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AP PHOTOS: Occupied Mexico rights office becomes refuge

In a colonial-era building in downtown Mexico City, dozens of feminist activists and crime victims have settled in after nearly three months of occupying the headquarters of Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission.

The women said they took over the building because the government has been slow to protect or support women who have suffered abuse or help them find their missing loved ones.

The activists are there in support of women like Erika Martínez as she demands justice for her 10-year-old daughter who suffered sexual abuse. Three years ago, Martínez reported her daughter’s abuser to the sexual crimes prosecutor, but the man remains free. So she decided to join the activists in their occupation of the human rights commission offices.

Erika Martinez gets a kiss from her 10-year-old daughter, who hides her identity with a T-shirt, as she makes key chains to sell while living inside Mexico’s Human Rights Commission (CNDH) headquarters, which has been converted into a refuge for victims of gender violence like Martinez and her daughter, after women’s rights activists occupied it three months ago in Mexico City, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. Martinez said she was sexually abused when she was 10-years-old but the attack was never reported by her parents, and that her daughter suffered the same fate from her brother-in-law three years ago when she was just 7, and that her attacker remains free despite her reporting it to authorities. (AP PhotoGinnette Riquelme)

“I decided to do it to draw more attention to my daughter’s case,” Martínez said. Martínez said that she suffered sexual abuse as a girl as well and that her mother did not defend her and did not report the abuse.

Martinez's 10-year-old and another daughter are living at the building with her. They participate in demonstrations and the girl plays with her Chihuahua amid the graffiti covered walls. Martínez paints women’s faces on key chains she sells at marches. Women who support the movement buy the trinkets and they serve as a way to recognize those empathetic to the cause.

The rights commission is funded by the government but has a measure of independence. It can make recommendations to government agencies, which are usually followed. The offices have become a refuge for other victims of abuse as well.

Women’s rights activists who say they cover their faces because they fear for their safety, serve dinner in the kitchen at the offices of the Mexican Human Rights Commission (CNDH), which they have been occupying for almost three months in Mexico City, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. Feminist activists are occupying the CNDH to demand justice for the victims of sexual abuse, femicide, and other gender violence, and have opened it as a refuge to victims of sexual violence, where some mothers have brought their children to live while the government either failed to solve or even investigate the rapes of their daughters. (AP PhotoGinnette Riquelme)

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador drew criticism in September after he expressed anger at how the demonstrators were defacing portraits of Mexican heroes inside the offices. He also has suggested his political opponents are behind the occupation.

Activists say they have seen little progress from his administration on violence perpetrated against women.

After huge protests in March over killings of women, López Obrador said the demonstrations would not change his administration’s long-term approach to the problem. He stresses addressing the root causes of crime through employment and support for family integrity.

A 10-year-old victim of sexual abuse, with her face covered to hide her identity, plays with her Chihuahua named Miel, or Honey, in the stairway covered with graffiti against sexual violence at the Mexican Human Rights Commission (CNDH), which women’s rights activists have been occupying for almost three months and turned into a refuge for victims of gender violence where she has been living with her mother, also a sexual abuse victim, in Mexico City, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. The girl’s mother Erika Martinez said she filed a complaint three years ago with the Prosecutor for Sexual Crimes after her daughter was abused when she was 7-years-old by her brother-in-law, but that the man remains free. (AP PhotoGinnette Riquelme)

According to official figures, 3,825 women met violent deaths in 2019 in Mexico, an average of more than 10 per day and a rise of 7% over the previous year.

The hand-painted faces of women decorate small pillows before being made into key rings by Erika Martinez, which she sells to raise money while living with her daughter inside Mexico’s Human Rights Commission (CNDH) office, which has been converted into a refuge for victims of gender violence like Martinez and her daughter, after women’s rights activists occupied it three months ago months in Mexico City, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. Martinez, who said she suffered sexual abuse when she was 10-years-old but was never reported by her parents, started selling doll faces last year and since then they have come to identify their carriers as supportive of feminism. Martinez said her daughter also became a victim of sexual abuse by her brother-in-law three years ago when her daughter was just 7, but that her attacker remains free despite, her reporting it to authorities. (AP PhotoGinnette Riquelme)

Erika Martinez makes key rings to sell and raise money while living with her daughter inside Mexico’s Human Rights Commission (CNDH) headquarters, converted into a refuge for victims of gender violence like her and her daughter, after women’s rights activists occupied it three months ago in Mexico City, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. Martinez said she suffered sexual abuse when she was 10-years-old but was never reported by her parents, and that her daughter became a victim of sexual abuse by her brother-in-law three years ago when her daughter was just 7, but that her attacker remains free despite reporting it to authorities. (AP PhotoGinnette Riquelme)

A 10-year-old victim of sexual abuse, who keeps her face covered to hide her identity, poses for a photo while playing with aerial fabric inside the Mexican Human Rights Commission (CNDH) headquarters where she has been living with her mother, also a victim of sexual abuse when she was a child, after women’s rights activists occupied the building and turned it into a refuge almost three months prior in Mexico City, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. The girl’s mother Erika Martinez said she filed a complaint three years ago with the Prosecutor for Sexual Crimes after her daughter was abused at age 7 by her brother-in-law, but that the man remains free. (AP PhotoGinnette Riquelme)

A women’s rights activist cleans at the offices of the Mexican Human Rights Commission (CNDH), which her group has occupied for almost three months, converting it into a refuge for victims of gender violence in Mexico City, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. Feminist activists are occupying the building to demand justice for the victims of sexual abuse, femicide, and other gender violence, and are hosting some women and their children after the government either failed to solve or investigate sexual attacks on their daughters. (AP PhotoGinnette Riquelme)

A 10-year-old victim of sexual abuse, who keeps her face covered to hide her identity, poses for an all-female documentary crew from “Las Rudas Film” inside the Mexican Human Rights Commission (CNDH) where she has been living with her mother, also a victim of sexual abuse when she was a child after women’s rights activists occupied the building and turned it into a refuge almost three months prior in Mexico City, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. The girl’s mother Erika Martinez said she filed a complaint three years ago with the Prosecutor for Sexual Crimes after her daughter was abused when she was just 7 by her brother-in-law, but that he remains free. (AP PhotoGinnette Riquelme)

A painting of former Mexican President Benito Juarez sits defaced under graffiti that reads in Spanish: "Our anger is uncontainable," done by women’s rights activists inside the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) office that they have been occupied for almost three months, using it as a refuge for victims of gender violence in Mexico City, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. Feminist activists are occupying the building to demand justice for the victims of sexual abuse, femicide, and other gender violence, and are hosting some women and their children after the government either failed to solve or investigate sexual attacks on their daughters. (AP PhotoGinnette Riquelme)

A 10-year-old victim of sexual abuse, who keeps her face covered to hide her identity, poses for a portrait with her stuffed animals inside the Mexican Human Rights Commission (CNDH) headquarters where she has been living with her grandmother, mother, cousin, and two brothers after women’s rights activists occupied the building and turned it into a refuge for victims of gender violence almost three months ago in Mexico City, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. The 10-year-old suffered sexual abuse at age 7, which her mother reported to authorities, but it’s the more recent abuse of her 11-year-old cousin that led them to leave home and take refuge here. (AP PhotoGinnette Riquelme)