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In Mexican villages, rape can be called a courting ritual

by Legislación Federal de México Thursday, Jan. 19, 2006 at 6:49 PM

Rape is prosecuted at the state level, and state laws vary. A review of criminal laws in all 31 states showed that many required that if, for example, a 12-year-old girl accused an adult of statutory rape, she had first to prove she was "chaste and pure." Nineteen of the states required that statutory rape charges be dropped if the rapist agreed to marry his victim

In Mexican villages, rape can be called a courting ritual

by Legislación Federal de México Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2006 at 8:05 AM



Rape is prosecuted at the state level, and state laws vary. A review of criminal laws in all 31 states showed that many required that if, for example, a 12-year-old girl accused an adult of statutory rape, she had first to prove she was "chaste and pure." Nineteen of the states required that statutory rape charges be dropped if the rapist agreed to marry his victim.

We have always found it difficult to pinpoint Mexico's laws regarding sex. We recently found this article which explains some of the difficulties with rape/statutory rape issues:

In Mexican villages, rape can be called a courting ritual

Mary Jordan Tuesday, July 2, 2002

REYESHOGPAN, Mexico These gorgeous mountain slopes, blooming with black pepper plants and golden cornstalks, camouflage the sorrow of the two silent sisters. Antonia and Isabel Francisco Melendez, who were born deaf, are nine months pregnant, and, according to the doctors treating them, were raped.

The sisters cannot speak. They cried and literally folded up when asked how they became pregnant. Their babies are due at the same time, within a week or so. Do they know the man? Did it happen in the fields on their way home from school? Isabel seemed once to try to reply, to her grandmother, by pointing to a spot high on a mountainside. But tears streamed down her face, and she turned away again.

Antonia is 13 years old, Isabel 16. Perhaps if they were older, the pregnancies would have been easier to keep secret.

This is a little town 136 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of Puebla city. Fewer than 500 people live here. The church bells toll every afternoon at 5 to call everyone to say the rosary. The girls' condition is hard to hide. Their tiny frames swell more each day. "This is a crime, and there should be an investigation," said Juana Maria Diego Victor, a community leader. "Someone should protect these girls."

Mexico is struggling to modernize its justice system, but when it comes to punishing sexual violence against women, surprisingly little has changed in a century. In many parts of the country, the sentence for stealing a cow is harsher than for rape. Although the law calls for tough penalties for rape - up to 20 years in prison - only rarely is there an investigation into even the most barbaric of sexual violence. Women's groups estimate that perhaps 1 percent of rapes are ever punished. Although the two girls' medical charts say their pregnancies were the product of rape, no police authority has looked into the case.

In recent decades, Mexico has made strides in improving women's rights and opportunities. Women still have much lower literacy rates than men, but that is slowly changing as young girls are staying in school longer. During the 1990s, laws that limited women's rights were abolished, such as those that said a married woman needed her husband's permission to hold a job outside the home.

But in the country that made the term machismo famous, where women were given the right to vote only in 1953, women's rights advocates say rape and other acts of violence against women are still not treated as serious crimes. And they say the police, prosecutors and judges often show indifference or hostility toward women who report rape. The case of Yessica Yadira Diaz Cazares is an example.

Diaz testified that three police officers raped her in 1997, when she was 16, as she was on her way home from school in the northern city of Durango. She then did a rare thing. She tried to punish her attackers. When she went to the police station with her mother, she was jeered at and jailed overnight. The police required her, as is mandatory in Mexico, to have a vaginal exam by a government doctor. They made her submit to eight separate blood tests, telling her, falsely, that the tests would determine whether she had been raped. But no one ever told her what the laboratory results were.

When the teenager did not back off, even after her family received death threats, a prosecutor told her that to identify the officers who attacked her, she had to lay her hand on them. It was not good enough to point out her attackers. She needed to touch them, she was instructed. When she reached out and touched an officer, he taunted her and told her she was crazy. Finally she gave up. She told her sister she was tired of seeking justice. Three months later, the young girl killed herself with an overdose of prescription drugs. After her burial, the national human rights commission took up her case and helped to convict two officers of rape.

"They make the few women who dare to report rape give up," said Yessica's mother, Maria Eugenia Cazares. After her daughter's suicide, she moved her family to Canada. "In 90 percent of the cases of rape, the Mexican police blame the women," she said. "In the few cases where they know the man is guilty, they let him 'fix' it with money." She said she believed that a machismo culture, instilled in the home, school and church, allowed many men to "believe they are superior and dominant, and that women are an object." She said that mentality had contributed to making many men - including policemen, prosecutors, judges and others in positions of authority - believe that sexual violence against women was not important.

"The thinking is, 'She's a woman, so she deserved it,' or 'He's a man, so what do you expect?'" said Cazares.

Rape is prosecuted at the state level, and state laws vary. A review of criminal laws in all 31 states showed that many required that if, for example, a 12-year-old girl accused an adult of statutory rape, she had first to prove she was "chaste and pure." Nineteen of the states required that statutory rape charges be dropped if the rapist agreed to marry his victim.

"What message is this? That the crime is not serious," said Elena Azaola, author of a book called "The Crime of Being a Woman."

For a woman to file a criminal complaint of rape, she must submit to an examination by a doctor assigned by the prosecutor's office. Patricia Duarte, president of the Mexican Association Against Violence Against Women, said these exams, routinely conducted in the prosecutor's office, are often carried out with little sensitivity or privacy.

Whatever problems women face in the cities and towns are compounded in the villages, where the only real law is customary law. Ten million Mexicans are indigenous, as are most people in these highlands of the Sierra Madre.

In many of the thousands of indigenous communities, by custom, women are essentially servants of their fathers, brothers and husbands. In many villages around Reyeshogpan, a woman is forbidden to go out after dusk without her husband or her husband's permission. After 7 p.m., streets in village after village are populated only by men, many of them drunk. Alcoholism is another problem that contributes to violence against women.

Town elders, who act as judges in local criminal matters, are invariably men. In one village in Guerrero state, elders were recently asked how they punished rape. The six men looked confused, as if they did not know what the term meant. When it was explained to them, they all laughed and said it sounded more like a courting ritual than a crime.

When they stopped laughing, they said a rapist would probably get a few hours in the local jail, or he might have to pay the victim's family a or fine, but that all would be forgotten if he and the victim married.

In the case of a cattle thief, they said, he would be jailed. And, unlike the rapist, a cattle thief would be brought before the elders for a lecture about the severity of the crime.

In the southern state of Oaxaca last summer, the government-funded Oaxacan Women's Institute persuaded the legislature to pass heavy criminal penalties against a practice known as "rapto." Laws in most states define rapto as a case in which a man kidnaps a woman not for ransom but with the intent of marrying her or to satisfy his "erotic sexual desire." The new law championed by the women's group established penalties of at least 10 years in prison.

But in March, the state legislature reversed itself and again made the practice a minor infraction. A key legislator - a man - argued for the reduction, calling the practice harmless and "romantic."

The attorney general's office said there had been 137 criminal complaints of rapto in the state of Puebla since January 2000. Complete statistics are impossible to find, because most cases are settled between the families involved and never reported. Because rapto implies that the girl was taken away for sex, her parents want to avoid the shame associated with making a public complaint to the police.

In some cases, the girls voluntarily go with the man as a way to elope to avoid wedding expenses. But Gabriela Gutierrez Kleman, a lawyer with the Oaxacan Women's Institute, says that in many cases the women are taken against their will.

Gutierrez said it was hard to ask girls to complain about rapto, a custom that has changed little since their great-grandmothers' time. If they complain, she said, the family or the community often "treats them as outcasts."

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