Ilia Calderón talked to People CHICA about an Aquí y Ahora investigative report on femicide in Latin America. Find out what the news anchor discovered about the growing rate of violence against Latinas.

Por Lena Hansen
Octubre 17, 2019
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Ilia Calderón admits that reporting the heartbreaking stories included in a special investigative report on femicide in Latin America, airing this Sunday at 7 pm on Univision's Aquí y Ahora, took an emotional toll. “It really affected me,” she tells People CHICA. “It's hard to see their kids — their children many times end up orphans,” she says. “We see small children and teens traumatized. These kids are left without a mom and a dad. They often fall into adoption or foster care systems or have to stay with other relatives because their father ends up in jail.”

The Noticiero Univision co-anchor traveled to Mexico and El Salvador to investigate stories of brutal violence against Latinas. “This is a very serious problem in all of Latin America,” Calderón says. “The statistics are alarming,” she adds, mentioning Mexico, where over 3,600 women were killed last year, as just one example. “These are just cases that are known. There are also thousands of women who have disappeared.”

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One of the stories the show covers is the murder of Salvadoran journalist Karla Turcios by her husband. “She was the mom of a child who had been diagnosed with autism. The prosecutor told us that everything happened while the child was in the house, that when he went to get rid of the body the child was in the car with him,” Calderón recalls. Karla's body showed signs that she had been strangled; she had plastic bags over her head and her face had been beaten. Calderón says many victims of femicide are often badly beaten when they are killed and many are found naked or in underwear, sometimes abandoned in hotel rooms — all ways to denigrate women.

She also covered the murder of Rosa María, a doctor killed by her husband in El Salvador. “Rosa María and Karla had various things in common. They were the professional ones in the home, the ones that worked and were the providers. They also suffered domestic violence, physical and psychological, in silence, and they distanced themselves from their families to be closer to their husbands,” Calderón says. The news anchor says some boyfriends or husbands who are not at the same professional level as their female partners may use violence as way to show they are in control. “It's a way to take vengeance on the woman because she is the provider, she is the professional one, the pretty one and the admired one. That generates a dynamic of aggression.”

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She also interviewed a Mexican woman whose sister had been murdered before her wedding by her fiancé. “They had a fight. She was with her best friend and he ran them over with his car,” Calderón says of the murder of Serymar Soto. A year after she was murdered, on what would have been Serymar's wedding anniversary, her sister posted the wedding dress she was going to wear and the photo of her fugitive fiancé on a Facebook page she created titled “Los Machos Nos Matan en México” [Machos Kill Us In Mexico]. Thanks to getting information from an anonymous Facebook user, the police were able to find and arrest him. On that page, people now post other photos and stories of women whose murders have been left unsolved.

Femicides can affect women of all social classes and ages, Calderón says. She also reports on the case of Colombian woman Rosa Elvira Cely, who was walking in a park when she was raped and tortured and left for dead. She was able to call the police and tell her story before she died; the case prompted legislators to create the Rosa Elvira Cely law in Colombia. This law was applied years later to punish the killer of a 7-year-old indigenous Colombian girl named Yuliana Samboní, which was ruled a femicide. Yuliana was kidnapped in the street by an architect, who later raped her and killed her in his apartment. He was found guilty of aggravated murder and sentenced to 58 years in jail.

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Not all countries classify the murder of women as femicides, making it an aggravated homicide due to gender and adding additional jail time to the sentences of the perpetrators. Latin American countries like Mexico, El Salvador and Colombia do recognize femicides, while the United States does not, Calderón says.

She also reported on the case of Maribel Torres, a Cuban woman killed in Florida. “Her partner always tried to distance her from her family,” Calderón says, which is common in domestic violence cases. Even after he killed the mother of his children, he continued to send messages to her family from her cell phone pretending to be her, so they wouldn't suspect she was harmed. The family reported her missing months later when they realized something was wrong. They got a phone call from the murderer's sister telling the victim's family to go pick up her children, who had been “abandoned” by their mother. That's when her family knew she was in trouble, because she would never leave her kids. Her body was found 8 months later inside a canal in a cement box.

Calderón says many victims face obstacles in denouncing violence against domestic partners. She spoke to Brenda Vásquez, a survivor who says her husband almost burned her and their kids alive in their home in El Salvador and that their second child was the product of rape from him. She told Calderón that she would denounce the beatings to the police and they would tell her things like, “Behave with your husband and you'll see that things will improve,” or “Women have to endure this.”

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“It's deeply rooted in our culture, this machismo and the idea that women have to put up with things to keep the family together because children need their father,” she says. “Many times men are the providers and women being financially dependent on men is another factor that leads to this.” Although there are nonprofit organizations and government entities in Latin America dedicated to protect women from violence, Calderón argues there is a long way to go. Men often make their victims feel guilty by abusing them psychologically and pummeling their self-esteem. “This can end in them killing them or sending them to the hospital from a beating,” she says. “It's a cycle that is hard to break, unfortunately. It all starts with education from an early age,” she adds about finding solutions. “It's not just about empowering girls — it's about teaching boys to value women.”

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The Colombian journalist also had a message of hope for domestic violence victims. “They have to believe in themselves and know that it's not normal for this to happen. They have to look for help — it's hard sometimes, because they find rejection or face this wall from authorities.” The women that insist on getting help, denouncing these crimes and regaining their independence are the ones “that live to tell their stories,” Calderón emphasizes. “I don't want to blame women who haven't been able to break this cycle because it's not their fault, but the message to a woman that is going through this is this: There is another world out there, people can believe you and there are opportunities out there. It's possible to get out of this and only those who are able to take that step will survive.”