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Sexual Abuse, Torture Used Against Women in Mexico Prisons, Arrests: Report

An Amnesty International investigation found almost three-quarters of women who have been imprisoned in Mexico have experienced sexual violence during arrests or interrogations.

Investigators interviewed 100 women who have jailed in a Mexico federal prison, and all of them say authorities physically, psychologically or sexually abused them during arrests or interrogations.

Almost 97 percent of them reported some form of physical abuse like near-asphyxiation with plastic bags and beatings. About 72 percent of respondents say the police have threatened them or their families with rape, shocked their genitals with electricity or raped them with firearms, foreign objects or a penis.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, director for the Americas of International Amnesty speaks during the presentation of the report  "Survive to the death" on torture to women in jails of Mexico
Erika Guevara-Rosas, director for the Americas of International Amnesty speaks during the presentation of the report "Survive to the death" on torture to women in jails of Mexico, on June 28, 2016, in Mexico city. RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP - Getty Images

The report, which can be read here, found it mainly happened during arrests and interrogations.

The Amnesty International investigation found that 80 percent of arrests carried out by the Navy involve rape of some form, and 60 percent of arrests by municipal police involve rape. Thirty-three of the 100 women who were interviewed were raped during their arrest.

According to the report, one of the prisoners, Maria Magdalena Saavedra, was accused of being the financial controller of a drug cartel. On Mother's Day in 2013, marines knocked down her front door and suffocated her with a plastic bag until she passed out during the arrest. Authorities interrogated Saavedra for 20 hours, shocking her mouth and genitals with electricity, raping her with foreign objects and threatening to harm her daughter.

Saavedra signed a "confession" with her fingerprints, alongside a marine, who continued to beat her. The Navy doctor who examined her said she was "physically healthy," although Amnesty International found clear signs of scarring, physical and emotional trauma.

Since 2010, officials opened 95 investigations for sexual abuse and rape — 15 for public officials. Investigators charged 63 of the officials. In the past six years, three marines have been suspended for sexual abuse of women and one temporarily banned.

presentation of the report  "Survive to the death" on torture to women in jails of Mexico
Madeleine Penman researcher on Mexico for Amnesty International (L) speaks next to Erika Guevara-Rosas (R), director for the Americas of Amnesty International during the presentation of the report "Survive to the death" on torture to women in jails of Mexico, on June 28, 2016, in Mexico city. RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP - Getty Images

"This failure to carry out proper investigations and bring those responsible to justice sends a dangerous message that raping women or using other forms of sexual violence to force confessions is tolerated and actually allowed. Mexican authorities seem determined to keep this issue in the dark," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

RELATED: Mexico's Defense Secretary Apologizes for Torture Incident

Amnesty International found 72 of the 100 women they interviewed were in "preventative detention," which can be caused by judicial delays.

"A majority of female detainees worldwide are first-time offenders suspected of or charged with non-violent (drug- or property-related) crimes, yet are automatically sent to pretrial detention," according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. "Women in pretrial detention facilities — which are typically not built or managed in a gender-sensitive manner — tend not to have access to specialized health care and educational or vocational training."

In April 2016, a video of military and police officials suffocating a female prisoner with a plastic bag leaked to the public. Mexico's defense secretary Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda formally apologized to the country for the video, which showed torture involving two soldiers and a federal police officer. Shortly afterward, the Mexican National Human Rights Commission issued a recommendation for a criminal investigation into the video. The prisoner in the video still remains in prison.

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