Mexico's Missing Girls Remain A Mystery

In the past year, two dozen young women have disappeared from their homes in Juarez, Mexico. According to LA Times reporter Ken Ellingwood, "The streets of Juarez are swallowing up the young and pretty."

The missing girls, who range in age from 13 to 22, have several features in common. They are generally attractive, dark-haired and slender. Most of them were last seen downtown. The majority are local residents, from stable middle and working-class homes. Four of them are named Brenda. But none of them have been found, dead or alive.

The disappearances have stirred up memories of the murder of several hundred women during a decade and a half stretch from 1993 that made Ciudad Juarez famous. According to Amnesty International, 379 women were killed in this period of gender violence, and a third of the bodies showed signs of sexual abuse. However, the bodies of the victims were nearly always found, usually dumped in lots and gullies, often bearing the marks of torture.

This time, there are no bodies. There is also no definitive evidence that any crime has been committed against the missing women. But the victim's relatives believe that the girls did not leave on their own; some have even said they suspect their daughters have been forced into prostitution, possibly by criminal groups involved in the drug war. "She's in the hands of those people. I don't know who they are or where they are," said Aiben Rivas, father of 16-year-old Hilda, who went missing 17 months ago. Police have investigated the reports, but they have made little headway, and many believe their efforts were minimal. Some have even suggested that corrupt cops might have been involved in the disappearances.

The families of the missing women remain hopeful that their girls are alive. A few have reported dropped calls from unknown numbers, which leads them to believe that the teens are being kept somewhere against their will. Sergio Sarmiento, cousin of 15-year-old Adriana, says after Adriana's disappearance the family got a phone call from a man saying she was fine, and had left on her own. "I don't believe it," said Sergio. He had papered the city with fliers and pictures of Adriana, but they have since been covered by posters of other girls, gone missing more recently. "Unfortunately, she wasn't the last one," he said.

In Ciudad Juarez, Yong Women Are Vanishing [LA Times]