Adolescent women who commit violent crimes in Mexico

Received: August 29, 2019

Acceptance: December 10, 2019


This paper aims to reflect on the specific characteristics of violent crimes in which adolescent girls participate in Mexico. It is based on a study that included conducting 730 interviews with adolescents, men and women, deprived of their liberty in 17 states of the Republic. The question that motivated this study was: is there a relationship between the conditions of vulnerability that adolescents experienced in their early childhood (Adverse Child Experiences) and the violent crimes they committed? In this work we cite the testimonies of nine adolescent women that allow us to analyze the features that distinguish the violent behaviors in which they participate.

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Adolescent Women Who Commit Violent Crimes In Mexico

The purpose of this work is to reflect on the specific characteristics of violent crimes in which teenagers in Mexico participate. It is based on a study that included conducting 730 interviews with adolescents, men and women, detained in 17 states of the Republic. The question that motivated this study was: is there a relationship between the conditions of vulnerability experienced by teenagers in their early childhood (Adverse Child Experiences) and the violent crimes they committed? In this work we cite the testimonies of nine adolescent women that allow the analysis of the traits that distinguish the violent behaviors in which they participate.

Key words: women, adolescents / teens, violence, crime, vulnerability.

Vulnerability and violence

This work is based on a study that we carried out in 2016 about the problems they face and the circumstances that preceded the commission of violent crimes by male and female adolescents who are deprived of their liberty in Mexico (Azaola, 2017) . Despite the fact that our objective in this work is to analyze the features that distinguish crimes committed by women, previously we will briefly refer to the approach and results of this study, in order to be able to place the findings related to crimes in context. adolescent women.

There are a considerable number of studies that have empirically shown the effects of adverse experiences in early childhood (Adverse Child Experiences, ace) have in people's physical and mental health (Felitti and Anda, 2014: 203-215), as well as in criminal behaviors in later stages (Reavis, Looman, Franco and Rojas, 2013: 44-48).

Our study focuses on the conditions of vulnerability experienced during early childhood as a possible antecedent of violent crimes committed by adolescents of both sexes. We try to show what these conditions are likely to produce when the mechanisms that should have protected children and prevented them from reaching the extremes that they have done do not exist or do not operate adequately, with serious damage and consequences for themselves. as for society.

Another recent study on the conditions faced by adolescents in Mexico indicates: school dropout, unworthy jobs, lack and low quality of essential services, lack of social protection, adolescent pregnancy and reproduction of the cycle of poverty as just some of the impacts that affect adolescents for life, and affect even more those who, due to their ethnic, gender and / or exclusion characteristics, are at greater risk of falling into such conditions or perpetuating them. According to the same source, these conditions are destructive, they undermine trust, social cohesion, economic growth and peace (Save the Children, 2016).

The study we carry out attempts to make visible and, as far as possible, intelligible the reality experienced by adolescents who are deprived of their liberty for having committed serious crimes, particularly those in which they have used violence. Another objective of the study was to be able to listen to the voices and testimonies of adolescents who are detained and who, therefore, do not have the opportunity to be heard. An important precedent for a similar study is the Report rendered in 2012 by the United States Attorney General, who ordered the formation of a special working group to investigate the effects of violence on children and adolescents who have been exposed to it. The Report indicates that the vast majority of girls and boys involved in the justice system have survived exposed to violence and live with the trauma of that experience. Having been exposed to various types of violence during the course of their lives and being in the hands of justice is not a coincidence. Exposure to violence, according to the Report, often leads to mistrust, hypervigilance, impulsive behavior, isolation, addictions, lack of empathy or difficulty caring for others and aggression as a way to protect yourself. When children and adolescents experience violence repeatedly or for prolonged periods, their bodies and brains adapt to focus on their survival, reducing their ability to control their impulses and delay gratification. “Adolescents who are trying to protect themselves from violence, or who do not know how to deal with the experiences of violence they have lived through, may engage in criminal behavior as a way of gaining a sense of control over their chaotic lives and of deal with emotional turmoil and barriers generated by violence in order to achieve safety and success ”(Department of Justice, 2012: 171-172).


We use a set of quantitative and qualitative research methods and techniques. We conducted a survey and collected, through open questions, the stories and testimonies of adolescent men and women who are in detention centers in 17 states of the Republic.

The results of our study refer to a total of 730 male and female adolescents interviewed during the period from 2014 to 2016. This number of interviewees represents 19% of the total population
(3 761) of adolescents who were deprived of liberty in 2016, which allowed us to have a very complete overview of who are the adolescents who commit violent crimes in our country. Of the 730 adolescents interviewed, 631 are men (86%) and 99 are women (14%). Although women represent only 4% of the total adolescent population deprived of liberty, we decided to overrepresent them in the sample that we elaborated in order to be able to obtain a more detailed idea about the specific problem they face.

The combination of quantitative and qualitative tools gave us the possibility of obtaining two types of knowledge that are very valuable and that are complementary. The survey allowed us to form a very clear idea about the characteristics of the population as a whole that is found in the detention centers for adolescents of the entities we studied. Instead, the stories we reconstructed from the open-ended questions allowed us to gain a deeper perspective on the specific traits and individual life trajectories of adolescents who have committed violent crimes. All of this –which we cannot present here except in a very synthetic way– can be consulted in greater detail in the report of the study carried out (Azaola, 2017).

Main findings

We will briefly refer to some of the most important data found in the study and then turn our attention to adolescent girls.

One of the most important findings was that among adolescents deprived of liberty, we found vulnerability data that in all indicators, without exception, exceed those found among the average adolescent population in Mexico. The following data on those who participated in our study illustrate this point.

  • 62% had parents who had separated
  • 60% had one or more relatives who had been in prison
  • 43% had left their home temporarily or permanently
  • 31% had left home due to family problems
  • 22% did not know his father
  • 40% had suffered frequent physical abuse
  • 34% had suffered frequent insults or humiliation
  • 12% had suffered sexual abuse
  • 57% lived with adults who used alcohol frequently
  • 30% lived with adults who used drugs frequently

Regarding schooling and socioeconomic conditions, also clearly below the average for adolescents in Mexico, we find the following:

  • 4% never went to school
  • 15% only completed incomplete elementary school
  • 17% completed elementary school
  • 28% completed high school incomplete
  • 20% completed high school
  • 16% attended a high school degree
  • 53% said he didn't like school
  • 51% classified the economic situation of his family as "fair"
  • 31% described his family's economic situation as “bad” and said that there was not enough food in his house
  • 89% had worked before being deprived of their liberty
  • 37% had started work before their 12th birthday

It is worth highlighting the greater degree of vulnerability to which adolescents were exposed after having dropped out of school and having entered the labor market from an early age, always in very precarious conditions. In the following sections we will deal with the specific situation of the women who participated in our study.

Characteristics of violent crimes committed by women

As is well known, the literature on female crime had a late emergence in Criminal Law and Criminology, since it did not develop until practically the eighties of the last century, as a result of studies carried out from a gender perspective. However, in a short time he took a letter of naturalization and became one of the subjects of greatest interest to Criminology, not without first seriously questioning the partiality with which this discipline was conducted, having left women out for almost a year. century. An abundant literature on the subject began to be produced in the following decades (Del Olmo ed., 1998; Carlen, 1985; Larraurri, 1994; Smart, 1989; European Union, 2005; Franklin, 2008; Heidensohn, 1995; Zaffaroni, 1993; Springer, 2000).

Today, studies on female crime have also increasingly focused on adolescent female crime (Zahn, 2008, 2009; Department of Justice, 2012; Carrington, 2013; Monahan et al., 2009; MacArthur, 2015; Steimberg et al., 2015; Cauffman and Steimberg, 2000; Bonnie, Johnson, Chemers and Schuck, 2013; Mulvey, 2011).

Studies carried out on female crime have highlighted a set of traits that is frequently found in the criminal behavior of women, beyond their belonging to ethnic, social, economic or religious groups that produce differences that must always be taken into account.

Among these studies, the one carried out in six countries of the European Union (France, Germany, England, Spain, Italy and Hungary) stands out. This study indicates that the female population in prison has increased in proportions well above those of males, which is explained as a result of a series of factors that affect more women subject to criminalization processes, including unemployment growing, massive unemployment that affects more women and young people, job insecurity, lack of institutional support, little education, lack of income, family breakdown, single-parent families, lack of social networks, processes migration, drug trafficking, prostitution, belonging to ethnic minorities, as well as personal factors such as the critical variables of age and sex, diseases, drug addiction, violence and abuse (European Union, 2005). In Germany, for example, the links between trajectory of drug use from a very young age, poverty, violence, self-harm and lack of resources were highlighted. They also found that those who are most at risk of starting a drug use trajectory when young are those with addicted parents, those who have been abandoned or who have suffered sexual abuse (European Union, 2005).

Another factor commonly pointed out by the literature on female crime is the domestic violence previously suffered by female inmates. The report from England indicates, for example, that more than half of the inmates reported having suffered domestic violence and one in three sexual abuse. Reports from Spain, France and Hungary also highlight that experiences of severe violence had decisively marked the lives of women. Many times their criminal career begins when they leave home after having suffered physical or sexual violence. Similarly, another characteristic feature is the bonds of dependency that these women who have been abused establish with their partners, dependency that leads them to a criminal trajectory in which they often participate to cover them up or as more or less voluntary accomplices. (European Union, 2005).

For our part, in the study we carried out, we found the following characteristics that characterize the criminal behaviors of adolescent women in Mexico, which are very similar to those identified by other studies; among them:

  1. A precedent that can be identified in an overwhelming majority of cases is having been victims of different types of mistreatment, abuse and violence, including sexual violence. This antecedent is also directly correlated with problematic drug use, which often induces them to commit other crimes.
  2. Women are more likely than men to commit crimes in the company of someone with whom they have a love affair, whether they have been induced by him or vice versa. In this sense, women who commit crimes seem to have a higher level of dependency with respect to this kind of ties than men.
  3. It is also more common for the victims of violent crimes committed by women, compared to the majority of violent crimes committed by men, to be people with whom they have had a strong emotional bond.
  4. Among the adolescents we interviewed, it was also more frequent than among males to find that they were hooked through social networks (Facebook) to commit crimes. The women were thus, first, seduced through the networks and, later, invited or forced to commit crimes.
  5. Again, if we compare with men, it was more frequent to find women who were motivated to commit crimes driven by interpersonal conflicts with people with whom they had a close emotional bond, having experienced such conflicts for a long time in the midst of circumstances that did not affect them. allowed to solve them.

Stories of adolescent women

Below we will present a series of brief testimonies from the adolescents we interviewed that clearly reveal one or more of the aforementioned features.1 Although these features can be observed in practically all cases, we have classified the testimonies into two groups: a) those that refer to adolescent girls who committed crimes that have typically and traditionally been committed by women and, b) those in which women adolescents committed crimes as part of an organized crime group, an activity in which they have ventured more recently, since before it used to be almost always reserved for males.

After presenting the testimonies, we will refer to the differences that we found between both groups, which we will address in the conclusions of this work.

Cases of crimes typically committed by women

We will address the cases of Lisa, Julieta, and Yolanda, who committed crimes that meet many of the characteristics of criminal conduct in which women are most frequently involved.

Lisa She is a 15-year-old girl who was born in the state of Oaxaca and is of indigenous origin; speaks Chinantec. She is a girl who, despite not having met her parents and having lived on the streets, expresses herself in a very clear and articulate way. He says: “I don't know my real parents. My mother gave me to other people when I was 20 days old and I walked from hand to hand until a merchant picked me up and took care of me ”.

He also explains: “I only went until the third year of primary school. I dropped out of school because a boy cut off my finger with scissors. Then the lady who picked me up asked her daughter to register me and, when the lady died, I went to live with her daughter, but since her husband abused me, that lady no longer wanted me to continue living in her house and kicked me out. So I went to live alone on the street and I began to do drugs and steal to be able to buy drugs. There on the street I met my partner and I got pregnant. He beat me and mistreated me a lot and we both stole. We were arrested for robbery from a passerby. That day we had fought because I did not like that he smoked so much stone and then it stung me.2 Since that day was my birthday, he stole a puppy and gave it to me. Then a man came by and we stole him, I took his phone from him and my partner took the 60 pesos he had and some glasses of 25 pesos. Five minutes later the patrol arrived and stopped us. They have not been able to give me my freedom because the man from whom we robbed has not come forward to testify. They arrested my partner because he had been in jail before for robbery, but this time they locked him up because he had also bitten someone else that day. "

Juliet She is a 20-year-old who has been in the hospital for four years, in Tabasco, and she still has half a year left to complete her sentence.3 She never lived with her parents, but with her grandparents, and says she only met her mother when she was admitted to the detention center. He left his grandparents' house because of the violence and family problems he had with them and went to live with some friends. He has a five-year-old son. Julieta started high school and managed to finish it in the internment center. He says that in his school there were beatings between classmates, their belongings were stolen and the older ones abused the little ones. He also points out that teachers were not helping to resolve conflicts and that they made fun of some children or mistreated them. She dropped out of school because she preferred to go with her friends.

He says that his parents never went to school and that his mother works as a maid. Julieta also worked as a domestic worker since she was fifteen years old and, at the same time, was dedicated to robbing businesses. For his work they paid him 1,800 pesos a fortnight. She is the fifth of six siblings and before being arrested she lived with her partner and her partner's family. She considers that her grandfather has been the most valuable person and the one who has supported her the most, while a cousin with whom she lived, and who abused her since she was eight years old, has been the person who has done her the most damage. He also refers to the fact that he suffered physical and psychological abuse by his family. He points out that both his father and mother and some uncles have been in prison for crimes against health, in addition to frequently consuming alcohol and drugs. Julieta also used alcohol and claims to have used marijuana, cocaine, solvents, heroin, mushrooms and pills, some more frequently than others. Regarding the economic situation of his family, he says that it was bad and that sometimes there was a lack of food in his house, besides that they did not have everything they needed to live well.

Julieta was charged with murder and robbery with violence. She relates the following: “my friend invited me to rob a man who liked to abuse girls and boys. I invited my partner and he stabbed the man and we stole everything from him. The person we killed bought girls for a retired army general; they both liked to abuse girls ”. She also points out that her partner was part of a group that was dedicated to robbing, executing and selling drugs, but said that she was not related to that group.

Yolanda She is a young woman who has been interned in the center for adolescents in the city of Chihuahua for three years and has a sentence of fourteen years for having killed her adoptive parents. He studied until the first year of high school before entering the internment center and says he liked studying very much. Her biological father is a man who begs for alms on the city streets. His biological mother died of AIDS when was born. When she was one year old, she was adopted by a couple, the father was 65 and the mother 45. It was the second marriage for the man, who had six children from a previous union. Yolanda explains: “the children of my adoptive father were not like my brothers, they did not seek their father except to ask for money and that bothered me a lot. They were already of legal age when I was little ”. She speaks of her adoptive father as her “stepfather” and refers to having suffered mistreatment, humiliation and sexual abuse by him when she was little. She also points out that her adoptive mother was afraid of her stepfather and that is why she did not defend her. The stepfather consumed alcohol frequently and owned several bars and canteens in the town, as well as had several properties and bank accounts, so he was in a good economic position.

“I wanted love,” says Yolanda, “and they bought everything with money, but they never showed their affection with humility. Nobody will understand what I endured for many years; I didn't do it because yes, I had my reasons. Since I was ten years old, I had a lot of anger against both of them because of beatings, scolding, pressure, humiliation, and their age did not help, we had a very bad relationship. When I was older, I only trusted my partner, and one day I told him if he would help me kill them, and he said yes. He told a friend of his who also said he wanted to participate in order to have that experience. My boyfriend and his friend were 18 years old and are now in jail with a 37-year sentence. I planned it all, I told them what time to come to my house, I told them I wanted my parents to have a quick death and not a bloody one, so my boyfriend's friend strangled my mom and my boyfriend suffocated my dad. The next day we went to burn the bodies north of the city and we also burned the truck in which we took them. I pretended that they had been kidnapped and they began to investigate all my uncles and I didn't think they were going to interview me and they also interviewed my boyfriend and as we fell into contradictions, they realized it and I practically surrendered. I was in shock, I did not assimilate anything and could not believe what had happened, I did not cry, I answered everything calmly, without getting upset ".

Yolanda says that the police did not mistreat her, but that during the trial she felt bad because, although the sentence she was handed down seemed fair, “the judge said very ugly things to me, she said that I was not normal or sociable, that I was psycho because he never saw me cry ”.

During her hospitalization, Yolanda has regained her relationship with her biological father, who visits and supports her every week. She says that being internal has helped her “to learn new things and to fend for myself and learn to value things. Now I have been able to miss my adoptive parents and cry for them, ”she says. When she regains her freedom, what she would most like is to be able to become a professional dancer; that would be his biggest dream.

Cases of adolescent women who became involved with organized crime groups

Now we will see some cases that, as we explained, do not fit within the patterns of crimes traditionally committed by women, although many of the antecedents of criminal behavior in this group are similar to those of the previous group, as we can see in the testimonials. It is about the stories of six teenagers: Maribel, Ely, Katy, Leticia, Guadalupe and Sandra. To finish, we will make a brief analysis of these cases as part of the conclusions of the work.

Maribel She has been hospitalized for two years in the state of Puebla and she still has more than three years to complete her sentence. She says that she lived in Ciudad Juárez with her parents, but that she left home due to family problems and went to live with her boyfriend, with whom she committed the crime of kidnapping in the state of Puebla. He studied until the first year of high school; his father had also attended high school, while his mother only elementary school. His father is a carpenter and his mother works cleaning. As a result of her arrest, her parents moved to the state of Puebla in order to visit her in the detention center. She relates that when she was little, she was abused by an uncle, but did not tell her parents even though she couldn't stop thinking about it and had difficulty concentrating. That made her seek to associate with some people because she had the idea of getting revenge on her uncle.

She met her boyfriend through Facebook and he offered her a job, which is why he first moved to the state of Guerrero, since he, along with three other people, was part of a group dedicated to kidnapping. “We kidnapped a woman and we came to Puebla to carry out this crime. When we were going to collect the ransom, they grabbed the four of us. I took care of the lady we kidnapped, fed her, took her to the bathroom; I didn't do it for money but because I wanted this group to help me get revenge on my uncle who had abused me ”. One of the people in the group was an ex-military man. She points out that when they arrested her, the ministerial police mistreated her: “they touched me, they wet me, they slapped me. They wanted me to tell them who we worked with, but I didn't know his name, only his nickname. " Regarding the support he received from his defender, he points out: "They are terrible lawyers, the one who touched me did not defend me."

In relation to the treatment he receives in the detention center, he says: “if they were good here, the kids would come out well regenerated, but no, it is not like that, if they paid us more attention we would not be like that. I don't like the way the custodians treat us, because they keep us down… The boys are worse off from the institution; when we found out, they were already killed or they are locked up again ”.

What she would recommend in order to improve the institution is: “first I would ask the inmates how they feel about the custodians, with the staff; I would put workshops that do help them and give them more psychological attention and also a good bed; it would fix all the infrastructure of the center. I would support those who did not have visitors, I would give them products for their personal hygiene and I would try to get them a job, not to force them to do something that they do not want. "

He and She is 18 years old and has been in the hospital for almost two years; He still has just over four years to serve his sentence. He was born in Guadalajara and has never traveled outside of the city. From the age of ten he left school because he was bored, he did not understand teachers or books, and he ended up losing interest in school. He did not know his father; her mother, with an incomplete primary school, is currently a housewife. When he left school, he did not have any activities and began to make friendly relations in the colony. She is the oldest of five half siblings. She says that when she was little, they depended financially on their mother's partners, but the economic situation was bad, they didn't have enough to live on. The mother supported her to the best of her ability, but had little time to care for her. He says that the people he considers most valuable in his life are his mother and daughter, although he claims that he does not trust anyone. Her stepfather is the person who caused her the most damage because he constantly insulted and humiliated her. Ely was raped by her uncle, her mother's brother.

Remember that her stepfather used alcohol or drugs when she was little and was violent with the whole family. For her part, Ely began to consume alcohol and various drugs from the age of eleven and did so daily before entering the center.

Ely was charged with one murder and two attempted murder. He relates: “When I got out of school I started drinking and smoking marijuana with my friends from the neighborhood. One of my friends, four or five years older than me, introduced me to her father, a commander of the ministerial police, and asked my friend to take me home to see me. At the age of fifteen I began a relationship with my friend's father, then he convinced me to live together and little by little he integrated me into his activities. My job consisted of monitoring the trucks that arrived with gasoline and accompanying him to move the sale in different parts of Guadalajara. Later I found out that he worked for the Millennium Cartel. They brought gasoline and we had to sell it in different parts of the city. I also accompanied him to collect for the protection he gave to various drug dealers and, when they paid him with merchandise, he gave me glass or pills. He supported me, gave me money from time to time and took care of everything ”.

Regarding the crime for which she was arrested, Ely says: “I had problems with his wife, every so often she appeared together with my friend to threaten me and asked me to leave her husband, even once they beat me and I lost My first baby. He sometimes wanted to be with me and then he would go back to his wife. On one occasion he stopped by me to sell the merchandise, we were on our way when the wife spoke to him to ask him to take one of his daughters to the hospital and he agreed to see her halfway. When they met, when they saw me in the car, the wife began to insult me and also the daughter who was my friend before, I thought they were going to beat me, so I took out the gun that my partner had given me. When they came over me, he tried to take the gun from me, but in the fight I shot and killed him on the spot; then they tried to attack me and I also shot them and left them wounded ”.

When asked if the police mistreated her, Ely pointed out: “the municipal turned me over to the ministerials. They covered my head to start beating me, then they put the bag on my head to choke me, they pulled my hair until it was almost out and they threatened to rape me. They wanted information about my partner, but I refused, I only accepted that I half lived with him and that he was the father of my daughter. I told them that this was a fight between women and that was the only way they left me alone ”.

Katy, for her part, at 18 she was accused of kidnapping a fifteen-year-old girl. She has been in the hospital for less than a year and has just over four left to serve her sentence. She was born in the state of Zacatecas and managed to finish high school, because even though the teachers mistreated them, she liked school. He lived with his father and mother, who had failed to complete high school. When she left school out of fear of the Zetas who threatened her, she decided to follow her sister to Chihuahua, because this group was also persecuting her. Katy is the youngest of three siblings and also has three half-siblings who, although they come from a previous marriage with their father, also consider them as siblings. She says that when she was little, her family's financial situation was good because they had enough to live on and her parents took care of her.

He considers that the most valuable person he has is his daughter, and he also trusts his mother, although he does not trust his ex-partner. When she was 16 years old, she was raped by her partner who was a member of the Zetas.

He refers that a brother of his mother has been imprisoned in the United States for drug trafficking. His father uses alcohol and his brother drugs, both very frequently. For her part, Katy comments that since she was fourteen years old, she began to drink alcohol, but has never used drugs.

Katy was charged with kidnapping. She relates: “When I was in high school, I met a friend of her partner through my sister. The four of us went out, drank and they used marijuana. Later, my sister went to live with her partner and I was still a girlfriend with her friend, but later we found out that they were both members of the Zetas. My sister's partner was a zone commander and my boyfriend was a stake commander. We witnessed how both were well treated by the municipal police and even by the ministerials, although everyone knew of their activities. My sister and I were afraid to end our relationship with them ”.

Regarding the crime for which she was arrested, Katy says: “At that time I was fourteen years old, I was finishing high school, I started a relationship, my boyfriend was a stake commander of the Zetas and my sister, 16, was with him. commander of the plaza. They kidnapped a friend of ours, a classmate from high school, and took her to Rio Grande. I knew that because we met them at a hotel in that city. When I asked him what had happened to our partner, he told me that they had her in a room in the same hotel but that they would come for her in a while. Later I didn't know anything else. As I was with them, the kidnapped mother accused my sister and me, but I did not know anything about the accusation for several years. Later, I left that place because the Zetas commanders changed and the new ones who arrived wanted to force us to work, so my sister and I went to Chihuahua with a brother. When I saw that everything was calm, since three years had already passed, I returned and the next day they arrested me ”.

When asked if this last time the police mistreated her, Katy said: “They slapped me, pulled my hair, tied me to hit me in the ribs and put a bag on my head. They rested and came back with the same. They wanted names, but I didn't know anything about the Zetas. "

Leticia is a 19-year-old young woman who is being held in the Oaxaca detention center, who was sentenced to ten years. She is originally from Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, but since she was little she moved to the state of Oaxaca with her parents. At the age of fifteen, he decided to leave his home and go live with his partner because he fought a lot with his father. Leticia only finished elementary school and did not continue studying because she did not like school and from the age of twelve she went to work. He worked selling records at the supply center and also dispensing in a shoe store and a natural products store. His father is a watchman and did not manage to complete high school; his mother is a housewife and did not finish primary school. His parents have been separated and reunited several times. Leticia has a brother and two half-brothers and she is the youngest of all. Shortly before entering the center, he had returned to live with his parents.

She does not identify anyone as the person who has helped her the most in her life, while she identifies her father as the person who has supported her the least. He points to his siblings as the people he trusts the most. She says that when she was little she suffered beatings and mistreatment and that she did not feel that there was anyone to support her. He also refers that his father spent some time in prison and that his family's economic situation was bad and sometimes there was a lack of food.

Leticia is accused of kidnapping. She refers that through Facebook she was contacted by a young woman who told her that she and her partner came from Mexico City and that they would like her to take them to the clubs in Oaxaca. Leticia accepted and was dating them several times until they suggested that she help them carry out a kidnapping. “Since I had no money, I accepted. I didn't even know who we kidnapped and the anti-kidnapping agents stopped me when we were going for the money. I was the one who told me where the victim was, a 24-year-old boy we had for three days ”. She points out that when she was arrested, they did not inform her of what crime she was accused or of her rights, and they did not tell her that she could have a lawyer. She points out that the police treated her well and so did the judge, although her lawyer advised her not to testify. The sentence they gave him of ten years seemed fair to him.

Regarding the detention center, he says that he feels good, although he considers that the treatment and care they receive is "regular", since while some guards "are strict and humanitarian, others are strict and non-humanitarian." She also points out that, as she is the only woman in the center, they do not give her activities and only allow her to participate in school, so she feels very lonely and bored. When asked what she would change at the center, she pointed out: “to begin with, there should be equality in the activities and in the opportunities given to men and women. Also, that more people would care about us and bring us more workshops ”.

When he leaves, he says that he would like to be able to study law. She considers that it hurts women to be internal because they do not give them the same opportunities as men. Regarding these, he believes that "most of them do not go well because when they leave there is no one to wait for them ..."

Guadalupe, 19 years old, she has been in the hospital for almost two years and must serve another 4 to regain her freedom. He was born in the state of Durango. She did not manage to finish high school because, in addition to being bored, the mistreatment of teachers, failing subjects and a pregnancy at the age of fifteen ended up making her drop out. Since she was little she has lived with her maternal grandmother. Like Guadalupe, her mother had also become pregnant at fifteen and did not want to take care of her. She says that when she was little, her financial situation was not bad and they had enough to live on. She considers that her grandmother has been the most valuable person and the one who has supported her the most in her life, while her father is the person who has hurt her the most: “I needed my father and he was never there; I wanted to be like my classmates and it hurt me not to see him. To date, I don't think he cares about me ”. Regarding his mother, he says that when he visited her, he always beat her or insulted her.

He says that some of his cousins have been in prison for robbery and gang murder. He remembers that his grandfather used alcohol frequently and he noticed it because he became violent and hit his grandmother. For his part, he says, “I started drinking from the age of thirteen, I did it with friends from the neighborhood, but older; it became easy for me and I became an alcoholic. When I was pregnant I used to do drugs and drank, I did it until I was 16 after I lost my baby in the second pregnancy ”.

Guadalupe was charged with murder. “When I was in high school, I met my daughter's father, he was a neighbor of the neighborhood and I got pregnant with him, at that time I was drinking and I started using drugs… at fourteen I started selling drugs near my house. Luckily I managed to escape several times from being detained by the military ... On one occasion, a person came asking about drugs, we realized that he was not from there and we thought he was from another group, we detained him for questioning. I phoned my employers to find out what to do, they gave us the order to kill him, but since we had no weapons, we threw a stone at his head. Minutes later a group of soldiers arrived and there we realized that the person belonged to the army ”.

When asked if he had any position within the group, he replied: “I coordinated a group of 17 young men who had the function of caring for, lifting and confronting other groups that wanted to sell. She sold drugs, she was the boss of the place, she distributed marijuana, cocaine and stone. He reported to a person from the same city who, in turn, received communication from others and had the task of ensuring that no one else went to sell in the area assigned to him ”.

When asked if on this last occasion the police mistreated her, Guadalupe pointed out: “the ministerial detained me at my house, there they began to beat me, then they transferred me to the separators. In that place, they hung me by the arms to give electric shocks to my feet, then they threw cold water on me and ended up hitting me with a board all over my body. They repeated it every so often for two days and then they handed me over to the military ... At the military barracks, they beat me again and also threatened that they were going to rape me, they even told me that they gave me the privilege of choosing the one who was going to penetrate first… As a result of the torture I lost my baby, I was two and a half months pregnant ”.

Sandra, She is an 18-year-old adolescent from Cárdenas, Tabasco, who has been hospitalized for less than a year and must stay for another four to serve her sentence. He left home at fifteen "because he wanted to go on an adventure." He then moved to Cancun, where he mainly engaged in prostitution. She finished high school, but she was bored, she didn't understand teachers or books, they failed her, and she didn't like school. His father died of tuberculosis and he did not live long with her; his mother, who has completed primary school, worked for some time on a platform for pemex, which forced her to be away from home for several months. When she left school, Sandra had no activity and began to interact with young people from her neighborhood, who led her to leave their home at the age of thirteen. She is the youngest of two brothers and has another half brother. The mother supported her to the best of her ability, although she had little time due to her work at pemex. Sandra considers that the most valuable person she has is her daughter, who she trusts the most is her grandfather, while she thinks that her father is the one who caused her the most damage due to his absence. In her family environment, she does not refer to having suffered abuse, beatings or mistreatment, although in her family they consumed alcohol and drugs, which she began to do at the age of thirteen. He also tells that brothers, uncles and cousins have been in prison.

Sandra was charged with murder and kidnapping. He relates: “I was engaged in prostitution in Cancun since I was fifteen; I got tired of so much abuse, a client raped me and I got pregnant, that's why I returned to Tabasco ”. Later, he says, through some acquaintances, he joined an organized crime group: “a person who was from the Zetas offered me to work as a hawk; Later I was the head of the hawks and in the end they passed me on to kidnappings, uprisings and execution of the hostages. My group was 53 people. They caught me in the last kidnapping I did when I was going for ransom ”. When asked if he had any rank within the group, he replied: "As I was a commander, I was in charge of many people and I had to set an example when we had to act, although I was dedicated to kidnapping and executing, nothing more."

Sandra now lives with her daughter in the detention center and says that originally they wanted to give her a ten-year sentence, "but later they lowered it to five years because we gave the Public Ministry money to lower it."


Without attempting to exhaust the multiple lines of analysis and interpretation that could emerge from the previous testimonies, we would like to mention only a few that we consider important to highlight.

  1. Although some differences can be seen between the first group, that of crimes traditionally committed by women, and the second, characterized by the participation of adolescent girls in organized crime groups, we also find important coincidences. Among these, the context of vulnerability in which the adolescents of both groups grew up –which includes mistreatment, sexual abuse and early pregnancies– does not offer great differences. Nor is one group distinguished from the other in that in both cases the adolescent girls were involved in criminal activities in which they participated alongside their romantic partners, as most studies on female crime have shown. In fact, four of the six girls who joined organized crime groups (Maribel, Ely, Katy and Guadalupe) did so by following their partners.
  2. Among the differences that can be highlighted are: a) in some cases (Maribel and Leticia), the girls who joined organized crime were contacted through Facebook; b) the adolescents who were part of organized crime groups showed a greater capacity for agency and leadership, to the extent that two of them (Guadalupe and Sandra) came to occupy positions of command within the organization, being in charge of a group of hitmen , and c) although the crimes can be equally serious in the cases of the adolescents of both groups (homicide, kidnapping), what distinguishes those who participated in organized crime is the systematic nature of their acts, the escalation towards crimes each time more serious and violent and the greater number of victims who were affected.
  3. Another difference, which does not seem to be substantive but circumstantial, is that the adolescents in the second group were more likely to be captured by organized crime groups, both because these groups were present and had a certain dominance in the environment where they lived as for the fact that there was no one with sufficient interest or strength to protect or counteract the influence that these groups exerted on them, since they took advantage of their immaturity and lack of support to recruit them and obtain benefits.
  4. The adolescent girls' stories reveal several worrying issues about the role of the various security and justice authorities, including: a) their active participation or complicity with some organized crime groups; b) the failure to comply with the rules of due process both at the time of arresting adolescent girls and while they are subject to prosecution, and c) the systematic and indiscriminate practice of torture, regardless of whether they were minors.
  5. They also reported important institutional deficiencies regarding the establishments where adolescents are detained. It is worth noting that, compared to men, women were much more sensitive and perceptive about what happens in these centers. Thus, they denounced the lack of care and opportunities suffered by women, since, being a small minority, they are not allowed to participate in educational, sports or training programs aimed at men. Only a few centers, the minority, have specific programs for women.
  6. Beyond the differences that we noted between the two groups, it is clear that in both we observed adolescent women with agency capacity, who took control over their actions beyond the circumstances that could have influenced their decisions.

To conclude, we would like to emphasize that in this work we have tried to account for the situations of vulnerability that adolescent girls faced and that, to a large extent, contributed to their involvement in criminal activities. These are, so to speak, the conditions of primary vulnerability that they faced in their environment. Added to these conditions of primary vulnerability are those that occur when adolescent girls come into contact with security and justice institutions. We call these conditions of secondary vulnerability. With this we refer to the difficulties these systems show to operate, in all their phases, within the framework of the law from a gender perspective that manages to account for and overcome the specific disadvantages faced by women. It is therefore urgent that these institutions design and implement care programs that promote gender equality.

Otherwise, the passage of adolescents through the circuits of justice not only does not equip them with the elements they require to face their conditions of primary vulnerability, but also generates new damages or conditions of secondary vulnerability that reduce their chances of joining to society as competent, responsible, autonomous people and capable of making decisions that promote their well-being and that of their community.

Most of the adolescents whose testimonies we have been able to hear in this work have gone through difficult and painful experiences that have caused them significant damage and that they, in turn, have reproduced against other people. In most cases, their experiences in justice institutions do not allow them to take charge of their responsibility, fully understand their situation, or be in a position to repair the physical and emotional damages they have suffered and that they have caused others to suffer. There is much to be done so that the justice systems in Mexico are able to provide adolescent girls with the elements and tools they require to be able to make the transition to adulthood in conditions that allow them to reduce their situation of disadvantage in relation to others. from the country. Failure to do so will be condemning them to permanently live in disadvantaged conditions.


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EncartesVol. 5, No. 10, September 2022-February 2023, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: September 22, 2022.