Mexico’s drug war – what about Tailyn Wang? Sexual violence as a weapon in the deadly drug war

In 2014, Tailyn Wang was expecting her first child when she was arrested in Mexico City on charges of organising kidnappings. Before she was put on a plane to a federal prison she was raped and beaten to the point that she suffered a miscarriage. As of June 2016 she is still in prison, waiting for a trial that is likely not going to happen. And she is not alone.

The use of sexual violence as a weapon is not original to Mexico. It seems to be endemic in most conflict zones, and though it feels like something that insurgents and rebels are most likely of using as a weapon, it is just as common for the military, police and federal officials to be the perpetrators of such violence. In Mexico, according to a report from Amnesty International, it is the government armies and officials that are the ones that most often use these measures. The women are seen as the weakest link in the drug cartels gangs, which is why they are arrested, and the torture they often endure during the arresting process is usually to elicit a confession[1]. But there is more to it than just wanting a confession.

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Image from Amnesty International Report Surviving Death

Following the 2006 militarisation of the war on drugs in Mexico, women have been more at risk of sexual violence than ever, and a sense of impunity for police and soldiers lingers in Mexico to this day. The cartels are not above using sexual violence to get their ways, but women with low incomes are more likely to be coerced into working for the cartels. By picking up and sexually torturing seemingly random women, the military is sending a message to all women in Mexico that they could very well be next and that they are all at risk if they even think to get involved with the cartels. This leaves the women in between a rock and a hard place.

As a result of the militarisation and the use of sexual violence by both sides, women have become part of the territorial dispute between the government and the cartels. They are the spoils of war, and the patriarchy in Mexico is still strong enough that the abuse and exploitation of women is a way to show your power. Up until recently, there has been no attempt to prosecute the rapes because the women suffering are labelled as “less” and “rapable”[2]. It does not help that those who dare to lodge complaints are shamed and told to stop complaining.

In Mexico, women live on a dangerous social intersection between class, race, gender and nationality that make them easy targets for the organised crime factions of society. Those that are invisible to the government are also the ones that the cartels choose to abuse[3]. Yet, these women are not as invisible to the government as they may wish they were. Instead they risk sexual violence from those that are meant to protect them, and one can almost consider it better to be abused by the cartels – at least then they will not be spending the foreseeable future in prison after they have been abused.

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Image from Amnesty International Report Surviving Death

Amnesty reports that prosecutions are starting to happen; an initiative to clean up the government and police to hinder sexual assaults to happen during the process of arresting and indicting women. As well as these prosecutions there is work being done to hinder the patriarchy from allowing these crimes to happen, like the case of the judge being suspended after he dismissed charges of sexual assault on a minor on the grounds that the man had not been satisfied with the ‘sexual encounter’. Still, the impunity in Mexico means that there is no political cost for someone that does not deal with the endemic of sexual violence, and short of stopping the cartels completely there are no way to keep promises of eradicating the widespread victimisation of women.

So what about Tailyn Wang? She reported her torture the instant it happened, and was even examined by a doctor. This doctor dismissed her claims, despite her bleeding, and she is still waiting to be examined properly to prove that she was tortured – and more importantly, what damage was done to her body. And she is not alone – 73% of women arrested in Mexico say they were raped. Yet, nothing is being done to alleviate their pain[4]. Sex is a weapon, and the Mexican officials know how to use it just as well as the drug cartels.

Bibliography

Albaladejo, A., 2015. How Mexico’s Drug War Fuels Violence Against Women. [Webpage]
Available at: http://securityassistance.org/blog/how-mexicos-drug-war-fuels-violence-against-women
[Accessed 18 March 2017].

Amnesty International, 2016. Surviving Death: Police and Military Torture of Women in Mexico, London: Amnesty International Ltd.

Amnesty International, 2017. Annual Report: Mexico 2016/2017. [Webpage]
Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/mexico/report-mexico/
[Accessed 19 March 2017].

Forrester, H., 2015. Marginal Value: How Economic “Flexibility” Feeds Drug War Violence Against Mexico’s Women. [Webpage]
Available at: http://www.talkingdrugs.org/marginal-value-how-economic-flexibilty-feeds-drug-violence-against-mexicos-women
[Accessed 19 March 2017].

Our Foreign Staff, 2017. Mexico Suspends Judge who Dismissed Sexual Assault Charges Against Schoolgirl. [Webpage]
Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/30/mexico-suspends-judge-dismissed-sexual-assault-charges-against/
[Accessed 2 April 2017].

Rama, A. & Diaz, L., 2014. Violence against Women ‘Pandemic’ in Mexico. [Webpage]
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-violence-women-idUSBREA2608F20140307
[Accessed 18 March 2017].

Salinas, E., 2015. The Mexican Drug War’s Collateral Damages on Women. Encuentro Latinoamericano, November, 2(2), pp. 30-52.

Westcott, L., 2016. Mexican Authorities use Sexual Violence Against Women for Forced Confessions: Amnesty. [Webpage]
Available at: http://www.newsweek.com/mexico-sexual-violence-police-military-amnesty-475174
[Accessed 19 March 2017].

[1] Amnesty International, 2016. Surviving Death: Police and Military Torture of Women in Mexico, London: Amnesty International Ltd.

[2] Salinas, E., 2015. The Mexican Drug War’s Collateral Damages on Women. Encuentro Latinoamericano, November, 2(2), pp. 30-52.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Amnesty International, 2016. Surviving Death: Police and Military Torture of Women in Mexico, London: Amnesty International Ltd.

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About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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