Mexico City – A Mexican woman who killed a man in self-defense when he attacked and raped her in 2021 was sentenced to more than six years in prison, a decision her defense called “discriminatory” and vowed to appeal Tuesday.

The ruling against Roxana Ruiz drew the ire of experts and feminist groups, who said it underscored the depth of gender-based violence and Mexico’s poor record for prosecuting sex offenders.

“If this sentence were to be carried out, it would set a bad precedent. It sends a message to women that, you know what, the law says you can defend yourself, but only up to a certain point,” said Angel Carrera, her lawyer. “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 allowed herself to be identified and has participated in public demonstrations led by activists who support her.

Murders of women in Mexico
Roxana Ruiz shouts slogans during a march in memory of Diana Velazquez, who called outside her home in 2017 when she disappeared, was raped and killed in Chimalhuacan, Mexico City, Mexico, on July 2, 2022. Ruiz, who killed a man in self-defense when he attacked and raped her in 2021, was sentenced to more than six years in prison, a decision that her defense called “discriminatory” and vowed to appeal on May 16, 2023.

Eduardo Verdugo / AP

Although a Mexican state court on Monday found that Ruiz had been raped, it said the 23-year-old was guilty of murder with “excessive use of legal defense”, adding that a man’s blow to the head would have been enough. , to protect yourself. Ruiz was also ordered to pay more than $16,000 in restitution to the family of the man who raped her.

In May 2021, Ruiz was selling fries in Nezaualcoyotl, one of 11 municipalities in the state of Mexico that has an ongoing gender-based alert on femicide and another on the enforced disappearance of women.

While drinking a beer with a friend, Ruiz, an indigenous Mixtec woman and single mother from the state of Oaxaca, met a man she had seen in the neighborhood. After the party, he offered to walk her home and then asked her to stay the night because it was late and he was far from home.

Ruiz agreed to let him sleep on a mattress on the floor. But while she slept, he climbed onto her bed, hit her, tore off her clothes and raped her, according to Carrera, Ruiz’s legal representative. Ruiz fought back by punching him in the nose and he threatened to kill her. In a struggle to break free, she killed him in self-defense, Carrera said.

In a panic, Ruiz put the man’s body in a bag and dragged him out into the street, where she was arrested by the police.

Despite telling police she had been raped, Carrera said a forensic examination was not conducted, an important step in the prosecution of sexual assault cases. Instead, the officer replied that she probably wanted to have sex with the man at first and then changed her mind, he said.

“I regret what I did, but if I hadn’t done it, I would be dead,” Ruiz told the AP last year, adding, “It’s clear the state wants to shut us up, wants us were submissive, wants us to shut up inside, wants us to die.”

Women’s rights groups have repeatedly accused Mexican authorities of revictimizing survivors and failing to address cases from a gender perspective.

Murders of women in Mexico
Activists paste photos of Roxana Ruiz with the words “Defending your life is not a crime” in Spanish on a wall outside a courthouse where the 22-year-old attended a hearing on charges of murder in self-defense in Chimalhuacan, Mexico City, Mexico, 18 April 2022 Ruiz, who killed a man in self-defense when he attacked and raped her in 2021, was sentenced to more than six years in prison, a decision her defense called “discriminatory” and vowed to appeal on May 16, 2023 .

Eduardo Verdugo / AP

Ruiz spent nine months in prison on a charge of lawful self-defense killing and was finally released to await trial.

The court responded to the public outcry over Wednesday’s sentencing by saying the judge had considered the case from a gender perspective. He also noted that a blow to the head during the struggle left the man unconscious at one point, saying the court found that was “sufficient to deter physical aggression”.

The woman’s lawyer said the court’s defense was “absolutely false.” Carrera said that while there was some evidence that the attacker had been hit in the head, there was no evidence that the man had lost consciousness. He said the defense hopes to challenge the court’s ruling on appeal.

Despite the sentence, Ruiz remains free pending further court action.

Nearly half of Mexican women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, government data show.

In 2022, the Mexican government recorded a total of 3,754 women – an average of 10 per day – who were intentionally killed, a significant increase from the previous year. Only a third were investigated as femicides.

This figure is likely only a fraction of the real number due to the growing number of disappearances and the lack of reports of violence in the country.

Angelica Ospina, of the International Gender Crisis Group in Mexico, said she was concerned that the sentence could empower perpetrators of violence while discouraging women from reporting gender-based violence or defending themselves.

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 effective in looking at her and sentencing her regardless of the circumstances in which she killed the person,” Ospina said.

Meanwhile, outside the courtroom, women carried placards and chanted “justice!” A tearful Ruiz stood in front of the crowd, thanking feminist groups and women who supported her during the years-long legal process.

As she spoke to the crowd, her 4-year-old son was on her mind.

“My son, I hope to see him again. I hope to stay with him, to be the one to watch him grow,” Ruiz said.

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