Currently, in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, there is a higher penalty for stealing a cow than for raping a woman, Laura Aragon, a representative of Justicia Para Nuestra Hijas (Justice for our Daughters), told an audience of over 45 at a tea at La Casa Cultural Thursday.

Aragon was just one of several speakers to tell the story of the over 450 females from the border town of Juarez who have gone missing since 1993. Out of those 450 women, the mutilated bodies of over 350 have been found. Most contain evidence that rape and torture occurred before the murder.

Despite these atrocities, the government has taken little or no action to find the perpetrators or to help the victims’ families, Soledad Aguilar, the mother of a victim, said through a translator.

In 1995, Aguilar’s daughter, Cecilia Covarrobias, was held captive for two days with her own infant daughter. Her captors raped her repeatedly and finally shot her multiple times in the back.

But when Aguilar went to report her daughter’s disappearance to the authorities, they laughed at her tears, she said. When her daughter’s bruised body was found, Aguilar said, the officials told her it was her daughter’s fault she had been raped.

“How can I explain what I have experienced, the impunity of the authorities? They blame our children for the action that was done to them,” she said.

In the 370 reported cases of missing women, the police and other investigative authorities have never been the ones to find the victims and in many cases have destroyed evidence.

“In Chihuahua, ‘disappearance’ itself is not considered a crime, so the police claim that they have no obligation,” Aragon said.

To get around this obstacle, lawyers have started reporting women as kidnapped immediately after they are discovered missing. But the speakers said the authorities reject these claims because they do not believe poor women would ever be kidnapped.

The women who were murdered are poor and thus have no voice to speak for them, Aguilar said. She had joined with other relatives of the victims in an attempt to start an organization to protect women’s rights, but the organization dissolved recently because it lacked resources. Macrina Cardenas, a representative of the Mexican Solidarity network — another human rights organization — said the authorities’ attitude led to the advocacy group’s dissolution.

“Instead of conducting an investigation of the crimes, the police have targeted the victims’ families,” she said.

As of now, there are only theories about who is committing the murders. These theories range from an idea that the killings are committed for pornography to one that the murderers are serial killers or members of satanic cults. But as no investigation has been opened, it is impossible to know for sure, Cardenas said.

“Today, anyone knows that they can kill a woman and rape her and nothing is going to happen to them,” Aragon said.

Although Mexican President Vincente Fox wrote an editorial to The Washington Post last year claiming that the problem had been fixed, another woman disappeared from Juarez less than two weeks ago, on March 30.

Although these crimes are committed against Mexican women, they are a binational problem, American studies professor Alicia Schmidt Camacho said.

“I think there has to be an international solution, because I think that the violence may have its roots related to international problems in how the borders have been developed,” Camacho, who invited the speakers, said.

House Resolution 466, which would provide U.S. support for the women of Juarez, is now before Congress.

Many of the members of the audience were impressed by the strength of the women.

“I think that it is very wonderful that these women came here, this was especially important to me because I live in a border town,” said Claudia Ortiz ’06, who is from Brownsville, Texas.

The day’s events concluded with a screening of the documentary “Senorita Extraviada” Thursday night.

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