A Mexican woman who killed a man who was defending himself when he attacked and raped her in 2021 was sentenced to more than six years in prison, a decision that her legal defense called “discriminatory” and which she announced on Tuesday’s appeal to insert
The ruling against Roxana Ruiz drew the ire of experts and feminist groups, who said it showed the scale of gender-based violence and Mexico’s poor record in prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence.
“It would set a bad precedent if this ruling were to hold. It sends the message to women that the law says you can defend yourself, but only up to a point,” said Ángel Carrera, her defense attorney. “He raped you, but you have no right to do anything.”
The Associated Press does not typically identify victims of sexual assault, but Ruiz has given her permission to be identified and attends public demonstrations led by activists who support her.
While Mexico’s state court found Monday that Ruiz had been raped, it said the 23-year-old was guilty of murder with “excessive use of legitimate defense,” adding that a blow to the man’s head would have been enough to kill herself defend. Ruiz was also ordered to pay more than $16,000 in reparations to the family of the man who raped her.
In May 2021, Ruiz was working selling french fries in Nezahualcoyotl, one of 11 communities in the Mexican state that have a standing gender alert over femicide and another over enforced disappearances of women.
While having a beer with a friend, Ruiz, an Indigenous Mixteca woman and single mother from the state of Oaxaca, met a man she had seen in the neighborhood. After spending time, he offered to walk her home and later asked her to stay the night since it was getting late and he was far from home.
Ruiz agreed to let him sleep on a mattress on the floor. But while she was sleeping, he climbed onto her bed, beat her, tore off her clothes and raped her, according to Ruiz’s legal defense. Ruiz fought back and hit him on the nose. He threatened to kill her, and fighting to free her, she killed him in self-defense.
Panicking, Ruiz stuffed the man’s body into a bag and dragged it into the street, where passing police officers arrested them.
Although she told police she had been raped, Carrera said a forensic examination was never conducted, which is a crucial step in prosecuting sexual violence cases. Instead, an officer replied that she probably initially wanted to have sex with the man and then changed her mind, he said.
“I regret what I did, but if I hadn’t I would be dead today,” Ruiz said in an interview with the AP last year, adding, “It’s obvious that the state wants to silence us submissive, wants us imprisoned inside, wants us dead.”
Women’s rights groups have repeatedly accused the Mexican authorities of re-victimizing survivors and failing to evaluate cases on a gender basis.
Ruiz spent nine months in prison on murder charges and excess of legitimate self-defense, and was eventually released to await trial.
Government data shows that nearly half of Mexican women have experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives.
In 2022, the Mexican government registered a total of 3,754 women – an average of 10 per day – who were deliberately killed, a significant increase compared to the previous year. Only a third were investigated for femicide.
This figure is likely only a fraction of the actual number, as more and more disappearances disappear and violence goes unreported in the country.
Angelica Ospina, gender fellow at the International Crisis Group in Mexico, said she fears the conviction could empower perpetrators while discouraging women from reporting or defending themselves against gender-based violence.
The case shows how “normalized” gender-based violence is in Mexico and other parts of Latin America, Ospina said.
“When a woman defends herself, the system is particularly efficient in processing and sentencing without considering the circumstances in which she killed the man,” Ospina said.
Meanwhile, women outside the courtroom carried signs shouting “Justice!” A tearful Ruiz stood in front of the crowd, thanking feminist groups and the women who had supported her throughout the years of court proceedings.
As she spoke to the crowd, she thought of her four-year-old son.
“My son, I hope to see him again. I hope to stay with him and be the one to see him grow up,” Ruiz said.