At least every four minutes in Mexico on average, a girl or a woman is raped.4 Only a fraction of these rapes are reported to the authorities. In even fewer cases are the rapists held responsible. In the rare cases where girls and women seek justice for the sexual abuse they have suffered, they generally meet with suspicion, apathy, and disrespect. This situation is even more pronounced when girls and women who are pregnant as the result of a rape want to terminate the pregnancy. Often, prosecutors, doctors, and social workers ignore them. Sometimes, government officials actively silence rape victims with insults and threats, in flagrant disregard for their human dignity and their rights to nondiscrimination, due process, health, and equality under the law.
Impunity for sexual and domestic violence in Mexico is rooted in three main problems:
These three issues are mutually reinforcing: lax implementation of the law means victims are less likely to report the crimes and underreporting undercuts pressure for necessary legal reforms. It is no coincidence that the most nationally and internationally visible expression of violence against women in Mexicothe largely unsolved cases of mutilation and murder of women in Ciudad Juárez in the state of Chihuahua5is also the one that has elicited the strongest government response.6 In fact, barring Ciudad Juárez, violence against women tends to be downplayed by public officials, especially at the state level, who share the widely held but demonstrably false misconception that it is a problem confined largely to poor, uneducated, unemployed, or otherwise marginalized people.
Most public officials acknowledge that domestic and sexual violence is underreported. According to NGO representatives, this underreporting has led violence against women to be grossly underestimated in government figures, in particular in the case of sexual violence and rape. Few officials Human Rights Watch met with expressed awareness or concern that the official estimates on rates of violence likely fall far short of reality.
A 2003 government survey concluded that 46.6 percent of Mexican women over fifteen (approximately 24.5 million women and girls if extrapolated to the total population) had faced some form of violence in their home during the twelve months prior to the study. This 46.6 percent includes economic threats and emotional violence. The same study concluded that approximately 9.3 percent (almost 5 million women and girls) were found to have suffered physical violence within the past twelve months.7 Another government survey published in 2004 found that 9.8 percent of women and girls suffered physical violence at the hands of their current husband or partner.8 Representatives from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work directly with victims of domestic violence told Human Rights Watch that rates of violence are undoubtedly much higher and that, in their experience, domestic violence seems to be becoming more common. NGO representatives from several states agreed that reliable statistics on this issue were hard to come by, notably because domestic violence still was not seen as a government priority despite some positive legal and policy moves.
The prevalence of sexual violence is difficult to estimate since very few rape victims report the crime to the authorities. Sexual crimes are some of the least reported crimes, said Aurora del Rio Zolezzi, deputy director of the gender equity office at the National Health Ministry. A couple of years back, about 3.5 complaints were filed a day for rape in Mexico City. It was estimated that this was about 10 percent [of all cases].9 On this basis, the government estimated that approximately 120-130,000 rapes (affecting the equivalent of 0.23-0.25 percent of the female population) occurred annually in all of Mexico.10 However, a number of recent government surveys indicate the likelihood that this represents only a fraction of actual rapes committed against girls and women in Mexico on an annual basis.11
Inadequate Legal Framework for the Prevention and Punishment of Violence against Women
Mexican state laws do not adequately protect women and girls against violence and abuse, despite recent positive policy developments at the federal level. The federal nature of the Mexican system of government gives the thirty-one states and the Federal District (Mexico City) relative autonomy on legal and policy responses to violence against women,12 though state laws and their interpretation have to conform to the Federal Constitution, federal laws, and international treaties.13 As a consequence of Mexicos federalism, the definition and punishment of crimes is generally left to the state-level authorities, while the national penal code regulates federal crimes, such as drug trafficking, and common crimes committed on exclusively federal territory. Domestic violence is not considered a federal crime, unless committed on federal territory,14 though the federal government has urged state governments to improve their response to violence against women.
At the federal level, Mexico took some positive steps between 2000 and 2005 toward bringing its policy and legislation in line with international human rights standards on sex equality and the prevention and punishment of violence against women. For example, in 2001, the Federal Constitution was amended to prohibit all forms of discrimination, including on the basis of sex.15 Also in 2001, the government created the National Womens Institute (INMUJERES), a government agency with ministerial rank mandated to foster gender equity. 16 The government also promulgated a national program for the promotion of equality, which prioritizes the prevention of violence against women.17 On international womens day in 2002, all national ministers signed a National Agreement for Equity between Men and Women, which requires all state and national government agencies to implement this program.18 Under the auspices of the National Agreement, the federal government in 2002 also launched a five-year plan focused specifically on violence against women.19 These developments came about largely as the result of decades of pressure from the organized womens movement in Mexico.
In several states, law and policy inadequately address the issue of violence against women, and existing protections fall short of Mexicos international obligation to adopt all necessary penal, civil, and administrative provisions to prevent, punish, and eradicate violence against women.20 In seven of Mexicos thirty-two independent jurisdictions, there is no specific law on the prevention and punishment of domestic violence.21 Seven states do not recognize domestic violence as a crime.22 Of the twenty-five states where domestic violence is penalized, fifteen state penal codes require women to suffer repeated violence in the family in order for it to be criminal.23 In eleven states, domestic violence is considered an infraction of the state civil code in addition to a criminal offense,24 though seven of these states again require the violence to be repeated to merit sanctions.25
In addition to cumbersome legal definitions of domestic violence in some states, public officials at times invent further requirements for victims to comply with. For example, where the law requires domestic violence to be repeated, public officials told Human Rights Watch that a victim would have to file at least three reports in order for the assault to merit sanctions as domestic violence.26 Such a reporting requirement is not included as a condition for sanctions in the state penal codes or criminal procedure codes in any of the seventeen states where the penal or civil codes require violence to be repeated.
Many interviewees further lamented the narrow concept of violence prevalent among public officials, also not mandated by state laws. Where domestic violence is criminalized specifically, the sanctions generally apply to emotional violence as well as physical violence, though, according to experts working on domestic violence, only physical violence is taken even somewhat seriously by public officials. Insofar as there are no clear marks on the body, nobody sees the problem, said Marta Gómez Silva, a psychologist who treats victims of violence for an NGO in Mexico City.27 Leslie Alonzo Pérez, a legal advisor from the state Integrated Family Services agency (DIF) in Morelos, exclaimed: [Many public prosecutors] dont understand that family violence isnt just physical, so if they dont see a black eye, they send them [the victims] away.28
Moreover, even where the violence is physical and the signs of it are visible, women and girls say that public prosecutors and police often fail to investigate complaints of domestic violence. Ana Díaz, a twenty-nine-year-old woman from Yucatán, had experienced this first hand: One time I had gone to declare against my [now] ex-husband, and I was all black and blue, all beaten up. And they said to me that there wasnt enough proof. They took my declaration and did nothing.29
In the health system, the response to domestic violence is more adequately and evenly regulated than in the justice system. This happens notably through a national norm on medical assistance to victims of domestic violence, which is mandatory for all public and private health providers.30 The consultation process leading up to the issuing of this norm in 1999 included participation by NGOs that work directly with victims of violence, and that were able to insist on the inclusion of a number of helpful provisions. For example, this norm specifically requires health professionals to seek to determine whether or not a pregnancy can be assumed to be the result of rape or abuse in the family.31 According to the norm, all health centers and hospitals must establish internal guidelines for referring each presumed victim of domestic violence to the appropriate authorities, including the attorney generals office.32 The national norm on medical assistance for victims of domestic violence further requires that all health institutions register each case of domestic violence for the purpose of estimating the extent of the problem.33
Yet the effectiveness of the norm is undercut by several factors. First, focusing exclusively as it does on domestic violence, it does not address any form of violence that occurs outside the family. At the end of 2005 the norm was under review and Aurora del Rio Zolezzi from the National Health Ministry told Human Rights Watch that this deficiency was likely to be overcome in the revised norm, which in its current draft form focuses on both domestic violence and on sexual violence generally.34
Second, the norm is unknownand therefore not appliedby many health professionals. Most of the state health ministers Human Rights Watch interviewed in the course of this research did not know that their institution was required to keep a register of cases of domestic violence. A study published by the national health ministry in 2003 concluded:
The distribution [of the national norm] and the training of health personnel in the implementation of it have been very precarious. Apart from laudable exceptions, there are no specific programs to deal with [domestic violence], neither in the public health centers nor in the health centers belonging to the social security system, and health personnel often demonstrate strong resistance to getting involved in an issue that they see as outside their area of competence.35
As of January 2006, the national health ministry was distributing a model, first published in 2004, for the application of the national norm to state health ministries, public hospitals, and health centers.36
Applicable law and policy on sexual violence in Mexico in many states run counter to international human rights standards, notably by defining sanctions for some sexual offenses with reference to the chastity of the victim. As with domestic violence, the legal framework on sexual violence varies from state to state. Most states criminalize three types of sexual intercourse: rape (and statutory rape,) incest37 and estupro (intercourse with an adolescent girl through seduction or deceit, as opposed to force). In thirteen states, estupro is only a crime when the underage victim is known to live chastely or honestly,38 and in at least eleven states estupro is not penalized if the perpetrator subsequently marries the underage victim.39
Both rape and estupro are generally considered crimes against the physical or sexual integrity of the victim. Typically rape is defined as forced anal or vaginal intercourse involving actual or threatened physical or moral violence,40 while estupro is seen as intercourse with an adolescent girl41 obtained through seduction or deceit. Incest, on the other hand, is typically not considered a crime against the physical or sexual integrity of the victim, but rather against the family, and is generally defined as consensual sex between parents and children or between siblings. Because the crime is defined as an assault on the family unit and because the sexual intercourse is legally defined as consensual, both parties are subject to criminal penalties (including victims under eighteen).42
Most states criminalize forced intercourse between family members as rape with extenuating circumstancesas opposed to consensual intercourse between family members which under Mexican law would be incest. However, Human Rights Watch found that at least in some cases, public prosecutors assume that incestuous sexual relationships are consensual, even when they involve very young children. In Guanajuato, Ximena Espinosa, for example, was systematically raped and sexually abused by her father for as long as she could remember and at least since the age of six. As of October 2005, the state was investigating incest charges against her. The charges had apparently been brought after her father accused Espinosa of incest, when he was arrested during investigations into his systematic rapes of her sister. Espinosas husband, Claudio López, told Human Rights Watch: The public prosecutor [told us]: Dont even come down here, because I will call two police officers to arrest her.43
It should be noted that incest as defined in Mexican state laws may include situations that qualify as sexual exploitation or abuse under international law. In its handbook on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,44 the U.N. Childrens Fund (UNICEF) notes that the definition of sexual abuse of children [for the purposes of the Convention on the Rights of the Child] covers more than non-consensual activities, including sexual activities with children below the age of consent, whether or not they appeared willing or even initiating partners. 45 This comment would seem to ring particularly true where the sexual relationship in question is between a child and a person in a position of trust or authority, such as a parent, a guardian, or an older sibling. In these situations it is particularly worrisome that Mexican law, instead of protecting the child against this sexual abuse, criminalizes the childs behavior.
The criminalization of childrens sexual behavioreven where they may be victims of abuseis the more troubling because of a generally low age of consent in Mexico. In two jurisdictions, children are considered capable of consenting to sexual relationships once they reach puberty with no age specified.46 In twenty-one of Mexicos thirty-two jurisdictions, children are considered capable of consenting to sexual intercourse at the age of twelve,47 in one jurisdiction the age of consent is thirteen,48 in seven jurisdiction it is fourteen,49 and in only one it is fifteen.50
While the Committee on the Rights of the Child has not proposed a specific age at which the child has a right (and an ability) to consent to sexual activity, it has, in its concluding observations to specific countries, expressed concern with situations where the age of consent is not defined by law at all,51 and has, in other reports, recommended that it be set at least at thirteen.52 The Committee has further expressed concern with inadequate protections from sexual exploitation for older adolescents.53 Similarly, a UNICEFs handbook concludes:
[Limits on the age of consent] need to be judged against the overall principles of respect of the childs evolving capacities, and for his or her best interests and health and maximum development. Sexual exploitation of children may well continue beyond any set age for consent, and the protection of article 34 [protection against sexual exploitation] exists up to the age of 18.54
In the course of this research, many public officials expressed to Human Rights Watch a seemingly wholesale acceptance of all childrens ability to consent to sex, even with a parent, guardian, or sibling, after the age of twelve. Such a perception is not consistent with the protections contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is, however, partially condoned by Mexican law. Most Mexican state penal codes distinguish between statutory rape (intercourse with a child under the age of consent); incest (entirely voluntary intercourse between a parent and a child over the age of consent or between siblings over the age of consent); rape (intercourse imposed through moral or physical violence or threat of violence); and rape with extenuating circumstances (rape committed by a parent or a parental figure). This means that a parent, under current Mexican law, only is subject to penal sanctions for intercourse with his or her child if the child is under the age of consent or if a prosecutor is able to establish the use of psychological or physical violence.
In addition, husbands could until recently demand intercourse with their wives for purposes of procreation without being charged with rape. In 1994, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation ruled that forced sexual relations within a marriage could not be considered rape, but rather an undue exercise of conjugal rights, because the purpose of marriage was procreation.55 The Supreme Court clarified that imposed intercourse between spouses was rape if it was against nature, defined as not within those [forms] permitted for purposes of procreation. This decision was overturned by the same court in November 2005the Supreme Court now says that forced intercourse in marriage is rape.56 While this development is positive, the implications of the new jurisprudence will likely not be felt in womens lives for some time. Some married women who report sexual violence in the home to the authorities are still told to go home, sort it out with their husbands, or stop provoking rape.57
Even the existing inadequate laws for the prevention and punishment of violence against women are often not properly implemented. NGO representatives, lawyers and even public officials mentioned three main problems in this regard:
In 2005, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Yakin Erturk, conducted a mission to Mexico and confirmed the prevalence of these problems. She added that police and prosecutors often are noticeably reluctant to receive and follow up on complaints related to violence against women.58
Generally, [rape victims] are very scared and very angry because of how they have been treated at the public prosecutors office. They come here as survivors. Not only of the rape but of all of those people [from the authorities]. [Sometimes] they are blamed, even by the [forensic] psychologist: what were they doing outside at that time of night, why were they wearing a mini-skirt, why did they not scream.
Human Rights Watch research indicates that rape victim testimony often is treated as highly suspicious by prosecutors and courts, more so than testimony on other types of crimes. Routinely, women are aggressively questioned on whether the intercourse was really involuntary, whether the victim somehow provoked or deserved the assault, and whether the assault occurred at all. Fair trial standards, of course, require that convincing evidence be presented to prove all elements of a crime, but the distrust of victims rape testimony seems to be taken to an extreme, ultimately impeding fair trials. They treat you according to how they see you, how you dress, if you dress provocatively, said Blanca Valdés, who had decided not to report a rape because the police and public prosecutors all but ignored her when she tried to file a complaint against her husband after he hit her with a hammer. They minimized everything I said, she continued. And them minimizing me is part of [the injustice].60
Marta Chávez, a fourteen-year-old girl in Mexico state who was raped repeatedly over three years by her uncle and cousin, personally experienced mistrust and mistreatment at the public prosecutors office in 2005, leading ultimately to the denial of a legal abortion. Chávez was assisted by representatives of a nongovernmental organization, Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Mexico (ddeser, Red por los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos en México [ddser is not capitalized]). A ddser representative, who was present during Chávez interviews with the public prosecutor, said:
The public prosecutor [who took down the complaint] confronted the girl, saying things like: Lets see, tell me the truth: what did you do, eh? Because listen, you are fourteen years old, and you knew what [sex] was from you were ten. He also said to her: Admit that you are jealous, because your uncle looked at your [eleven-year-old] sister! He was referring to the fact that the uncle had abused the sister [too] and that [Chávez] would be reporting [the rape] out of jealousy.61
In her 1997 report to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, then-Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Radhika Coomaraswamy described this type of dismissive and disparaging attitude toward rape victims by public authorities as a form of discriminatory behavior that greatly influence[s] whether the woman victim will pursue her complaint.62
José Manuel López, president of an NGO that has worked with victims of violence in Jalisco since 1989, told Human Rights Watch that he routinely witnessed the mistreatment of rape victims due to skepticism about their testimony. Some years back, he personally witnessed the mistreatment of an elderly rape victim at the attorney generals office in Guadalajara:
[A]n old, poor woman came in to report a rape, and the public prosecutor [taking her statement] gets up. He says: Old woman, how do you expect me to believe that you were raped? Hey, so-and-so [signaling a male colleague], look at her: would you feel like raping her? And the woman got so upset, she left [and didnt report the crime].63
López continued that he at times felt conflicted about encouraging victims of violence to seek justice considering how they are treated [by the authorities].
Paradoxically, the Mexican legal system which generally criminalizes abortion contributes directly to a particularly pronounced distrust of pregnant rape victim testimony. Lorena Menchaca, state psychological expert witness in Cuautla, Morelos, explained: With the lawyers, the fear is always that the woman was not really abused but that it is the result of a consensual relationship, and then [abortion] is no longer legal.64 Ultimately, the remedy to this perverse dynamic is for Mexican authorities to de-link rape and abortion through laws providing broader access to abortion. Even under the current legal regime, however, it is incumbent on prosecutors and other judicial system personnel to give priority to ensuring that pregnant rape victims are able to exercise their right to a legal and safe abortion. The alternative is forcing victims to bear the often devastating consequences.
A common consequence is that the fear of mistreatment at the attorney generals office discourages many rape victims from filing official complaints. Marta Torres Falcón, a professor at the Colegio de México University in Mexico City who has conducted detailed research on access to justice for rape victims, said that some rape victims overcame their fear when they found out they are pregnant, because they wanted to access the legal abortion services they are entitled to by law. But Torres said these rape victims are doubly suspected of lying: The public prosecutors say that the women are lying. Why didnt she report this before? The prosecutors say to me: Eighty percent of the women lie. We have to be very smart to make sure they dont cheat us!65
María Luisa Becerril, director of an NGO that works directly with victims of violence in Morelos, agreed: No one believes the women, not in the judicial system, not in the health sector. ... [Public prosecutors say:] And what if she is lying? What if it wasnt rape, and she wanted it [the sexual relation]. ... Very few doctors put themselves in the place of the women to understand that a pregnancy that is the result of rape really must be horrible.66
Moreover, the limitations on legal abortion are sometimes converted into a justification for decidedly unwarranted legal investigations and subsequent delay. In a specific case in Guanajuato, for example, the public prosecutors seized upon the fact that the rape victim already had a childand therefore obviously was not a virginto cast doubt on the involuntary nature of the rape. Verónica Cruz, from an NGO that works for access to legal abortion after rape in Guanajuato, personally provided the rape victim with emotional support and assistance. She recalled : The issue of [procuring a legal abortion] became secondary, it was all about making them see that this [the rape] was a crime. ... They said that if she already had one child, it was because she wanted [sex].67 Cruz noted that the distrust of the rape victims testimony in this case effectively made a legal abortion impossible: Three months went by with this [trying to prove she was lying], and then there was nothing to do [because the pregnancy was too advanced for a safe abortion.]68 In this case, the twenty-nine-year-old rape victim was found to have a mental capacity of a ten-year-old girl and incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse, which under Guanajuatos penal code converted the crime committed against her into statutory rape.69 Since no one refuted that sexual intercourse had taken place, the authorization for a legal abortion could have been given directly.
The notion that women or girls who are not virgins could not possibly have been raped finds its most direct expression in the forensic medical reports used in many states. Generally, during the investigation of a rape, public prosecutors ask a forensic doctor affiliated with the attorney generals office to examine the victim and answer of specific questions.70 Salvador Díaz Sánchez, a forensic doctor in Jalisco, explained that existing guidelines do not require forensic doctors to check for signs or symptoms of forced vaginal penetration; they require the doctor to evaluate if and when the victim was devirginized. 71 Other states ask for similar information from forensic doctors, implying a continued focus on rape as an attack on the victims chastity (and her familys honor) and not on her physical integrity.
Other Barriers to Reporting Rape
Human Rights Watch found that specialized prosecutor agencies on sexual violence, where they exist, were inaccessible to many rape victims. Such agencies often were designated or seen as the only place to report sexual violence, thus further impeding justice for rape cases.
Armando Villarreal, attorney general for Yucatán, told Human Rights Watch that the only place to report a sexual crime in Yucatán (a state the size of Switzerland) would be in the one specialized agency in that state in Mérida: There is no other place in the whole state where you can report a crime of this nature.72 The human rights ombudsperson in Yucatán, Sergio Salazar Vadillo, reflected on this lack of accessibility:
More than 50 percent of [Yucatáns] population lives outside Mérida. When a person goes to report a sexual crime in rural areas, they say: Go to Mérida. Already, it is difficult enough to get people to report [sexual violence] in the first place. And to get them to go to Mérida; forget about it!73
Salazar told Human Rights Watch that the mother of an adolescent rape victim had filed a complaint with his office in 2000 after prosecutors at the local attorney generals office in Maxcanú, 80 kilometers from Mérida, had insulted her and refused to record her complaint. The states human rights ombudspersons office issued a recommendation on this case in 2002, stating inter alia that the attorney generals office should file administrative charges against the public prosecutors who had refused to take the complaint and who had channeled the underage rape victim and her mother to Mérida.74 This recommendation was rejected by the attorney generals office, which, according to Salazar, issued a letter to the human rights ombudsperson suggesting that things were fine as they were.75
Some women told Human Rights Watch that they had had to file the same complaint twice because the public prosecutors in the attorney generals office closest to their home had not acted upon the initial complaints. My mother first went to [the specialized agency in town in Guanajuato], said Socorro Salazar, sister of a mute rape victim. And they didnt pay any attention to her. They said they needed more proof [but didnt investigate]. ... And they said: No, maam, we cant do anything for you. ... Thats when, because we have family in [a larger city in Guanajuato], my aunt said that she was going to find out what to do there. ... And [the public prosecutors in the second agency] called [the first agency] and found out that they hadnt even opened a file [on the case].76 Salazars mother, Teresa Pérez, then resorted to filing the case in the second city, and had to pay considerably more on transportation so that she and her daughter could attend legal depositions and be present for required forensic tests. Salazar lamented: He [the rapist] says: Lets see when she [my mother] gets tired [of traveling to the public prosecutors office]. Because we dont have any money and he does.77
Undue Emphasis on Reconciliation and Mediation
Social workers, lawyers, and NGO representatives told Human Rights Watch that public prosecutors often tell victims of domestic and sexual violence to reconcile with the aggressor, in particular if he is a family member. In some states, public prosecutors act as mediators between victims and assumed perpetrators.
Rocio Corral Espinosa, director of an NGO in Mexico City that works with victims of violence, saw the emphasis on reconciliation and mediation as intimately related to impunity: There is no national law against violence in the family . There is no guarantee that women have any access to justice. Some judges send them directly to family therapy, and there are public prosecutors who tell the women to go home.78 José Manuel López, an NGO representative from Jalisco, echoed this: If a woman goes to report [violence] at the public prosecutors office, they ask: And what if you are going to end up alone? Much better to forgive him.79 Ana María López, from the Federal District governments Womens Institute in Mexico City, agreed: There are still a lot of people in the judicial system who are not very sensitive. If we send [victims of violence] alone to the prosecutor, the prosecutor will say: Why dont you go back to your husband? It would be better if you just went home.80
However, when victims report violence, they have often suffered years of abuse. The state policy is to tell the man to change his behavior, and tell the women to go home [to the abusive man], said Juliana Quintanilla, coordinator for the Independent Commission for Human Rights in Morelos, an NGO. But we know that when she [finally] reports the violence, it is because she has come to the end.81 Fernando Toranzo Fernández, head of public health services in San Luis Potosí, agreed: The victims come [to us] when they are at the point of not being able to tolerate any more. And if you do a study of each case, you will find years of abuse and violence in each one.82
Undue emphasis on reconciliation and mediation is problematic for a number of reasons. Victims of domestic and sexual violence are unlikely to file a report unless the aggressor is a repeat abuser or the rape or violence was committed by a stranger. Further, an emphasis on reconciliation contributes to the pervasive notion that low levels of violence or sexual abuse in marriage are unavoidable and therefore not criminal. Insistence that the female victim negotiate with the aggressor can also lead to further abuse, and assumes that the victim and the perpetrator of the crime are equally empowered to negotiate their relationship. In fact, while voluntary mediation certainly should be offered by the state, undue emphasis on mediation can perpetuate an existing power imbalance, especially if not accompanied by policy measures that offer real alternatives to staying in an abusive relationship. Such measures might include the availability of long-term shelters, and economic support for single parents.
Ulises Sandal Ramos Koprivitza, human rights director for the attorney generals office in the Federal District, acknowledged the dynamics of the situation, yet did not see this as contradicting an institutional policy to promote conciliation over justice. Ramos said that the Federal District since 2004 had employed a policy that encourages all non-serious crimes (of which domestic violence is considered one) to pass through mediation. Criminal punishment should be the last option. This is in order to open the door for other types of alternatives of conflict resolution, he said. Later in the interview, however, he noted that the victim [of domestic and sexual violence] comes to us when the aggressor has abused them once too often or is continually abusing them.83
Some of the people Human Rights Watch interviewed said that court fees and corruption are also barriers to women and girls seeking redress. An official at a family services agency in Morelos told Human Rights Watch:
We have sent victims of violence, women, children, to the prosecutors office, and they send them right back to us. [They say that it is] because they dont have the time [to take the report]. [Or] because [the victims] arent black and blue. Its all a lie: its because there is no money. If there is no money, the police department doesnt move, and the public prosecutor doesnt release the file.84
Most women we interviewed for this report connected the impunity they faced with their poverty and thus inability to pay court fees, much less bribes: I hadnt reported the case, because I didnt have any money, said Andrea Sánchez, mother of an adolescent mute rape victim in Guanajuato.85 José Ayala, father of an adolescent rape victim in Morelos, told Human Rights Watch that the cost of justice had become too great for his family:
If you can make justice, thats your thing, if not, well, thats how it is. I would need to give a person at the court 200 pesos [U.S.$20] [to continue with the case] and I dont have that. They raped my daughter and they abused her, and it is really difficult, but I dont have any money.86
Victims of domestic and sexual violence also risk another more tangible cost of attempting to obtain justice for violent crimes: an escalation of the violence. A lot of the women, we cant convince them to report [the violence], said Ester Chávez Cano, an NGO representative with more than a decade of experience working with victims of violence. Because they say its going to get worse. They even say [the perpetrator] might kill them.87 Fernando Toranzo Fernández, head of public health services in San Luis Potosí agreed: In many cases, the rapist threatens the victim with death threats, and so they dont report the crime.88 This fear was redoubled where the perpetrator was a family-member or a person of authority with regard to the victim. We have pregnant girls here who were impregnated by members of their own family: the stepfather, the uncle, lamented Iliana Romo Huerta, head of the program for adolescent mothers at a public hospital in Jalisco. And they dont report the abuse out of fear of retribution.89
Most state authorities did not demonstrate an active interest in the implementation of witness protection programs or other public programs that might protect girls and women from violent retaliation after reporting domestic or sexual violence, let alone show any signs of grappling with the specific difficulties of creating effective programs in the domestic violence context. Bárbara Yllán Rondero, head of the Deputy Attorney Generals Office on services for victims in the Federal District, told Human Rights Watch that this could be related to a wish to keep statistics on crime low: The truth is that the authorities do not want [rape victims] to report, because [figures on reporting] is how you measure insecurity. ... It has to do with the politicization of justice and security.90
 This calculation is based on a government estimate that some 120-130,000 rapes occur annually in Mexico. The real number is likely much larger.
 For more information on the situation in Ciudad Juárez see, for example, Amnesty International, Mexico: Ending the brutal cycle of violence against women in Ciudad Juárez and the city of Chihuahua, AI Index: AMR 41/011/2004, March 8, 2004 [online] http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engamr410112004 (retrieved January 6, 2005).
 For example, in 2003 the national government established a commission under the interior ministry to prevent and eradicate gender-based violence in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. This commission is not mandated to investigate or report on violence against women in any other state, or indeed on patterns of violence against women occurring in the country as a whole. It should be noted that several independent reports have found the policy response to the violence against women in Ciudad Juárez inadequate. See Amnesty International, Mexico: Ending the brutal cycle of violence against women in Ciudad Juárez and the city of Chihuahua, AI Index: AMR 41/011/2004; Special Rapporteur on womens rights of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, The Situation of the Rights of Women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico: the Right to be Free from Violence and Discrimination, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.117, Doc. 44, March 7, 2003; United Nations, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Ends Visit to Mexico, Press Release, March 2, 2005; and CEDAW Committee, Report on Mexico produced by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, and reply from the Government of Mexico, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/2005/OP.8/MEXICO, January 27, 2005.
 INEGI, Encuesta nacional sobre la dinámica de las relaciones en los hogares 2003: Estados Unidos Mexicanos [National Survey on Relationship Dynamics in the Homes 2003: United States of Mexico] (Aguascalientes, Ags.: Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática (INEGI), 2004).
 INSP, Encuesta nacional sobre violencia contra las mujeres 2003 [National Survey on Violence against Women 2003] (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública, 2003), p. 67.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Aurora del Rio Zolezzi, deputy director, gender equity unit, National Health Ministry, October 11, 2005.
 A 2003 government household survey concluded that 7.8 percent of Mexican women over fifteen had suffered sexual violence in twelve months prior to the study (4 million women and girls). INEGI, Encuesta nacional sobre la dinámica de las relaciones en los hogares 2003: Estados Unidos Mexicanos (Aguascalientes, Ags.: Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática (INEGI), 2004). Another government survey, published in 2004, concluded that this figure was 7 percent. INEGI, Encuesta nacional sobre la dinámica de las relaciones en los hogares 2003: Estados Unidos Mexicanos [National Survey on Relationship Dynamics in the Homes 2003: United States of Mexico] (Aguascalientes, Ags.: Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática (INEGI), 2004). In household surveys from around the world, the ratio of rape to sexual or physical assault is generally three to four times as many assaults (sexual and other) as rapes, with rapes often representing an even higher proportion of physical or sexual assaults. See, for example, Demographic and Health Surveys, República Dominicana: Encuesta Demográfica y de Salud 2002 [Dominican Republic: Demographic and Health Survey 2002] (Calverton, Maryland: Measure DHS+, 2003) [rapes constitute 23.2 percent of all assaults]; Demographic and Health Surveys, Salud Sexual y Reproductiva en Colombia 2005 [Sexual and Reproductive Health in Colombia 2005] (Calverton, Maryland: Measure DHS+, 2005) [rapes constitute 71.9 percent of assaults, probably anomaly due to internal conflict]; and Demographic and Health Surveys, Kenya: Demographic and Health Survey 2003 (Calverton, Maryland: Measure DHS+, 2003) [rapes constitute 33.1 percent of all assaults]. Further, a 2002 survey from Mexico published by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that 300,000 women reported having been a victim of either attempted or completed coerced sex during their lifetime in the state of Durango alone (42 percent of the female population in that state). World Health Organization, World Report on Violence and Health, (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2002), p. 152. The public official who shared this government estimate of 120-130,000 rapes/year with Human Rights Watch readily conceded that the figure might be significantly inaccurate. Human Rights Watch interview with Aurora del Rio Zolezzi, deputy director, Gender Equity Unit, National Health Ministry, October 11, 2005.
 The Federal District (Mexico City) has a special status under Mexican law and is not considered a state. However, for the purposes of policy and lawmaking its processes and powers are comparable to those of the thirty-one states. In the following, unless otherwise indicated, where we refer to states, state laws, or state penal codes, we will be referring to the thirty-one states and the Federal District. The federal nature of Mexico is established in article 40 of the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico, which reads: Es voluntad del pueblo mexicano constituirse en una República representativa, democrática, federal, compuesta de estados libres y soberanos en todo lo que concerniente a su régimen interior; pero unidos en una federación establecida según los principios de esta ley fundamental. [It is the will of the Mexican people to organize themselves as a representative, democratic, and federal Republic, composed of free and sovereign states in everything that has to do with their internal regime; but united in a federation that is established according to the principles set out in this fundamental law [i.e. the Constitution].]
 Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico, article 133: Esta Constitución Política, las leyes del Congreso de la Unión que emanen de ella y todos los tratados que estén de acuerdo con la misma celebrados y que se celebren por el Presidente de la República, con aprobación del Senado, serán la Ley Suprema de toda la Unión. Los jueces de cada estado se arreglarán a dicha constitución, leyes, y tratados, a pesar de las disposiciones en contrario que pueda haber en las constituciones o leyes de los estados. [This political constitution, the federal laws from the National Congress that emanate from [the Constitution], as well as those treaties that are consistent with the [Constitution] and that have been entered into by the President of the Republic or that will be entered into by him or her, and ratified by the Senate, shall be the Supreme Law of the Union. The judges in each state will work according to this constitution, these laws and treaties, despite any contradictory provisions that may exist in state laws and constitution.]
 Domestic violence is sanctioned under articles 33 bis, ter, and quáter, in the Federal Penal Code.
 Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico, article 1. Amended through official decree on August 14, 2001. Since 1974, the Constitution has also included the right to equal protection under the law for men and women, as well as the right to decide on the number and spacing of children. Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico, article 4.
 Ley del Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres [Law on the National Womens Institute], January 12, 2001, article 4.
 Programa nacional para la igualdad de oportunidades y no discriminación contra las mujeres (Proequidad) [National Program for Equality of Opportunities and Nondiscrimination against Women], specific objective 7. Available [online] at http://cedoc.inmujeres.gob.mx/documentos_download/100160.pdf (retrieved on January 9, 2006).
 Acuerdo Nacional por la Equidad entre Hombres y Mujeres, [online] http://cedoc.inmujeres.gob.mx/documentos_download/100209.pdf (retrieved on January 9, 2005).
 INMUJERES, Programa nacional por una vida sin violencia [National Program for a Life Without Violence], (Mexico City: INMUJERES, 2002) [online] http://www.inmujeres.gob.mx/principalesp/Vida_sin_Violencia.pdf (retrieved January 21, 2006).
 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará), adopted on June 9, 1994, and entered into force on March 5, 1995. The Convention of Belém do Pará was ratified by Mexico on November 12, 1998. Article 7(c) reads: The States Parties condemn all forms of violence against women and agree to pursue, by all appropriate means and without delay, policies to prevent, punish, and eradicate such violence, and undertake to: ..(c) include in their domestic legislation penal, civil, administrative and any other type of provisions that may be needed to prevent, punish, and eradicate violence against women and to adopt appropriate administrative measures where necessary.
 Aguascalientes, Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, Hidalgo, Nayarit, Nuevo León, and Yucatán. Chihuahua, Hidalgo, and Nuevo León all have bills pending in the local congresses that would create specific legislation on domestic violence.
 Baja California Sur, Campeche, Colima, Hidalgo, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, and Tlaxcala. Lesions and assault are criminalized under all state penal codes and these provisions also apply to violence in the family. However, due to the entrenched acceptance of violence against women in Mexican societyas expressed by all intervieweesspecific legislation is needed to prevent and eradicate this form of violence. Moreover, violence in the family requires a comprehensive policy response, including social services, health services, and access to justice.
 Baja California, Coahuila, Durango, Guerrero (violence must be repeated and intentional), Jalisco, Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo León (violence must be reiterated and grave), Puebla, Sinaloa, Sonora (violence must be repeated and intentional), Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Yucatán, and Zacatecas. Additionally, in Tabasco, while domestic violence does not have to be repeated to be criminal, it does have to make conjugal life impossible.
 Aguascalientes, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Federal District, Durango, Michoacán, Quintana Roo (Quintana Roo is the only state that does not mention domestic violence in its penal code, but does consider it an infraction of its civil code), Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz.
 Aguascalientes, Durango, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with Armando Villarreal, Attorney General, Attorney Generals Office of Yucatán, Mérida, Yucatán, December 12, 2005; and with María de los Angeles Rosales Grahanda, Titular de la Agencia Especializada en la Investigación de Delitos contra el Orden Familiar [Head of the Specialized Agency for the Investigation of Crimes against the Family Order], Attorney Generals Office of Eastern Morelos, Cuautla, Morelos, December 15, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with Marta Gómez Silva, psychologist, Ambar, Mexico City, August 18, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Leslie Alonzo Pérez, judicial advisor, Agency for the Defense of Children, Desarrollo Integral de la Familia [Integrated Family Services agency, DIF], Cuautla, Morelos, December 16, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Ana Díaz, Yucatán, December 2005.
 Norma Oficial Mexicana NOM-190-SSA1-1999, Prestación de servicios de salud. Criterios para la atención médica de la violencia familiar. [Offical Mexican Norm NOM-190-SSA1-1999, Provision of health services. Criteria for medical assistance for domestic violence], October 20, 1999. Para. 2 establishes the obligatory nature of the norm.
 Ibid. Para. 6.5.: 6. Los prestadores de servicios de atención médica deberán observar los criterios que a continuación se indican: Para la detección y diagnóstico: 6.5. Debe determinar si los signos y síntomas que se presentanincluido el embarazoson consecuencia de posibles actos derivados de violencia familiar . [6. Health personnel should comply with the following criteria: For the purposes of detection and diagnosis: 6.5. [He or she] must determine if the indicators and symptoms present [in the patient]including pregnancyare the result of possible acts of domestic violence .]
 Ibid. Paras. 6.11 and 6.15-6.18.
 Ibid. Para. 7.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Aurora del Rio Zolezzi, deputy director, Gender Equity Unit, National Health Ministry, October 11, 2005.
 INSP, Encuesta nacional sobre violencia contra las mujeres 2003 [National Survey on Violence against Women 2003] (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública, 2003), p. 18 (translation by Human Rights Watch).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Aurora del Rio Zolezzi, deputy director, Gender Equity Unit, National Health Ministry, October 11, 2005. See also Secretaría de Salud, Modelo integrado para la prevención y atención de la violencia familiar y sexual [Integrated Model for the Prevention of and Attention to Domestic and Sexual Violence] (Mexico City: Centro Nacional de Equidad de Género y Salud Reproductiva, 2004).
 Children are considered capable of consenting to a sexual relationship once they are above the legal age of consent, even with a parent or a parental figure. Forced sexual relationships between family members is, by law, classified as rape. The age of consent varies from state to state, though a child is most commonly considered capable of consenting to sex when they are twelve years old or older. For a more detailed discussion of the age of consent in Mexico, see below footnotes 46 to 50 and accompanying text.
 Aguascalientes, Baja California, Baja California Sur, Coahuila, Colima, Jalisco, Mexico, Nayarit, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Veracruz.
 Baja California Sur, Campeche, Chiapas, Coahuila, Durango, Guerrero, Jalisco, Mexico, Nayarit, Quintana Roo, and Sonora. Additionally, in Baja California Norte, estupro is subject to a higher fine if the perpetrator does not marry the underage victim.
 Moral violence is generally understood to mean psychological violence or any form of non-physical violence.
 The definition of estupro generally stipulates that the victim must be within a specific age-bracket. This age-bracket varies from state to state. Generally the victim must be between twelve and eighteen (sometimes sixteen) years old. In some states, such as Colima and Guanajuato and there is no lower age limit.
 In this definition, both parties to the sexual relationship have violated the family unit. Only underage victims under the age of consent, which differs from state to state, would escape penal responsibility for the crime of incest.
 Interviews with Ximena Espinosa, Claudio López, and Nadine Espinosa (Ximena Espinosas sister), Guanajuato, December 2005.
 The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 44/25 of November 20 1989, and entered into force on September 2, 1990. It was ratified by Mexico on September 21, 1990.
 Rachel Hodgkin and Peter Newell, Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, (New York: UNICEF, 2002), p. 513.
 Nayarit and Querétaro.
 As based on the definition of statutory rape or the age under which the victim is assumed to be below puberty. Aguascalientes, Baja California Sur, Campeche, Coahuila, Chiapas, Federal District, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Michoacán, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luís Potosí, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tabasco, Tampaulinas, Yucatán, and Zacatecas.
 Nuevo León.
 Baja California Norte, Colima, Chihuahua, Durango, Quintana Roo, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz.
 Mexico state.
 See, for example, Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Sweden, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/15/Add.2, January 28, 1993, para. 8.
 See, for example, Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Philippines, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/15/Add.29, February 15, 1995, para. 18.
 See, for example, Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Sweden, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/15/Add.101, May 10, 1999, para. 22.
 Rachel Hodgkin and Peter Newell, Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, (New York: UNICEF, 2002), p. 513.
 Supreme Court of the Nation, 10/94, reprinted in El Universal on November 4, 2005 [online] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/vi_131641.html (retrieved January 12, 2006).
 Carlos Avillés, La violencia sexual en el matrimonio será delito [Sexual violence in marriage is now a crime], El Universal [Mexico], November 4, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with Andrea Sánchez, Guanajuato, December 2005; Ximena Espinosa, Guanajuato, December 2005; and with Ana Díaz, Yucatán, December 2005.
 United Nations, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Ends Visit to Mexico, Press Release, March 2, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Rosalena Cabañas, nurse, General Hospital Sí Mujer, Cuautla, Morelos, December 16, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Blanca Valdés, México City, October 2005.
 The public prosecutor denied Chávez a legal abortion, because, he argued, if Chávez had the abortion, her father would lose custody over her and her sister. There is nothing to sustain this claim in the law. E-mail message from Lydia Miranda, assistant to the director, Equidad de Género: Ciudadanía, Trabajo y Familia [Gender Equity: Citizenship, Work, and Family] to Human Rights Watch, November 10, 2005 [including information on seven cases of women and girls seeking legal abortions in Mexico City, Mexico state, and Morelos. All seven rape victims were personally accompanied by representatives for ddeser].
 Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1997/47, February 12.1997, paras. 24-25.
 Human Rights Watch interview with José Manuel López, president, Centro de Orientación y Prevención de la Agresión Sexual [Center for Education against and Prevention of Sexual Aggression, CIPAS], Guadalajara, Jalisco, December 5, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Lorena Menchaca, forensic psychologist, Cuautla, Morelos, December 16, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with Marta Torres Falcón, professor, Colegio de México, Mexico City, September 29, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with María Luisa Becerril, director, Comunicación, Intercambio, y Desarrollo Humano en América Latina [Humane Communication, Exchange, and Development in Latin America, CIDHAL], Cuernavaca, Morelos, August 26, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Verónica Cruz, director, Centro Las Libres [Free Women Center], Guanajuato, October 2, 2005.
 Ibid. The rape victim mentioned ended up having to carry the pregnancy to term, and gave the child up for adoption. Human Rights Watch interview with Martha Macias [the rape victims mother], Guanajuato, October 2005. The public authorities in Guanajuato maintain that the rape victim, in this particular case, voluntarily opted for an adoption. Human Rights Watch interview with Miguel Valadez Reyes, former attorney general, now advisor to the Governor, Governors office of Guanajuato, Guanajuato, Guanajuato, October 6, 2005. The legal file for this case, on file with Human Rights Watch, indicates that the rape victim petitioned for a legal abortion.
 Penal code for Guanajuato, article 181.
 The attorney generals office in most states is affiliated with a number of forensic doctors who routinely are asked to provide expert testimony on criminal cases.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Salvador Díaz Sánchez, forensic doctor, Area Médico Forense del Instituto Jalisciense de Ciencias Forenses [Medical Forensic Area of the Jalisco Institute of Forensic Science], Guadalajara, Jalisco, December 5, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Armando Villarreal, attorney general of Yucatán, December 12, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Sergio Salazar Vadillo, presidente, Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Estado de Yucatán, December 13, 2005.
 Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Estado de Yucatán, Recommendation 14/2002, Case 1311/II/2000, December 13, 2002, First Recommendation.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Sergio Salazar Vadillo, presidente, Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Estado de Yucatán, Mérida, Yucatán, December 13, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Socorro Salazar, state of Guanajuato, December 2005.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with Rocio Corral Espinosa, director, Centro de Apoyo a la Mujer Margarita Magón [Center for Assistance to Women Margarita Magón], August 18, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with José Manuel López, president, CIPAS, Guadalajara, Jalisco, August 19, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Ana María López, coordinator, Área de Asesoría Jurídica y Orientación Integral [Area for Judicial Support and Holistic Orientation], Instituto de la Mujer del Distrito Federal [Womens Institute for the Federal District], October 11, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with Juliana Quintanilla, coordinator, Comisión Independiente de Derechos Humanos de Morelos, Cuernavaca, Morelos, August 23, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with Fernando Toranzo Fernández, general director, Public Health Services, Healthy Ministry for San Luis Potosí, San Luis Potosí, December 1, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Ulisis Sandal Ramos Koprivitza, director for human rights, Attorney Generals office for the Federal District, Mexico City, October 10, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Leslie Alonzo Pérez, judicial advisor, Agency for the Defense of Children, Dirección Integral de la Familia [Integrated Family Services agency, DIF], Cuautla, Morelos, December 16, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Andrea Sánchez, Guanajuato, December 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with José Ayala, Morelos, December 2005.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with Ester Chávez Cano, director, Casa Amiga Centro de Crisis [House of Friends Crisis Center], Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, August 19, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with Fernando Toranzo Fernández, general director, public health services, Healthy Ministry for San Luis Potosí, San Luis Potosí, December 1, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Iliana Romo Huerta, head, Center for Assistance to Pregnancy in Adolescence, Guadalajara Civil Hospital, Guadalajara, Jalisco, December 7, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Bárbara Yllán Rondero, head, Subprocuraduría de Atención a Víctimas de Delito y Servicios a la Comunidad [Deputy Attorney Generals Office on Assistance to Victims of Crimes and Services to the Community], Mexico City, October 11, 2005.