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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 May 2007, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Domestic violence stalks Mexican women
By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Mexico City

Domestic violence is not a phenomenon exclusive to Mexico. But the figures you are about to read are chilling.

Woman - file photo
Mexican women are attacked in every social and economic class
Between 1999 and 2005 it is believed that more than 6,000 women and girls were murdered.

That is an average of 1,000 every year, three murders a day. Put most graphically, a girl or a woman is murdered every eight hours, the overwhelming majority of the deaths the result of violence in the household.

They are the kind of statistics you would expect of a country at war.

It is happening in cities and the countryside, and across every socio-economic divide.

Sometimes the men use guns or knives, whilst others use their hands.

Criminal offence

"I was regularly beaten," says Maria, a woman whose name we have changed, but whose story will be familiar to many.

"Over six years the attacks went on, both physical and psychological. It was awful. He even threatened our three children. I couldn't leave, I didn't know what to do."

March against domestic violence on International Women's Day - 8/3/2007
The abuse suffered by women is now being more openly confronted
Eventually Maria did get out and is now in a women's refuge.

Earlier this year, a law was enacted making such violence a criminal offence.

"It has taken a long time," says Angelica De La Pena, the member of congress who sponsored the new law.

"For the first time," she says, "there is legislation that defines violence as psychological, physical, sexual or any other type of violence that harms or is likely to harm women's dignity, integrity or freedom."

This once hidden subject is now firmly out in the open.

It has even made it on to Mexican television.

Tackling taboos

One of the most popular soap operas here is La Madrastra, or The Stepmother. Recently, there was a shocking storyline that wove domestic violence into the plot.

It was some of the most graphic mainstream television I have witnessed.

In the main scene, a woman is attacked by her boyfriend. But this was not just some sanitised television version of a complicated social issue.

The "attack" involved the woman ending up on the floor with the man straddling her in a rape sequence.

The end only came with the arrival of another man who hauled off the assailant and promptly punched him.

Another woman's body found in Juarez
The murders in Ciudad Juarez began in 1993
It all went on for several uncomfortable minutes. This was primetime television giving real time coverage to a once taboo subject.

Mexico has already earned unwanted international attention for its record of violence against women because of the ghastly events in Ciudad Juarez, a city on the Mexico-US border.

In the past decade, hundreds of women have been killed there and in surrounding areas, their bodies often recovered from remote desert graves.

Suspicion has focused on individual or group serial killers, though others now believe a large proportion of the deaths are the result of domestic violence.

These killings, too, have now led to screen time, with events depicted in a film called Bordertown and starring Jennifer Lopez.

"It is very good that people are finally dealing with this subject," says Wendy Figueroa who helps run a women's refuge in Mexico City.

"But television programmes or films alone wont stop it," she says. "What is needed is education for both men and women so people know what their rights are."

Jennifer Lopez in a scene from Bordertown  Capitol Films
Jennifer Lopez plays a journalist investigating the Juarez murders
There are other outlets dealing with it as well.

The government has produced television and radio adverts where an abusive husband is trying to convince his battered wife he loves her.

The voice-over at the end comes in and warns women not to be duped by the soothing words of the attacker.

But not everyone is convinced about all this attention for domestic violence.

We were given access to Mexico City's main jail.

Scourge

In it, we met Jorge, again it is not his real name, who was convicted of murdering his wife.

"The new law is biased against men," insisted Jorge, a man who like many others, remains in complete denial of his wrong-doing.

"The evidence against me was lies," he told us. "I never did it."

Jorge later walked out on our interview without warning. It came after we repeatedly asked him about his attitude to women and to domestic violence.

Mexico's men are, for the most part, not the sort who resort to their fists, or worse, to make their point.

But enough do to make the reality of domestic violence a scourge on this society.


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