Rape victims in Mexico face hostile officials who actively prevent women from accessing legal abortion services, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW). The report, “The Second Assault: Obstructing Access to Legal Abortion after Rape in Mexico,” details the aggressive ways in which state agencies discourage and delay women’s abortions. Abortion is criminalized in Mexico except in cases of rape, but many women are not aware of the laws and are lied to about what they must do to access an abortion, according to HRW. Some women are threatened, others are told they can only have an abortion if they arrange for a coffin and hearse for the fetus, and others face interminable delays. As a result of the heavy-handed intimidation tactics, many women risk their lives and health by turning to back-alley abortions. "Pregnant rape victims are essentially assaulted twice," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "First by the perpetrators who raped them, and then by officials who ignore them, insult them and deny them a legal abortion."
Furthermore, rapes are believed to be widely underreported. While, according to HRW, the government figure is 120,000 rapes per year, HRW estimates that there may be nearly 1 million rapes in Mexico each year. Mexican law offers insufficient protections for victims of rape and incest, as marital rape was tolerated until recently, and incest is understood as “consensual,” resulting in equal punishments for both parties. Nonconsensual incest is supposed to be prosecuted as rape, but HRW found evidence that prosecutors frequently do not do so, even when victims are obviously underage (the age of consent in most of Mexico is 12). The combination of lax sexual assault laws and government pressure not to abort amounts to a human rights violation, said Roth, adding, "The Mexican government needs to ensure that rape victims do not have to endure dangerous back-alley abortions or imposed pregnancies."