Juárez Center Seeks To Reduce Violence Against Women
Women who were victims of violence in the Mexican border city of Juárez used to have few options when seeking help. That's slowly changing, thanks to years of pressure from local and international organizations.
Mondays are the busiest day at the Justice Center for Women in Juárez. This government-funded facility opened three years ago and attends exclusively to women who've suffered some form of crime.
Dr. Laura Ramos stood in the middle of a waiting room with floor-to-ceiling windows and addressed an audience of 30 women and a handful of restless children.
She gives a talk about what to do in case of a sexual assault. Women who've been raped can come to the center for a examination and medicine to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. By early afternoon, Ramos had already seen two patients, including a 10-year-old girl who had been sexually abused for the past year and a half.
Down the hall, a woman dabbed her tears with toilet paper. She told a lawyer how her husband knocked out her front teeth and drove her away from home. Now he won't let her see their two young children. After years of being beaten, she wants to press charges against him and seek sole custody of the kids. Family law attorney Yolanda Saucedo said they see cases like this daily.
"I am one of five attorneys who work here," she said. "We each juggle more than 60 cases each."
The Justice Center for Women brings together multiple government services in one building. There are social workers, psychologists and a state police unit that specializes in crimes against women.
The center even provides a day care for kids, all for free. Assistant director Gladys Ramos said the idea is to make finding help easier.
"Our goal is to avoid victimizing these women twice," Ramos said.
Authorities in Juárez have a long-standing reputation for minimizing violence against women. Two decades ago this city of more than a million people had no women's shelters. Now it has three.
In 2009, an international human rights court condemned Mexico for grossly mismanaging the murder cases of three Juárez women. Opening the Justice Center three years ago is one way Mexico is trying to make amends.
"Unfortunately, we can't cry victory just yet," said Norma Ledesma, a women's rights activist who works in Juárez.
Ledesma is a former factory worker now in her final semester of law school. She's working alongside police at the center to investigate a series of women's disappearances.
"It's a constant struggle," she said. "The only cases that progress are the ones we push police to investigate."
Ledesma helped prosecute a case this year that ended in the conviction of five men for sex trafficking and murder. The Justice Center for Women claims to have solved 70 murder cases in the past three years. More than 200 others are still under investigation.
At the center, a dozen kids pieced puzzles together while a Disney movie played on flatscreen behind them. Some are the children of factory workers who travel an hour or more by bus to get here. Their mothers make $10 a day assembling parts for multinational companies like Foxconn, Electrolux and Boeing.
Psychologist Blanca Lozoya is glad she can help these women, but said it's only half the work.
"Right now men who are charged with domestic violence aren't required to get counseling," she said. "If we are going to make this city safer we also need to create more spaces for men."