Mexico: Women whose past partners are involved in criminal activities and implications for their safety (2019–August 2021) [MEX200735.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Overview

The New York Times reports that femicide, "the crime of killing women or girls because of their gender," rose by 10 percent in 2019 from the previous year to 1,006 cases recorded by the Mexican government (The New York Times 19 Feb. 2020). According to La Jornada, a Mexico City-based daily newspaper, the Mexican Attorney General stated that the rate of femicides in Mexico has increased by 137 percent over the last five years, while homicides have comparatively increased by 35 percent over the same period (La Jornada 11 Feb. 2020). Amnesty International's report on human rights in 2020/2021 indicates that reports of gender-based violence (GBV) increased and in 2020 969 out of 3,752 killings of women were investigated as femicides and there were 260,067 emergency calls that were made to report violence against women in the same year, compared to 197,693 in 2019 (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 243, 244). Sources indicate that femicides in Mexico are underreported (CSIS 19 Mar. 2020; Milenio 22 Jan. 2020). An activist who created a national map of femicides in Mexico, based on data from press reports and other sources, noted in an interview with InSight Crime, a non-profit think tank and media organization that focuses on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean (InSight Crime n.d.), that "[m]any of the femicides linked to organized crime are of women whose partner was involved with or targeted by a criminal group" (InSight Crime 8 July 2020).

A July 2020 Reuters articles reports that in the context of the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of women turning to shelters managed by the country's National Network of Shelters (Red Nacional de Refugios, RNR) has increased by 80 percent (Reuters 24 July 2020). A February 2021 article in El Financiero, a Mexico City-based daily finance and business newspaper, states that the number of women who used the RNR increased to 300 percent in 2020, compared to 2019 (El Financiero 4 Feb. 2021). Sources also note that most of the calls for help received by shelters came from Mexico City (Reuters 24 July 2020; El Financiero 4 Feb. 2021), the state of Mexico and Puebla (El Financiero 4 Feb. 2021).

1.1 Intimate Partner Violence and Organized Crime Culture

According to World Vision Canada, an international development organization focused on tackling poverty and injustice (World Vision Canada n.d.), organized crime femicide occurs in areas where there is a presence of "gang cultures," within which women are "considered disposable," "may be used as drug mules," and violence committed against them represents "gang cohesion and masculinity" (World Vision Canada 17 Nov. 2020). In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, a doctor of criminology at the University of Toronto who specializes in organized crime group dynamics in Mexico, stated that the "underworld" organized crime culture is "very macho, patriarchal, with very sexist undertones," and that male intimate partners involved in organized crime perceive their female intimate partner as "property who is not free to leave the relationship when they want" (Doctor of criminology 4 Aug. 2021). The same source noted that the distinction between current and former intimate partners in the eyes of someone involved in organized crime is not always clear, and there is an expectation that "the dynamics of the accomplice relationship, including loyalty and keeping secrets, will endure" after the intimate relationship has ended, making current and past intimate partners, as well as other family members, "legitimate targets" of rival organized crime groups (Doctor of criminology 4 Aug. 2021). In an interview conducted by El Universal, a Mexico-based newspaper, the Mexican activist who created the national map of femicides in Mexico stated that organized crime groups murder women "'for their sense of belonging. They are seen as an object owned by the rival and, to cause damage, they kill their women'" (El Universal 3 Mar. 2020). A March 2020 article by Noticaribe, a news website based in the Yucatán peninsula, reports that a woman was killed on 17 March 2020, in her home in Playa Del Carmen by "sicarios" or persons hired for murder who broke in, looking for her husband, their presumed target, who was not home at the time (Noticaribe 17 Mar. 2020).

In the El Universal interview, the activist indicated that since 2018, when they began mapping femicides committed by organized crime groups, the number has been "on the rise"; they identified the states of Colima and Mexico as those with the most cases of femicides recorded (El Universal 3 Mar. 2020). According to InSight Crime's analysis of data obtained from the National Map of Femicides in Mexico, there were 405 cases of femicides recorded at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic between 16 March 2020 and 30 April 2020, 63 percent of which were connected to organized crime (InSight Crime 8 July 2020). According to a December 2020 report by the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Mexico's National Institute for Women (Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres, INMUJERES) and the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (Comisión Nacional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia contra las Mujeres, CONAVIM), from 2015 to 2019, there was a [translation] "steady" increase in the use of firearms in femicide cases, "reach[ing] a new peak in 2019 of 57.1%," due to both firearms availability as well as their use in organized crime (UN and Mexico Dec. 2020, 35–36). According to the El Universal interview with the activist, women are impacted by various aspects of organized crime activities, including the increased presence of weapons, addictions and drug trafficking (El Universal 3 Mar. 2020). The same source notes that the murder of women by rival organized crime groups is an observable pattern in Mexico City by the La Unión Tepito cartel (El Universal 3 Mar. 2020). The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an independent and non-partisan US-based think tank and publisher on international affairs (CFR n.d.), states that "in addition to domestic abuse by relatives and partners," women and girls also face the risk of sex trafficking by organized crime groups (CFR 12 Mar. 2020).

Conversely, a December 2017 report published by the Trans-Border Institute (TBI) of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego, an institute addressing issues affecting the people of Mexico and the US (Pulitzer Center n.d.), that surveyed trends in violence against women in the states of Baja California, Veracruz and Sinaloa, indicates that the focus of authorities on criminal violence in Baja California "obscures the state's systemic problem of domestic and sexual violence, particularly in Mexicali" (TBI Dec. 2017, 2). According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a US-based bipartisan non-profit policy research organization (CSIS n.d.), over 40 percent of victims of femicide in Mexico know their killer (CSIS 19 Mar. 2020).

2. Ability of Past Partners to Track
2.1 Motivations

According to the Doctor of criminology, women are often seen by their intimate partners who are involved in organized crime as an accomplice and "they must participate to varying degrees in their illicit activities, [whether] it be actively in aiding and abetting crimes, or by keeping secrets and providing a minimal amount of support" (Doctor of criminology 4 Aug. 2021).

In an interview with the Research Directorate, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM) in Cuernavaca in the state of Morelos, who is also a professor, and whose research focuses on violence against women, intimate partner violence, femicide, and women's access to justice and services in Mexico, noted that in Mexican court cases for which they provided expert testimony, they found that women in the "most severe" intimate partner violence situations tended to endure violence for a very long time, and only left their partner when their partner threatened their children's lives, by which time

the violence would have already escalated significantly, and often included situations of burning, starvation, imprisonment, etc. Women in those situations do not tend to leave their partners unless they feel it is safe or necessary to do so because if they end up returning to them afterwards, the violence always escalates. (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021)

The same source noted that in cases where the former partner is involved in organized crime and the woman is believed to have witnessed a crime they committed and is summoned as a witness by the court, the woman will be "targeted and retargeted by the perpetrator" (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021).

2.2 Means

For information on the ability and means of persons involved in organized criminal activities to track individuals, see Response to Information Request MEX200732 of September 2021.

3. Treatment of Victims and Survivors of Violence Against Women
3.1 Treatment by Society

Information on the treatment by society of women whose past partners are involved in criminal activities could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. For information on the treatment of victims and survivors of domestic violence, see Responses to Information Request MEX200311 of September 2020 and MEX200734 of September 2021.

3.2 Treatment by Authorities

According to the 2016 National Survey on the Dynamics of Household Relationships (Encuesta Nacional sobre la Dinámica de las Relaciones en los Hogares, ENDIREH), conducted by Mexico's National Institute for Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Geografía, INEGI), of 142,363 households on various types of violence experienced by women aged 15 years and older, and the contexts in which they occurred, 43.9 percent of respondents experienced intimate partner violence in a former or current relationship (Mexico 18 Aug. 2017, 5, 6, 35). The same source notes that 78.6 percent of those women did not seek support services or file a complaint, as [translation] "because it was something unimportant that didn't affect them" (28.8 percent), "for fear of the consequences" (19.8 percent), "for shame" (17.3 percent), or they "didn't know how and where to denounce [the violent act]" (14.8 percent) (Mexico 18 Aug. 2017, 39, 40). According to the same source, the states with the highest proportion of intimate partner violence are the State of Mexico, Mexico City, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Oaxaca (Mexico 18 Aug. 2017, 37). The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) indicates in its 2018 periodic report on Mexico that there are "deep-rooted institutional, structural and practical barriers" which "continue to hinder" access to justice for women, including that officials within criminal justice system, including legal professions and law enforcement officers, hold "discriminatory stereotypes" and "limited knowledge" of women's rights (UN 25 July 2018, para. 13, 13[a], 13[b]).

According to sources, women whose past or present intimate partners are involved in organized crime can be perceived as guilty or an accomplice in that partner's criminal activities by the authorities (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021; Doctor of criminology 4 Aug. 2021).The Researcher stated that women who experience intimate partner violence, most notably those whose current or past partners are involved in organized crime, rarely turn to public institutions or other organizations to seek redress or file a complaint, as they fear retaliation from the partner, have a false perception of their own complicity in organized crime by the authorities, and authorities are reticent to assist them "because they are afraid of becoming targets themselves" (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021). The Doctor of criminology also indicated that "most" intimate partners of members of organized crime groups avoid reporting cases of abuse or accessing services from public institutions or other support services "as they know it will put them in more danger from their partner" or they will be seen by authorities as "guilty by association" (Doctor of criminology 4 Aug. 2021).

4. State Protection
4.1 Legislation and Implementation

According to sources, there have been challenges implementing the 2007 General Law on Women's Access to a Life Free of Violence (TBI Dec. 2017, 6; UN 4 Dec. 2019, para. 14), and despite the passing of this law, "the situation for women in Mexico has worsened" (TBI Dec. 2017, 6) or there has been a "progressive increase in [GBV]" (UN 4 Dec. 2019, para. 14). The CFR reports that Mexico is one of few countries that legally recognizes femicide as a crime separate from homicide, and mandates harsher prison sentences for the former compared to the latter (CFR 12 Mar. 2020). According to a December 2019 UN Human Rights Committee periodic report on Mexico, there have been low levels of prosecutions and convictions for femicide (UN 4 Dec. 2019, para. 14). According to the TBI report, the activation of the gender violence alert mechanism (alerta de violencia de género contra las mujeres, AVGM) was created by the 2007 law, as the "primary policy" put forth by the state to address the issue of femicides, allowing individuals to request that a "'gender alert'" be declared in municipalities where violence is escalating, compelling "states to take urgent action to eradicate femicides" (TBI Dec. 2017, 1, 6). The TBI notes that many crucial elements for its implementation, in states like Sinaloa, for example, including measures to improve the investigations of femicides, victim support services, and rapid processing of suspects remain unaddressed, and "the process is marked by perpetual bureaucratization, politicization, and revictimization" (TBI Dec. 2017, 6). According to Amnesty International, the AVGM is operational in 18 states out of 32, and by the end of 2020, "there was no indication that [these] mechanisms had reduced gender-based violence" (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 245). For further information on the gender violence alert mechanism, including the process to declare a gender alert, see Response to Information Request MEX200311 of September 2020.

The CEDAW indicates that the absence of mechanisms for implementing laws that protect women from gender-based discrimination and violence and "insufficient" funding at the state level for the implementation and monitoring of these laws has had intersectional impacts on "indigenous women, Mexican women of African descent, migrant women, women with disabilities, lesbian, bisexual and transgender women and intersex persons" (UN 25 July 2018, para. 11[b]). The same source notes that GBV is "often perpetrated by State and non-State actors, including organized crime groups" (UN 25 July 2018, para. 23[b]).

4.2 Law Enforcement

According to the CSIS, "systemic impunity" has had an impact on femicides in Mexico (CSIS 19 Mar. 2020). The CFR states that the "complicity, indifference, and mismanagement of cases" by law enforcement "perpetuate[s] the violence" and that "culprits often go unpunished" (CRF 12 Mar. 2020). Sources note that more than 90 percent of crimes go unreported, uninvestigated or unresolved (Animal Político 7 Aug. 2019; CSIS 19 Mar. 2020), and that the "investigation and prosecution of femicides follows that trend" (CSIS 19 Mar. 2020). According to the Researcher, since crime in general has increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the limited resources of public institutions have been dedicated to fighting what they consider to be more "high-impact or very visible crimes," such as murders, kidnappings and forced disappearances, rather than addressing the "sometimes-invisible" problems of intimate partner violence and domestic violence (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021). The same source stated that protecting women "has not been a priority among other public safety priorities" in Mexico (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021).

The Researcher noted that in Mexico, if an individual files a complaint with the authorities, a restraining order, "a piece of paper that mandates that the perpetrator is to no longer contact or communicate with the complainant," will be issued (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021). However, according to the same source, law enforcement resources are stretched so thin that in "many cases" they have witnessed and have had anecdotes relayed to them by other women that after filing a complaint of intimate partner violence with the police and obtaining a restraining order against their current or former intimate partner, women were asked to "deliver the physical copy of the restraining order to the partner [themselves]" (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021). In a case they relayed about one of their students in Cuernavaca, who had turned to them for assistance after experiencing intimate partner violence from a former partner, the Researcher accompanied them to a justice centre where the student was issued a restraining order to give to her former partner (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021). After the student got home and found her former partner had broken in, she called the police, who did not respond for another four hours (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021). The Researcher also noted that

even if some women do manage to deliver restraining orders issued by the police to their partner, or if the authorities do so, for many perpetrators of [intimate partner violence/domestic violence], such a mandate is meaningless, as they know the authorities do not have the resources to implement or enforce it. (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021)

4.3 Public Support Services

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a full professor at the University of Guanajuato, in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, whose research focuses on gender-based violence and femicide in Guanajuato, noted that women who experience violence can seek help from the municipalities, police and INMUJERS (Full Professor 6 Aug. 2021). The same source added that it is important to know which agencies can provide support to women who experience violence and also which agencies can provide other support, such as education or financial support (Full Professor 6 Aug. 2021) while public institutions like municipalities, the police, and INMUJERES, are intended to help women who are seeking justice and a life free of violence, women need specialized knowledge to know which entity to access depending on their circumstances, and even more so to access educational, economic, and other types of support services (Full Professor 6 Aug. 2021). The Researcher indicated that the number of shelters for women and their children are "limited" and unevenly distributed, as they are mostly located in state capital cities, forcing women who live in rural areas or in cities other than state capitals, especially in larger states, to "travel far to reach and access these services" (Researcher 4 Aug. 2021). According to the Full Professor, in the state of Guanajuato, where the public shelter for women is in the state capital, women who live outside of the state capital do not know how to access the shelter as its location is kept from the public for security reasons (Full Professor 6 Aug. 2021).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Amnesty International. 7 April 2021. "Mexico." Amnesty International Report 2020/21: The State of the World's Human Rights. [Accessed 17 Aug. 2021]

Animal Político. 7 August 2019. Arturo Angel. "Más del 90% de los delitos denunciados en el país no se resuelven, muchos los 'congela' el MP." [Accessed 3 Aug. 2021]

Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). 19 March 2020. Linnea Sandin. "Femicides in Mexico: Impunity and Protests." [Accessed 29 July 2021]

Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 19 Aug. 2021]

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). 12 March 2020. Amelia Cheatham. "Mexico's Women Push Back on Gender-Based Violence." [Accessed 29 July 2021]

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). N.d. "About CFR." [Accessed 29 July 2021]

Doctor of criminology, University of Toronto. 4 August 2021. Interview with the Research Directorate.

El Financiero. 4 February 2021. Roberto Estrada. "Incrementan 300% los rescates de mujeres realizados por la Red Nacional de Refugios en 2020." [Accessed 4 Aug. 2021]

El Universal. 3 March 2020. Lorelei Zeltzin Sánchez. "Mapping for Justice: How One Woman Took It Upon Herself to Register Femicide in Mexico." [Accessed 24 Aug. 2021]

Full Professor, University of Guanajuato. 6 August 2021. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

InSight Crime. 8 July 2020. Lara Loaiza. "Map Links Mexico's Femicide Crisis, Organized Crime." [Accessed 29 July 2021]

InSight Crime. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 19 Aug. 2021]

La Jornada. 11 February 2020. Enrique Méndez and Néstor Jiménez. "Gertz: aumentaron los feminicidios 137% en cinco años." [Accessed 28 July 2021]

Mexico. 18 August 2017. Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Geografía (INEGI). Encuesta Nacional sobre la Dinámica de las Relaciones en los Hogares (ENDIREH) 2016. Principales Resultados. [Accessed 25 Aug. 2021]

Milenio. 22 January 2020. Selene Flores. "Fuera de radat oficial, 50% de los feminicidios." [Accessed 5 Aug. 2021]

The New York Times. 19 February 2020. Kirk Semple and Paulina Villegas. "The Grisly Deaths of a Woman and a Girl Shock Mexico and Test Its President." [Accessed 27 July 2021]

Noticaribe. 17 March 2020. "Buscaban a un taxista, mataron a su mujer: Ataque con narcomensaje en una vivienda de Villas del Sol eleva a 30 el número de ejecuciones en Playa del Carmen." [Accessed 19 Aug. 2021]

Pulitzer Center. N.d. "U. San Diego: Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies." [Accessed 27 Aug. 2021]

Researcher, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Campus Morelos. 4 August 2021. Interview with the Research Directorate.

Reuters. 24 July 2020. Oscar Lopez and Christine Murray. "Women Seeking Help From Violence Almost Doubles in Mexico Lockdown." [Accessed 5 Aug. 2021]

Trans-Border Institute (TBI), Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, University of San Diego. December 2017. Michael Lettieri. Violence Against Women in Mexico: A Report on Recent Trends in Femicide in Baja California, Sinaloa and Veracruz. [Accessed 30 July 2021]

UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), United Nations (UN) and Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres (INMUJERES) and Comisión Nacional Para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra las Mujeres (CONAVIM), Mexico. December 2020. La violencia feminicida en México: Aproximaciones y tendencias. [Accessed 27 July 2021]

United Nations (UN). 4 December 2019. Human Rights Committee. Concluding Observation on the Sixth Periodic Report of Mexico. (CCPR/C/MEX/CO/6) [Accessed 19 July 2021]

United Nations (UN). 25 July 2018. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Concluding Observations on the Ninth Periodic Report of Mexico. (CEDAW/C/MEX/CO/9) [Accessed 19 July 2021]

World Vision Canada. 17 November 2020. Deborah Wolfe. "Femicide: A Global Tragedy, No Matter Your Gender." [Accessed 6 Aug. 2021]

World Vision Canada. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 10 Aug. 2021]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Fondo Semillas; professor of gender and sociological studies at a Mexican university; Red Nacional de Refugios.

Internet sites, including: Al Jazeera; Associated Press;; Freedom House; Human Rights Watch; Mexico – Comisión Nacional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra las Mujeres, Fiscalía General de la República, Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres, Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública; openDemocracy; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; Organization of American States; Red Nacional de Refugios; UN – Refworld; US – Department of State; Washington Office on Latin America; The Washington Post; World Bank.

Associated documents