Throughout all of Latin America, it has become increasingly difficult for women to live and thrive due to high rates of gender-based violence and femicide. In Mexico there were more than 1000 femicides in 2021— second only to Brazil in Latin America. Despite the statistics, justice for the victims remains a rarity because of factors including corruption in the system. This week, Roxana Ruiz, who is Indigenous Mixteca and a single mother from Oaxaca, Mexico, was sentenced to six years in prison for killing her rapist in 2021. Despite the fact that her attack was in self-defense, courts ruled that she used “excessive use of legitimate defense,” alleging that a hit to the head would have been sufficient to defend herself, and ordered her to pay $16,000 in reparations to the rapist’s family. Her defense team is currently planning to appeal the ruling next Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
“I regret what I did, but if I hadn’t done it I would be dead today,” Ruiz told AP News last year. “It’s evident that the state wants to shut us up, wants us to be submissive, wants us closed up inside, wants us dead.”
According to reports and Ruiz’s legal defense, Ruiz decided to hang out with a man she’d seen in the neighborhood after work. He then walked her home and asked if he could stay over because his home was far and it was late, which she agreed to. But when she was asleep, he climbed on top of her and raped her. She fought back, hitting him in the nose and head (which the court argued rendered him unconscious) and strangling him with a t-shirt, eventually killing him. After dragging his body out to the street, she was almost immediately arrested by police, even after telling them she’d been raped. Though it was later proven in court that she’d been raped, no exam, photos, or statement were ever taken immediately following the attack. She ended up spending nine months in jail awaiting trial for homicide. Today, Ruiz is technically free but is waiting for the next steps from the court.
Unfortunately, stories like Ruiz’s aren’t new. Over the past decade, crimes against women have only risen steadily, including assault, rape, and murder. Nearly half of the Mexican female population has experienced some kind of sexual violence throughout their life and last year, about ten women a day were murdered throughout the country but most perpetrators went unpunished, according to official government data. The number is likely much higher but many high-profile cases have made their way into national news. Just last year, a teenage law student was raped, murdered, and later found in a motel water tank. Also last year, a woman went to a party in Ciudad Juarez, where her drink was drugged and she was later raped and tortured by employees of a state-owned electric facility. And in 2016, a psychology professor was also sentenced to six years in prison for killing her rapist in 1995, though it was later ruled voluntary manslaughter.
And there are thousands of more cases just like these across LATAM. Gender-based violence against women remains an ongoing issue in Mexico and Latin America with movements like #NiUnaMenos raising awareness in the face of continued inaction. For now, Ruiz’s legal team is planning to make an appeal for her sentence next week not only for the sake of Ruiz, but for the protection of all women who find themselves in a similar situation.
“It would be a bad precedent if this sentence were to hold. It’s sending the message to women that, you know what, the law says you can defend yourself, but only to a point,” her defense lawyer Ángel Carrera told AP. “He raped you, but you don’t have the right to do anything.”