention by the Mexican state to preserve their integrity and to ensure their lives,” Interior Secretary Olga Sanchez Cordero said during a press conference addressing violence against women with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Salguero’s work took a personal turn when her neighbor Abigail was killed in April 2017. It’s moments like that which make it that much more real for her and led her to actively practice self-care to handle the emotional burden of this work.
“I try not to be affected so much, I go for a bike ride when I start having nightmares.”
The map has been used by the Scientific Division of the Federal Police as well as academics and journalists. Now she’s working with Felix Santana from the General Directorate of Human Rights Strategies of the Ministry of the Interior to develop an official map of femicides but she says they’re working on getting aid from local prosecutors and attorneys.
While discussing all the reasons why she dedicates herself to this project, one of the reasons she cites is because “the victims were invisible.” Now as a result of her efforts, that’s no longer the case.