I am very happy to host this book launch and moderate the subsequent discussion with Dan Werb, Maia Szalavitz, and Dr. Patty Gonzalez-Zuñiga, and featuring Dan’s new book City of Omens: A Search for the Missing Women of the Borderlands.
Having visited and supported harm reduction and community safety work in Tijuana for the past several years, I’ve found myself constantly unpacking layers of complex relationships, dynamics, and forces at play that have caused immense harm – including an alarmingly increasing homicide and violence rate – among its most marginalized residents, especially women who inject drugs, are sex workers, and/or work in the maquila sector.
In trying to understand the factors that undermine their health and rights, it is not so simple to look only at injection drug use, sex work, or related harm reduction health services. It is also necessary to consider the dynamics among and between the police, cartels and political elite; the border and US militarism, and economic and migration policies; and to extreme anti-women and gender-based violence and power dynamics. And more. It is difficult to grasp these various factors let alone try to synthesize them as a whole.
Dan’s book – and Dr. Patty’s work (featured in his book) – do just that. It is a necessary addition to any of us working in public health, drug policy, harm reduction, community safety, violence prevention, police reform, women’s rights, migrant justice, or the border.
More info here and below:
Tijuana is one of the most violent cities in Mexico and the city has become increasingly dangerous for women. University of California, San Diego, epidemiologist Dan Werb calls the phenomenon of dead and missing women at the border a femicide.
Werb, who has been tracking HIV in Tijuana since 2013, has been on a quest to find what’s driving the city’s rising female homicide rate. His research and conclusions are detailed in his new book, City of Omens: A Search For the Missing Women of the Borderlands.
Despite its reputation as a carnival of vice, Tijuana was, until recently, no more or less violent than neighboring San Diego, its sister city across the border wall. But then something changed. Over the past 10 years, Mexico’s third-largest city became one of the world’s most dangerous. Tijuana’s murder rate skyrocketed and produced a staggering number of female victims. Hundreds of women are now found dead in the city each year, or bound and mutilated along the highway that lines the Baja coast.
When Dan Werb began to study these murders in 2013, rather than viewing them in isolation, he discovered that these murders could only be understood as one symptom among many. Environmental toxins, drug overdoses, HIV transmission: all were killing women at overwhelming rates. As an epidemiologist, trained to track epidemics by mining data, Werb sensed the presence of a deeper contagion targeting Tijuana’s women.
Werb’s search for the ultimate causes of Tijuana’s femicide casts new light on immigration, human trafficking, addiction, and the true cost of American empire-building.
Marc Krupanski is a senior program officer with the Open Society Public Health Program.
Dan Werb is an epidemiologist and policy analyst with expertise in HIV, addictions, and drug policy.
Maia Szalavitz is an award-winning reporter and author who focuses on science, public policy, and addiction treatment.
Patricia Gonzalez Zuniga, MD, is a Tijuana-based physician and harm reduction practitioner and researcher working with migrants, sex workers, and people experiencing homelessness and drug use.