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Violence against women in Latin America: Is it getting worse?

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In 2009, Mexico recorded its highest number of femicides since 1985, recording 1,858 deaths, according to a UN report.

"We have documented an alarming growth of femicide in the country," says Jose Martinez Cruz, the head of a human rights organization in the state of Morelos in central Mexico.

Patsili Toledo, a Chilean lawyer active in women's rights issues, says the drug war, like most armed conflict, is particularly dangerous for women. They become more vulnerable amid a breakdown of law and order and social mores.

Women have certainly become victims of the drug trade as they participate in it; but in some cases, women are used as a form of social cohesion among gang members. The men can bond over inflicting violence against women. That may have been a motive in another setback for women in Mexico, when a group of teens on a spiritual retreat in July was overtaken by a gang that raped five women and girls.

Three of the suspects admitted to doing so after other gang members pressured them.

"The bodies of these women are a way of hurting the enemy," Ms. Toledo says. "There are also many, many more guns and weapons. That [kind of] domestic environment is more dangerous for everyone."

But beyond the context of organized crime, gender violence is still firmly entrenched in Latin America. This is especially true in terms of domestic violence, which in some places is getting worse and more brutal.

The number of femicides in Chile, which defines it as the murder of a woman by a current or former partner or husband, has jumped 31 percent in the first half of 2012 compared with the same period last year, according to a study by the nongovernmental group Activa and Pedro de Valdivia University.

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