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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
. And there are scores more time tested protocols in the
public domain on all the relevant subjects.
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
Without Borders, Forensics Without Borders, Advocates
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.
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.
Poster/ Graphics/Ad Campaign Library
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.
Material Needs, Like Cell Phones for Victims, Victim's
Families, and Advocates
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?
are just some beginning ideas.
What are yours?