Trans woman about to celebrate her 32nd birthday tortured to death in Mexico

Headshot of Sarahí Atenea

A trans woman was tortured to death – her body carelessly ditched in an irrigation canal – in Mexico, leaving her loved ones in “great pain”.

Sarahí Atenea, 31, was found slain in the body of water that, officials say, has ties to “organised crime”. It runs through Lo de Villa, a town in the western state of Colima.

Her body, which had signs of torture, was found by passers-by last Saturday (11 December) along the Juárez Canal, commonly referred to locals as “death row”. Around her body, cardboard signs with threatening messages lay scattered.

Atenea was described by those who knew her as a nurturing, pathbreaking woman who always sought to encourage everyone around her to be themselves.

“You have left great pain in the family,” a relative wrote on social media, according to Presentes, a news outlet focusing on LGBT+ rights in Latin America.

“Your family has always accepted you and gave you a lot of love. Thank you for being that incomparable aunt who taught us that being different does not define you as a person.

“On the contrary, it gives a little more joy to your life.”

Gruesome death of trans woman leaves activists ‘filled with pain and anger’

For Dissident Pride, an LGBT+ rights collective, the killing of Atenea captured how untamed drug trafficking and an ineffective police force are exacerbating violence against queer people.

“The news fills us with pain and anger,” the group wrote in a statement shared on Instagram Sunday (12 December).

“We demand justice from the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Colima for all those murdered. And to the state government, a real change in the security strategy that is killing us.”

Marco Antonio Gaspar, a human rights campaigner, told Presentes that the rural river where Atenea was found is referred to by locals as “death row”.

“They have found other trans women and men there,” he said, adding that many of the deaths are “linked to organised crime” and is a popular nook for sex workers.

Gaspar added that Atenea was just about to celebrate her 32nd birthday when she was killed – the average trans woman in Latin America has a life expectancy of just 35, researchers have found.

Atenea’s death has horrified and transfixed a Mexico increasingly inured to the violent deaths of trans women – in Colima alone, five trans women have been slain this year.

A trans activist demonstrates against transphobia in Mexico City, Mexico. (Fernanda Rojas / Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

As one of the deadliest years for trans people draws to a juddering close, Mexico is the second violent place to be trans in the world, with at least 65 trans people be brutally murdered in the past year, monitoring groups found.

Of the victims, more than half were killed with firearms, a report by feminist campaign group Intersecta found.

While annual records can vary between groups, the trend remains the same – anti-trans violence is on the up and has been for years.

Indeed, to Gaspar, who has been tallying hate crimes in Colima for 20 years, Atenea’s grisly passing is the latest in a disturbing history in the state against LGBT+ people.

In Comala, a sleepy town of white buildings in the north, Gaspar said he recorded a young queer person brutally beheaded by residents. They cut his penis off and left it in his mouth.

“Four years ago,” he added, “a trans woman and her partner were found kneeling and beheaded. [She] was stabbed 48 times.”