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Camila Trombert spent her early 20s in a violent relationship. Time and time again, she said, she made excuses for the man and convinced herself that she wasn’t in serious danger. Meanwhile, one of Trombert’s closest friends was experiencing the same thing in her own relationship. The friends never talked about their situations. Instead, they downplayed the severity.
“It’s dangerous to think that it won’t happen. It’s really dangerous. It’s just as dumb as when someone drives drunk and says ‘nothing is going to happen to me,’” Trombert told the Daily Dot. “It’s the same as dating someone violent and saying ‘what happened to that poor girl will never happen to me.’ No, the same thing can happen to you.”
Almost 10 years have passed since the relationship, and four years have passed since Trombert made a 4,000-mile move to Mexico City from Chile, where she was born. But the violent experience is never far out of her mind.
When she arrived at her new home, she was shocked by the violence and machismo, or sexism, in Mexican society. Although she had seen movies about the country, she assumed they exaggerated reality.
But, Trombert said, she realized machismo was pervasive—from the telenovelas that families watch and the banda ballads sung at parties to the whistling in the streets. Week after week, newspaper headlines riddled off the most recent murders of women. Many of the cases were a result of interpersonal relationship violence.
Trombert felt like violence against women was so normalized that people weren’t talking about it or didn’t care anymore. Reflecting on her past violent relationship and the current problem in Mexico, Trombert said, she needed to do something.
Cruces x Rosas’ digital campaign
Four years after moving to Mexico City, Trombert launched Cruces x Rosas, a social media campaign that denounces violence against women through digital art. The name translates in English to “pink crosses.” The team behind the @crucesxrosas Instagram account, six Mexico City-based volunteers, includes a photographer, an art design director, content managers, and Trombert’s co-founder, Tatiana Rico. In her day job, Trombert is a publicist and does creative consulting on the side. Together, the volunteers in the group use their skills to help women identify unhealthy relationships and elevate the issue of violence against women on social media.
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Trombert and Rico said they wanted to bring the work to the digital realm for two reasons. The first was practical: They don’t receive funding. This medium was the best and cheapest way to get crucial information to a large audience.
Rico also explained that they wanted the project to participate in the fourth wave of feminism, which uses the internet and social media to prompt change.
“This is a cultural feminism. It’s about how can we empower music, how can we empower Netflix … how can we empower art,” Rico said. “And social media is more democratic and where this can be best exposed.”
More than anything, the founders said they hoped increased awareness would make people understand that violence against women isn’t and shouldn’t be the norm.
Reality of the problem
When Cruces x Rosas began, it was estimated nine women were killed every day in Mexico. The problem has only gotten worse since Trombert and her team launched the campaign on Nov. 25, 2018, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
The first months of 2019 were the most violent for women in the history of the country, according to reports from multiple Mexican news outlets. Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography found that 43% of women in the country report being abused by their husband or partner. And it’s estimated that every two and a half hours, a woman is killed there, making it one of the most deadly countries for women in the world.
“If more than 1,000 women have been murdered in the last six months in Mexico, then it needs to be a topic of conversation,” Trombert said. “And it isn’t. It just isn’t.”
Cases of violence against women often go underreported and neglected. This is the standard in Mexico, where police only solve about 5% of criminal cases.
“The first thing the government needs to do is to consider femicides, or the intent of femicide, or maltreatment, as a serious crime,” Rico said.
The Cruces x Rosas founders added that the Mexican government should implement more educational programs, like teaching people what to do if they’re concerned for their friend’s well-being. They called for programs that teach women to be in charge of their own money since many women are unable to leave abusive relationships due to financial dependence on a partner. Feminist advocates have also asked for increased safety features on streets, like more cameras and lighting at night.
A major concern is that women need a trustworthy place to turn to when a relationship is violent. In August, hundreds of feminists marched the streets in Mexico City to protest for justice in two cases of teen girls saying the police sexually assaulted them. The protests prompted the viral hashtag #NoMeCuidanMeViolan, which translates to “They don’t care about me, they violate me.”
“We need a much better police force than right now because if the police are how they are—corrupt—then they are the type of people you can’t have faith in, and you won’t go to them,” Trombert said.
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Mexico’s pink crosses
When a woman is murdered in Mexico, her family places a pink cross in public to mark her death. Too often, Trombert says, local government officials or the police remove the crosses. Cruces x Rosas decided to move this tradition to an online platform, where the crosses can’t be removed and can have an international audience.
Three times a week, the Cruces x Rosas team posts images, short-written pieces, videos, and illustrations to the Instagram account, which has about 2,000 followers. Almost all of the posts evoke images of crosses in some way, and all of them are pink.
“It is not a symbol of ‘rest in peace.’ No,” Trombert said. “This pink cross is made in a way that portrays the death of the person and is a story that we want to tell.”
In the long run, Trombert said, aesthetically pleasing artwork gets the point across better than newspaper headlines that list the number of people murdered. She argued people won’t click on the article because they don’t want to read about the reality.
“Because we consume social media, we have an eye that’s trained to see colorful things, beautiful things,” Trombert said. “If we don’t achieve this aesthetic, then the people won’t really look at it.”
The posts include captions that give educational context and information. Some offer advice for how to stay safe, like ways to automatically alert emergency phone contacts about your location if you’re in danger. Many posts detail dreams for a better future, like the desire for women to be able to leave their house safely at night. Others tell the story of how a woman or a girl died.
Cruces x Rosas has also started including “pink flags” in some posts to share warning signs of violent or controlling behavior in relationships. One of the images of a pink flag includes the caption, “If you don’t feel free to say what you feel or think,” then the person should leave the relationship.
The advice may sound basic, but Trombert and Rico said it’s important to be explicit. People aren’t educated about how to handle violent relationships—neither the people in them nor the people they confide in. The conversation is uncomfortable, Trombert said, and many people on the outside of the relationship don’t understand why women “don’t just leave.”
The government’s line
The Cruces x Rosas team believes that if the Mexican public starts having an outspoken, enraged reaction to the murder of a woman, change will follow, like the government becoming more proactive.
In reaction to a spike in violence about 10 years ago, the Mexican government created the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate the Violence Against Women. The commission works with the governors of every state on strategies to help reduce violence in the specific region. It offers financial help to organizations that submit ideas that could help decrease gender violence.
The commission also overlooks the country’s gender-alert system, which attempts to offer help and speed up criminal investigations in regions with high numbers of femicides. For many years, this program was widely seen as inadequate. Academics have called it reactionary because it started to address femicides after they were already an epidemic.
But the director of the program, María Candeleria Ochoa Ávalos, said officials are trying to revamp it. They are now revisiting alert systems that have been static for months because, as Ochoa Ávalos explained, timely investigations of disappearances and violence are crucial for the victim.
“For me, the death of a woman [no matter the number] is important, and for me to prevent a death of a woman is the basic, most important focus,” Ochoa Ávalos told the Daily Dot.
She said mitigating violence against women nationwide will take a multidimensional approach that incorporates intersectionality, or how different identities like sexuality or race affect women and the violence against them.
Ochoa Ávalos echoed Cruces x Rosas in saying that change in Mexican society will come from a mixture of education, increased public safety, and government reforms.
Verónica Martínez Estrada helps the local government in Querétaro, Mexico, with developing programs to help reduce violence against women. She also researches the issue as a professor at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education.
Although the government is trying to implement programs, they often lack the funding, the tools, and the people to make a difference on the front end, Estrada said. Like the gender-alert system, a lot of the efforts end up being reactionary rather than preventative.
Martínez Estrada said it’s time for the national government to treat femicides as a priority—as if it were a deadly disease. The government, she said, needs to funnel more focus and effort into eradicating it.
The future of the pink crosses
The women behind Cruces x Rosas aren’t interested in waiting around for the government to create programs that successfully reduce violence: They’re taking matters into its own hands.
Running the digital campaign can be difficult with a small team whose members have day jobs, but Trombert said stopping isn’t an option. The group has started receiving Instagram messages from teen girls asking for help or thanking them for the information. Cruces x Rosas then helps connect the teens with services, like therapists or safe homes.
Rico and Trombert hope the positive change they’ve seen in their Instagram inbox will eventually become more widespread. The founders soon plan to expand their social media movement outside of Mexico to Cuenca, Ecuador, the city in the country with the highest number of femicides. They said it’s important to continue fighting to raise consciousness about gender violence throughout all of Latin America.
“The solution only comes if the mentality of the people changes,” Trombert said. “So how many generations are we going to have to wait?”
Sierra Juarez is a freelance journalist and fact-checker based in Mexico. She most enjoys writing about human rights and politics and working in audience engagement. Her work has appeared in the Texas Tribune, the Austin American–Statesman, and the San Antonio Current.