A Femicide in Mexico Prompts Women to Imagine ‘If They Killed Me’

"Violence". Photo from Flickr by Bianca Cardoso. Used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Violence”. Photo from Flickr by Bianca Cardoso. Used under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The body of 22-year-old Lesby Berlin Osorio was discovered on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) on May 4, 2017. Shortly afterward, the Twitter hashtag #SiMeMatan (If They Kill Me) exploded online in Mexico in anger over statements made by Mexico City authorities in charge of finding justice for Berlin Osorio.

The officials failed to give any information about the possible motive of the crime or advances in the investigation, but did offer details about the victim's personal life that seemed to insinuate she was to blame for the violence that took her life.

Twitter users shared the screenshots of the public prosecutor's office's tweets:

Tweet: Our authorities are one of the main reasons why the violence persists. ENOUGH with blaming the victims.

Image: Tweets from the Mexico City Public Prosecutor's Office:

-Around 04:00 hrs he [Lesby's partner] decided to leave and was followed by the woman [Lesby] with whom he had an argument. It was the last thing he knew of her.

-On the day it all happened, the couple hung out with some friends at CU [UNAM's campus], where they consumed alcohol and drugs.

-The boyfriend, with whom she lived, says he works in the maintenance department of High School #6

Independent news site Sopitas summarized how the public prosecutor's office released information about Berlin Osorio's death and cited two more of the official statements:

La narrativa en que se revictimiza y minimiza a la joven Lesby vino desde nuestras propias autoridades capitalinas. En la cuenta de Twitter de la Procuraduría General de Justicia de la Ciudad de México (PGJCDMX) se publicaron varios mensajes sobre el caso: sin tacto, echándole la culpa a la víctima y como justificando lo que le pasó. “La mujer hallada sin vida en jardines de las instalaciones de la UNAM fue identificada por familiares”, inició el lamentable relato. “Su madre y novio aseguraron que ella ya no estudiaba desde 2014 y dejó sus clases en CCH Sur, donde debía materias”, continuó la dependencia dirigida por Rodolfo Ríos.

The narrative which revictimizes and minimizes young Lesby came from our own capital's authorities. The Mexico City Public Prosecutor's Office Twitter feed posted different messages about the case: tone-deaf, blaming the victim and justifying what happened. “The woman found dead in the gardens of the UNAM campus was identified by relatives,” began the deplorable thread. “Her mother and boyfriend confirmed that she had not studied since 2014 and left her classes at the College of Sciences and Humanities South Campus, where she was failing some courses,” continued the report delivered by Rodolfo Ríos.

‘If they kill me, they will slander and criminalize me’

In response, women began to tweet using #SiMeMatan, anticipating with irony the “faults” that they thought authorities and the media would use to blame them if they were murdered. The hashtag trended globally with tens of thousands of messages.

Several hours into the wave of criticism, the city's public prosecutor, Rodolfo Ríos, posted on his Twitter feed that the tweets published by the agency were “inappropriate” and added:

The #SiMeMatan reaction had made its point clear. Below are several of the tweets:

Some compared how crimes against women and men are treated:

Others talked about what they hoped would happen beyond simple reactions:

Journalist and scholar Gabriel Warkentin took note of the other Spanish-language hashtags against gender violence in Mexico that have trended globally:

Same with women's rights group Luchadoras (Fighters), who invoked the call of the Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) feminist movement: “We want us alive.”

Other women reflected on the significance behind every tweet:

For her part, Twitter user Madame Déficit noted that on the UNAM campus — being a school that prides itself on its non-dependency from the government — it is difficult to have police presence. On other occasions, the arrival of police forces on campus (known as the Ciudad Universitaria, or University City) has provoked rejection and anger amongst some sectors of the student body.

Violence against women and authorities’ inability to handle it are nothing new

In 2016, Global Voices published a series on articles to explore the problem of violence against women in Mexico, and in the capital city in particular. One of them told the story of a sexual assault — that has gone unpunished for 14 months — against American journalist Andrea Noel. On that occasion the government said they would attend to the problem, or rather create more offices that cost a lot and offer little to no tangible results.

After that case came to light, lawyer Fabiola Higareda, who specialized in gender and justice, pointed out in an interview for Global Voices that violence against women is in part due to the lack of strategies that focus on the perpetrators:

Es necesario que las estrategias tomen en consideración que la violencia de género no es un asunto exclusivo de mujeres violentadas, sino también de hombres generadores de violencia.

It's necessary that the strategies take into consideration that gender violence is not just exclusive to women who are victims of violence, but also men who generate such violence.

Beyond the legal gibberish of Mexican criminal investigations, Mexican society appears to be sending a message with all the tweets under the #SiMeMatan hashtag: Impunity already plagues the cases of women who experience or, like Lesby Berlin Osorio, die of violence. Let's not revictimize them too.

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