Someone is killing the young women of Juárez, Mexico, one of the world’s largest border cities. Since 1993, over 270 young women have been raped and murdered in a chillingly consistent and brazen manner. Authorities blame the women for being prostitutes — though many were workers and students — and follow outlandish leads while relatives of the women demand justice. Most disturbingly, evidence of police complicity remains uninvestigated as the killings continue.
This shocking crime wave is laid bare in a new documentary, Señorita Extraviada, which wades into the chaos of a booming border town to ask questions the authorities would rather ignore.
The bodies that began to appear in the desert around Juárez in 1993 continue to turn up to this day — young women brutally raped and murdered. Despite the number of victims and the audacity of the killers, the authorities have been ineffective. After callously, and incorrectly, writing off the murders to the wayward lifestyles of supposed prostitutes, they then fixed obstinately on one then another captured suspect whose guilt became more and more implausible in the face of continuing murders.
Most alarmingly, the account of a women who survived an attack to tell her tale of horror has gone uninvestigated. “Señorita Extraviada” picks up the story with this testimony, and the struggle of the victims’ families, who have come together to demand justice despite government indifference or perhaps worse.
Señorita Extraviada gives voice to the families who want the world to know that their daughters did not deserve this fate, and that the murderers are still at large. The film also poses questions about corruption, the disposability of young women, and the cheapening of life in a town where poverty and globalized capital create a chaotic environment of lawlessness and brutality.
“With over 270 girls raped and murdered and another 450 reported missing, we felt we had to investigate these disappearances and attacks,” explains director Lourdes Portillo, “attacks specifically directed toward young, brown, unprotected, poor women. We had all these different pieces of the puzzle, all these various elements, that just didn’t fit together, and the most surprising thing was the silence. This film is mostly about deciphering that silence, using intuition to follow the clues that might put an end to the terror.”
Señorita Extraviada is a disturbing portrait of Ciudad Juárez, “the City of the Future” to its new economy proponents, who promote the enormous assembly plants, or ‘maquiladoras’ that drive so much of its growth. But most of all the film is a cry for justice for the young women of Juárez, whose deaths have been ignored for too long.