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Group shows compelling film

Photo by Halie Johnson

In the border city of Juarez, Mexico, around 400 cases of sexual assault and murder involving women, have occurred over the past decade and remain unsolved. The city is far form the Mills Community both geographically and culturally, but 10 Mills students will be visiting Juarez and nearby Chihuahua over spring break to learn more about this consistent brutality.

The group is the "Femicides Dele-gation" and has been working – fundraising, raising awareness and recruiting members – for the past year and a half to make this trip.

On Tuesday, Feb. 28, the group presented information about the unsolved atrocities and then showed the film SeAƱoritas Extraviada ("Missing Young Women"), directed by Lourdes Portillo.

SeAƱoritas Extraviada (2005) portrays a thorough investigation into the lives of the missing women, the mysterious details surrounding their deaths and offered several theories about who or what is driving these murders. Portillo conducted extensive interviews with victims' families, investigators and community members. She also included relevant news footage, all in an attempt to bring together the underlying pattern behind the deaths and point to potential suspects and their motives.

Portillo did not make any solid conclusion, but the film found evidence in U.S. involvement given the city's proximity to El Paso, Texas. Unlike the U.S. "everything illicit is available in Juarez," making it an attractive place for criminal behavior.

Strong links were made between the murders, the Mexican police, the maquiladoras, or sweatshop companies – 80 percent of which are U.S. owned in Juarez and employ about 250,000 people, according to the film – and the fact that Juarez is one of the world's largest consumers of illegal drugs.

In her introduction, delegate member and Mills freshwoman Ixquel Sarin said that Juarez offers two primary employment options for women: prostitution and factory labor, the former being the safest because "at least you get police protection," according to one Juarez woman, quoted by Sarin.

Many of the murder victims were maquiladora workers. The Mexican government points the finger at an Egyptian man, Abdel Latiff Sharif, who moved to Juarez to work in one of these factories. He was arrested in the mid-90s for sexually assaulting a woman. His arrest was treated like a conclusion to the murders, the solution that signaled a citywide sigh of relief. But the murders continued, all following similar patterns – almost ritualistic according to Sharif's attorney and an investigator; both interviewed in the film. The government continues, with each new bit of evidence, to find ways of tying the murders to Sharif.

The families of the victims are the most persistent in getting information and putting a stop to the violence. They formed a group called Voices Without an Echo. The Mills delegation is visiting through a non-governmental organization (NGO) called the Mexican Solidarity Network and hope to document what they see in photography and video in order to find solutions that Bay Area residents can get involved in.

The Femicides Delegation will hold an auction on March 9 and a dance that night to raise money for the trip and to contribute to the NGO. Anyone interested in donating to the group should e-mail Daisy Gonzales at