The Killing of Latinas in the Rio Grande Valley by Intimate Partners

Words by Zoraya Berlanga Aguilar

Edited by Abigail Vela

Trigger Warning: The following article involves topics around intimate partner violence, femicide, sexual assault, and details on lethal violence against women. We at Trucha acknowledge that this content may be difficult for some readers. We encourage you to prioritize yourself, your safety, and your well-being.

A global threat impacting the Rio Grande Valley is the killings of women and girls by intimate partner violence. These issues are referred to as domestic violence homicide, family violence, and intimate partner homicide. However, the term homicide implies a gender-neutral definition, while statistically, young girls and women are more likely to be the victims of intimate partner violence. Therefore, the term femicide is more appropriate.

Rapid Increase in Intimate Partner Femicide

Women of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and races widely experience intimate partner violence (IPV) which can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, stalking, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, and psychological abuse by an intimate partner (i.e., husband, ex-husband, boyfriend, ex-boyfriend). Women who have experienced some type of intimate partner violence are at a higher risk of being victims of intimate partner femicide.  

Intimate partner femicide (IPF) is the killing of women by an intimate partner. The term femicide was first introduced in 1801 by journalist John Corry to refer to the murder of girls and women. The term was later reintroduced by feminist writer Dr. Russell in 1976 to portray the misogynist character of the killings of girls and women across the world. 

From 2015 to 2020, the RGV reported about 30 cases of IPF (these reports were made available by the Texas Council on Family Violence Narratives). In 2020, the RGV reported a 400% increase in intimate partner homicides during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, with Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra stating, “We had 1 murder in 2019 and in 2020 we had 5 murders.”

More than 34.4% of Latina women are victims of intimate partner violence during their lifetime, compared to 37.3% of women in the general population. The National Latin@ Network reports that 37.5% of Latinas living in cities along the U.S./Mexico border experience intimate partner violence. It is evident to state that Latina women from the RGV are at-risk of Femicide caused by an intimate partner.

A Correlation Between Machismo and IPF

Violence against women in many Latino cultures is a practice that is unfortunately normalized. Misogynistic and patriarchal behavior in the Latino cultures is referred to as machismo. It upholds the (incorrect) idea that “men are privileged, superior, and dominant.” This behavior is often demonstrated against women when men exert power and control over them. 

 

In intimate relationships, Latino men can portray machismo through the stereotypical role of the ‘provider,’ It is often used as an excuse to be unfaithful and to use aggressive masculinity against their partner(s).

 

On the other hand, Latina women have been culturally expected to portray characteristics of marianismo as pure, virgin, and submissive women. Unlike Latino men, in intimate relationships, Latinas are expected to tolerate their partner’s aggressive masculinity. 

The Criminal Justice System Fails To Protect Women

From 2015 to 2020, out of the 30 IPF cases, the most common victim and perpetrator relationship identified was husband/wife and boyfriend/girlfriend. In the majority of the cases, the perpetrator used extreme violence to kill the victim. Lethal violence was used in all 30 IPF cases. In 26 cases, a weapon was used, and the remaining four victims were murdered using force, such as strangulation and beating the victim with an object. 


The criminal justice system uses “crime of passion” to justify the violence used by men against their female partners. A
crime of passion is defined as “a crime committed in the ‘heat of passion’ in response to provocation.” In other words, women “provoke men to murder them,” removing male culpability. This highlights the structural issues of inequity in violence against women. Seven of the 30 IPF cases reportedly resulted from jealousy, infidelity, and ending the relationship. However, the local news media does not highlight crime of passion as an issue that requires attention; this issue is briefly mentioned. 

Victims of intimate partner violence are encouraged to report their victimization to law enforcement to prevent further violence and femicide. However, the criminal justice system often fails to protect the victims who report the violence before they are killed. From the 30 IPF cases reported, two IPF cases reported their victimization to local law enforcement. In both cases, the perpetrator remained free, giving them time to brutally kill the victims. 

Each of the 30 victims’ stories is important.

Lethal Violence Experienced by Victims

The six victims presented were selected to highlight the type of lethal violence used, crime of passion as a form of ‘justification,’ and the criminal justice system’s failure to protect victims of intimate partner violence.

In Remembrance of All Victims of Intimate Partner Violence

The local news reports and news articles fail to present these killings as intimate partner femicide and a result of intimate partner violence. Therefore, it is crucial to view intimate partner femicide as a social and public health issue in the RGV. There remains limited to no research on IPF in the Rio Grande Valley and on Latinas’ experiences, health risks, and the effect IPF has on the victims’ families. 

In remembrance of the victims in the RGV from 2015 to 2020:

Local Resources For Victims of Intimate Partner Violence

If you or a loved one are in need of help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the following organizations located throughout the Rio Grande Valley, whose mission is to provide help and resources to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault:

Mujeres Unidas – Based in McAllen, Texas

Angels of Love – Based in McAllen, Texas

Family Crisis Center – Based in Harlingen, Texas

Friendship of Women, Inc. – Based in Brownsville

Office for Advocacy and Violence Prevention (OVAP) at UTRGV – Based in Edinburg, Texas

 

For national resources, please refer to:

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)

Or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

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