22-year-old woman in Mexico faces seven years in prison for killing her rapist in self-defense

Roxana Ruiz Santiago cautiously peeks out before opening the door. She is less than five feet tall and wears blue jeans and a hand-embroidered white blouse that contrasts with her brown skin. She has big eyes and long black hair; she wears a braid and on her face a smile. At 22 years old, she has survived attempted femicide and has spent nine months in jail, but her nightmare is not over yet. In 2021 she was imprisoned for killing her rapist and since then she has been waiting for the trial to begin that will determine if she is guilty of the murder or if she is released for acting in self-defense. She faces a sentence of up to seven years.

In February of this year, a court released her from preventative detention, where she was imprisoned for nine months, on the condition that she does not leave the state, checks in with probation every two weeks, and justify every move she makes to the police. Ruiz says that she lives in fear and uncertainty about her future and that of her son, a five-year-old boy. “I feel tension in my chest because I don’t want to go back to jail. I don’t know if it’s delusions of persecution, but I’m afraid that the man’s family is going to do something to me,” she tells a journalist from El País, as she prepares lunch.

Of the more than 3,000 murders of women registered in 2021 in Mexico, according to government figures, more than 370 occurred in the State of Mexico, where Ruiz migrated at the age of 15. Since 2015, this entity in the center of the country has been declared on alert for gender-based violence as it is one of the places with the most crimes against women. Nezahualcóyotl and Ecatepec were the municipalities with the most femicides reported last year, with seven each. In the early morning of May 8, 2021, Roxana could have been part of that statistic. Today he survives to tell what happened.

“I didn’t want to kill him….”, she says and takes a deep breath after washing a mango. “If I hadn’t defended myself or, rather, if this guy had managed to kill me, my mom would be the one fighting for justice, and I would be dead,” she warns. The Prosecutor’s Office alleges that the manner of defending herself against her rapist was disproportionate, while her lawyers demand that the case be judged from a gender perspective.

That night, the young woman says, she woke up when the man physically and sexually assaulted her in her own home. Tired of fighting him, Roxana just waits for the bad dream to end. “It causes me pain and shame that what I lived through is not recognized, because I was raped and I am a survivor of a femicide,” she continues with a broken voice that is immediately composed.

Everything happened very quickly: they struggled, she pushed him and managed to get him off her, she ran and tried to escape, but she could do nothing but grab a shirt and defend herself. “I put it on his neck, we started struggling again, he wanted to get me out from behind him… that was when we fell and I didn’t let go of the shirt because of the fear I had,” she explained.

Rox, as she likes to be called, doesn’t crack when she slices an onion, either. She does it with the technique that only practice can give. At no time do her eyes cry. “Sometimes they do cry to me, but I can take it,” she says with a wink.

“Roxana is always smiling. I even tell her that in the hearings she should not be so cheerful, ”says her lawyer Ángel Carrera.

Without neglecting the onion, the young woman replies: “They just tell lies.” “Once, when I was still inside, in a hearing, the man [her assailant’s father] began to say why didn’t I go out and seek help, why did I have to kill his son. What I wanted to say is that I did try to get out. His son did not let me go out, but the lawyer [the prosecutor in charge of the accusation] began to say that I am a danger to society”, she relates with courage.

Ruiz’s case is reminiscent of Yakiri Rubio, a young woman who was in jail in 2013 for killing one of her rapists and was released after being acquitted by a court in Mexico City, in a paradigmatic case that set precedents at the time of judging a homicide due to excessive self-defense and with a gender perspective.

Roxana was released on parole, but the Prosecutor’s Office insists on requesting her return to prison. “They say I’m going to escape, but how? If sometimes I don’t even have enough for the tickets to the courts,” questions the young woman who has not been able to get a job due to her judicial situation.

While half-savoring freedom, Ruiz takes advantage of the time to study her case and do much of what she likes most, like cooking. When she was in jail, that was one of her favorite jobs to make a living. That way she didn’t have to line up for “el rancho”, as they call lunchtime. The important thing was to survive and it was almost never easy.

The fame with which Roxana entered the prison did not make it easy for her. The authorities and many local media reported her case in a biased way. So from the guards to the inmates, she was treated like “a ruthless killer.” She remembers that she was admitted to a four by four meter cell, where seven other inmates lived who forced her to sleep in the bathroom. With cockroaches as her only companions, she never had a mattress, just a sheet to cover herself.

From that place, to which she does not want to return, Roxana has many memories that she would like to be able to erase and many others that she cannot tell for fear of reprisals, but despite everything, now her goal is to find the strength to continue fighting to be heard and to be able to give voice to many women who need it. “In there are many injustices. It is not enough for them to keep us locked up, there is both human and psychological abuse,” she exposes.

Since her case became known, feminist organizations and groups have supported and accompanied the young woman when she was locked up, on the street and on social networks. When she came out they were there to receive her, they also accompanied her to hearings. The fight for justice has made her a kind of icon of feminism. The 21-year-old girl who entered prison is not the same as the one who came out of it. She made it out the front door, head high and fist raised, and she found her voice.

At the entrance of her house, there are many plants. Among them, some immortelles stand out, a kind of succulent with thick and pointed leaves, which is characterized by its healing properties and its incredible resistance even in the most hostile environments. “Those grow very well here,” says the young woman with a kind of complicity with the plant, also known as “immortal.”

Days after the conversation, a few steps from where she was held in jail, Roxana leads a protest to demand justice in her case. Outside the federal criminal courts, the young woman awaits the resolution of a request from the Prosecutor’s Office for her to be readmitted to jail. The judge has chosen to reserve the decision, but finally, the trial has a start date.

Meanwhile, Rox and her friends prepare a hand-embroidered blanket that she designed herself. It is about a woman with half a body behind bars, holding the hand of a small child ―who at all times has motivated her to move forward― A message can also be read: “No more imprisoned for defending my life.”

On September 1, she will go to trial against the same system that wants her back in prison.


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