Mexican prosecutors announced Saturday night that they are withdrawing a case against a woman who was sentenced to six years in prison for killing a man as he raped and attacked her.
In a ruling last week that touched off a public outcry, a court in Mexico State said that while it agreed 23-year-old Roxana Ruiz was raped in 2021, it found her guilty of homicide with “excessive use of legitimate defense.” It also ordered Ruiz to pay more than $16,000 in reparations to the family of her attacker.
Feminist groups, which have supported Ruiz’s defense, angrily protested, saying the ruling was criminalizing survivors of sexual violence while protecting perpetrators in a country with high levels of gender-based violence and femicides. Protesters in Mexico City carried signs reading “Defending my life isn’t a crime.”
Ruiz, an Indigenous woman and single mother, told reporters after the court’s ruling that she had received death threats because of the case and that she worried for her family’s safety, particularly the life of her 4-year-old son.
“This isn’t justice,” she said. “Remember I am the one who was sexually assaulted by that man, and after he died because I defended myself … because I didn’t want to die by his hands.”
Responding to the outrage, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had said during a morning press briefing that he would seek to pardon Ruiz. But her lawyers said accepting a pardon would be admitting Ruiz committed a crime and that she is completely innocent.
In a press release Saturday night, the state Prosecutor’s Office said it had examined the case – taking into consideration that Ruiz is part of a vulnerable group – and found she was “exempt from guilt.” It added that the Prosecutor’s Office believes she acted in self defense.
The announcement was celebrated by Ruiz’s defense lawyer, Ángel Carrera, though he noted that he had not been formally notified of the charges being dropped.
“It means that they’re recognizing her innocence,” Carrera told The Associated Press. “It’s a recognition that she simply defended herself.”
In May 2021, Ruiz was working selling french fries in Nezahualcoyotl, one of the 11 municipalities in Mexico State, a state that borders Mexico City on three sides and continues to have posted alerts warning women about femicides and the forced disappearances of women.
The defense said Ruiz had a drink with a friend and a man she knew around the neighborhood. The man offered to walk her home, later asking to stay the night because it was late and he was far from home. While she slept on a separate bed, the man attacked and raped her.
Ruiz fought back and he threatened to kill her, then in the struggle, Ruiz managed to kill the man in self defense, Carrera said.
The court said the man was hit in the head and knocked unconscious, saying that was enough for Ruiz to defend herself. Carrera said that claim was “totally false,” saying it had not been determined that the attacked was rendered unconscious.
Carrera said that in a panic, Ruiz put the man’s body in a bag and dragged it out to the street, where passing police arrested her.
Despite Ruiz telling police she had been raped, a forensic exam was never done, a crucial step in prosecuting sexual violence cases, Carrera said. Instead, an officer responded that she probably wanted to have sex with the man at first and then changed her mind, the lawyer said.
Nearly half of Mexican women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, government data say.
In 2022, the Mexican government registered a total of 3,754 women – an average of 10 a day – who were slain, a significant jump from the year before. Only a third were investigated as femicides.
Carrera said he hopes the announcement of the case being dropped sets a precedent for other gender-based violence cases to be more thoroughly investigated and treated with deeper sensitivity.
The Associated Press does not normally identify sexual assault victims, but Ruiz has given her permission to be identified and participates in public demonstrations led by activists who support her.