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Señorita Extraviada (Missing Young Woman)

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Lourdes Portillo
Directed by Lourdes Portillo
VHS, color, 74 min.
Crime, Latin American Studies

Reviewed by Karen Plummer, University of Akron, Akron, OH

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   

Cuidad Juárez, located just across the border from El Paso, Texas, is both a haven for drug trafficking and a "City of the Future" as the Free Trade Act opened the door to multinational companies and their high-tech factories. Young women flock to Juárez to work in the factories hoping to earn enough money to help their families or support their own independence. But Juárez is not a safe place for these young women. This disturbing documentary examines the unsolved murders of over 230 women in the border town of Juárez. Since 1990, young, slim women, with dark, shoulder-length or longer hair, were kidnapped, brutally beaten, raped, and murdered by person or persons unknown. Focusing on the families of the victims, director Lourdes Portillo tells a story of the fear, despair, hopelessness, corruption, and ever-growing terror that pervades this area.

As parents speak about their daughters' disappearances, their raw emotion is often painful to view. The families discuss the circumstances of the disappearance of these girls and uncover facts that the police seem to have missed. They discuss their interactions with the police; their frustration and distrust of the officials in charge of these cases is evident. The on-going official investigation brings no relief to the people of Juárez. Evidence has been destroyed, crime scenes contaminated, files lost, information ignored, and misinformation released. Suspects have ranged from an Egyptian national with a history of sexual harassment to a gang either working with this Egyptian or working on their own. Was it a conspiracy of bus drivers, or the work of drug traffickers? Are the police involved? After years of investigation, the only facts that remain are that women are still being killed.

One of the most disturbing portions of the film is the interview with "Maria," a survivor of an attack. She and her husband had called for the police when someone who had lent him money attacked her husband. Instead of the attacker being arrested, Maria and her husband were arrested. While in jail, Maria was molested by one of the female officers, then by the male officers. It seemed to be common knowledge at the station that women were being raped and beaten while there. At one point, one of the officers showed Maria a photo album that showed a number of instances of young women taken out to the desert and surrounded by guards who proceeded to viciously rape and torture each one. Maria describes the obvious enjoyment of the guards who are laughing and smiling as they watch their cohorts continue the torture of the women. She also describes the terror and hopelessness of the women in the photos. Maria didn't immediately take this information to other officials, due to threats made while she was in jail and her fear that perhaps all officials were like the ones who molested her. She finally overcame her fears and took this information to the authorities and the officers involved were put on trial, but set free.

The families have rallied together to work for justice for their loved ones. They have formed an organization called Voices Without An Echo. With a focus on public awareness, the families distribute flyers about the missing and the murdered and put additional pressure on police and government officials for results in their investigations.

This documentary is a critical additional to true crime collections, featuring haunting images, emotional interviews, and more questions than answers concerning this on-going mystery. Highly recommended for college, university or general adult collections.