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Diana the hunter: a tale of vigilante justice

Matilda Surtees follows a narrative of vengeance on the mean streets of Mexico

Matilda Surtees follows a narrative of vengeance on the mean streets of Mexico

Vigilante mythologies are rife in popular culture. They are our superheroes and our sympathetic underdogs; our Batmen and our ‘V’s with vendettas. But a real life vigilante is now making headlines. She goes by the name of ‘Diana the hunter’ and identifies herself with a narrative of delivering justice to women in the crime-stricken streets of Mexico.

On August 28, she boarded a bus headed from the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez in the state of Chihuahuhua towards the border assembly plants or maquiladoras which disproportionately employ young women. She shot the bus driver in the head and disembarked. The next day, she boarded a bus on the same route, and again shot the bus driver.

The day after, several media outlets received an email that claimed responsibility for both murders, which were committed as vengeance against the sexual violence perpetrated by bus drivers against female maquiladora workers.

Accusations of the rape and murder of women travelling to and from night shifts have been repeatedly levelled against drivers by both victims and fellow workers. Convictions are rare. The reported contents of the email voices the frustration of recurrent assaults, repeated murders, going unpunished.

“We seem weak to society, but we’re truly not … If they don’t show respect to us, we will make them respect us by our own means,” the email reads. It was signed ‘Diana, the hunter of bus drivers,’ and the story became global.

Nestled into the Mexican bank of the Rio Grande, the river that separates Texas from Mexico, Ciudad Juárez became one of the fastest growing cities in Mexico during the 1990s. The population boom, due in part to the jobs created by the maquiladoras, was outstripped by an even bigger boom in crime. But one crime trend in particular has emerged. Ciudad Juárez has the highest per capita rate of female homicides of any city in Mexico by a significant margin. Over a third of these murders involve sexual violence.

There are persistent stories of women who disappear and whose bodies are found weeks later: raped, mutilated, and murdered. The response by government and law enforcement has been heavily criticised. They have been accused at times of being too slow to act — made sluggish by apparent indifference — and accused at other times of being too hasty with their eagerness to close a case prevailing over other considerations.
It’s not clear which particular assaults ‘Diana the hunter’ is claiming to avenge or if the bus drivers she murdered were guilty of any rapes or murders. A statement made by Arturo Sandoval, a spokesman for Chihuahua’s state prosecution, acknowledged the possibility that “this could have been someone who had a run-in with a driver or one of his relatives.” ‘Diana the hunter’ certainly seems to indicate that the murdered bus drivers were specifically targeted.

Sandoval’s statement continued to say that “nobody can take justice into their own hands,” and that “if she was a victim of a bus driver or knows someone in that situation, she has to report it and let authorities do their job.” The directive to let justice take its course is often appropriate. In the case of Ciudad Juárez and its female homicides, it seems to place an unwarranted amount of faith in the Juárez authorities.
Imelda Marrufo, a human rights advocate and lawyer from Juárez, told the Los Angeles Times that if the ‘Diana the hunter’ story is true, she would have been faced “with such a lack of justice that she has no hope that whoever did that to her will ever pay for the crime. Like so many women in Ciudad Juárez.”

Her moniker is taken from Roman mythology: a goddess of the hunt and of women, a sworn virgin who fiercely defended her chastity. The connection is easily drawn between the mythological Diana and the vigilante seeking vengeance for brutally denied sexual autonomy. Glorifying ‘Diana the hunter’ would not be hard.
Yet ‘Diana the hunter’ is not delivering divine vengeance. Her humanity is as inescapable as her murders, and it makes her all the more compelling. In the days after she killed two men, plain-clothes police officers were installed on the buses that drive the routes to the maquiladoras. The deterrent worked. She hasn’t murdered since.

The speed and efficacy with which Juárez’s law enforcement dealt with a woman filled with murderous rage from living in an epicentre of sexual violence was sufficient. In another context, it might have even seemed commendable. As it is, the small light cast by one adequate response only throws the failures into even starker contrast, silhouetted against a backdrop of brutalised women.