2023 Topical Reporting: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Identity, Large Newsroom finalist

Desaparecidas e Ignoradas: el peligro de ser mujer en Nuevo León

About the Project

The disappearance and femicide of Debanhi Escobar Bazaldúa in Monterrey, Nuevo León, in April 2022 sparked outrage throughout Mexican society. Debanhi was a 19 year old woman and her body appeared 13 days later in a sewer located in a motel very close to the place where she disappeared and from where her family conducted searches for her. That crime, still unsolved, was just the tip of the iceberg. There were many more cases that did not receive as much media attention.

Nuevo León, a state bordering the United States and known for having one of the most powerful economies in Mexico, is also one of the most dangerous places for women. Despite the evidence, the local government denies the problem. For almost a year, N+Focus reporters investigated why women disappeared in Nuevo León and what was the reaction of the authorities. We found out that between 2018 and 2022, at least 900 women were still missing in the state, one every two days. Among them there’s Jennifer, who disappeared in June 2022 and whose mother complains that she wasn’t even accompanied by the authorities to check the place where her daughter’s body could be.

There’s also Ana Gabriela, who has been missing since May 2020 and who could be a victim of sexual exploitation since her mother receives messages that locate her in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, a city in the frontier with a strong control of criminal groups.

The authorities make up the numbers for missing women and record them as “not found.” This is not a simple statistical fact, but a legal figure that makes search and investigation difficult. People registered as “disappeared” have more legal options to be searched since families can request the geolocation of their cell phone or their call sheet. In part, this explains why only one in four cases of disappeared women in Nuevo León is investigated.

In addition, in the cases in which the case is investigated, there are serious errors in the records, such as mistaking the name of the missing woman or not having fundamental data such as the physical characteristics or the place where she was last seen.

Experts and authorities consider that there are two crimes that may explain the increase in the disappearances of women: femicide and trafficking for sexual exploitation. In both cases, Nuevo León is among the states with the highest number of victims and well above the national average for Mexico.

Local authorities, however, maintain a narrative that ignores the problem and criminalizes the victims. Local officials assured that there is no crisis in Nuevo León, but that women leave home on their own feet and then return.

Being a woman is a risk in Nuevo León and disappearances continue to be registered despite authorities attempt to ignore them.