A few weeks ago, I attended one of Mexico’s new ‘spoken’ trials as an observer. It was one of the first in which a survivor of sexual torture gave oral testimony against the man who tortured her, a policeman.
Cristel Piña raises her gaze to meet the stare of her torturer. “Do you remember how you told me I would never forget your face?” the 25-year-old asks him.
“Yes, I remember,” the policeman responds.
“Do you remember how you forced me to give you oral sex while the other policeman masturbated in front of me?” she continues.
He looks her straight in the eye. “I don´t remember,” he says.
Two years on, no room for doubt
My jaw drops open as I watch this exchange, sitting just a few metres away in a courtroom in Ciudad Juarez, northern Mexico.
Cristel, a mother of two young boys, is one of the first survivors of sexual torture to participate in Mexico’s new trial system, which focuses on spoken testimony rather than written.
She faces the policeman who tortured her two years ago and who has remained on the job ever since. He sits stony-faced before a judge, confirming that yes, he carried out her arrest that August day in 2013.
You did me so much harm. And now you will never forget my face.Cristel to the policeman who tortured her
It was the evening of 12 August when state police stormed Cristel’s home in Ciudad Juarez and arrested her, alongside her husband. They beat both of them, and then began to sexually abuse Cristel, pulling off her blouse. “We are going to have some fun, bitch,” they told her.
“No one is going to believe that they beat you” the officials told me
Cristel was accused of extortion and once detained, forced to incriminate herself on videotape. But as soon as she was brought before a judge, Cristel retracted her confession and spoke out about her torture, pulling up her trouser leg to show her bruises.
Neither the judge nor the prosecutor looked into it. And I’m astonished to hear that a whole string of public officials, one after another, followed suit.
According to Cristel, the state doctor who examined her made it clear she should avoid talking about the torture. A prison doctor told her, “No one is going to believe they beat you.” When Cristel tried to tell a public prosecutor what the police had done to her, she was told that such details were irrelevant.
Each turned a blind eye to Cristel’s injuries and her reports of sexual torture.
Breaking the cycle of impunity
Cristel´s story is all-too-common in Mexico, where state torturers enjoy almost complete impunity. And it’s getting worse: while torture complaints doubled between 2013 and 2014, the authorities have been unable to point towards a single charge laid against perpetrators at the federal level in 2014.
Cristel has spent the last two years in prison, while the man who she claims tortured her remains free. Finally, a judge last week acquitted Cristel and ruled that the evidence did not prove she had committed a crime. She could be free in a matter of days, as long as the public prosecutor does not appeal. “I just don’t understand why this all happened to me”, she tells me quietly, tears running down her face. I’m simply struck by her bravery in speaking out about what she’s been through.
Mexico must ensure those who are responsible for Cristel’s torture face justice and she receives reparations. Take action hereto help stop torture in Mexico and bring torturers to account.