Roxana Ruiz Santiago struggles with the aftermath of self-defense in Mexico’s machismo culture

Roxana Ruiz Santiago confronts Mexico's justice system as she stands trial for defending herself from rape.

Her name began to appear in the media in 2021, and she was treated as a criminal and not the one she deserved: that of a rape victim. She was revictimized and judged, but another part of society sheltered her and gave her a voice, exposed the case as it really was, and accompanied her morally and with legal help. Roxana Ruiz Santiago’s path has not been easy, and it is also a reflection of that of many other women who end up in prison for murdering their aggressors.

Roxana was born in a poor community in Oaxaca. This situation put her in a state of vulnerability, so she migrated near the country’s capital in search of a better life. Still, her economic situation made her family settle in the city’s outskirts, in the municipality of Nezahualcóyotl in the State of Mexico, one of the most dangerous districts for women in the State of Mexico, which has a gender alert.

She had many things against her. She is a woman, indigenous and poor, something that in macho Mexico is usually paid dearly. She was a teenager when she met her son’s father and the violence with him. She was able to get out of that relationship, but she was again confronted with aggression from men, the authorities, and the State.

For the last two years she has been living through hell. Photo: Cuartoscuro.
For the last two years, she has been living through hell. Photo: Cuartoscuro.

Murder for self-defense

She was young, and as such, she went out. In a social gathering, she met Sinai Cruz, who, using deceit, convinced her to let him sleep at her house. When she was asleep, he raped her, she tried to prevent the aggression, but he threatened to kill her if she did not let him continue with the sexual abuse. Although fear had taken over Roxana, her survival instinct was stronger.

She beat the subject and strangled him to death in a not-premeditated act, so the fear invaded her again when she realized what she had done. So she wanted to get rid of the body of her aggressor, so she tried to dismember him, then she put him in a sack and black bags to take him out of her home.

At that moment, elements of the Municipal Police of Nezahualcóyotl arrested her in flagrante delicto. They took her to the ministerial authority, who detained her in the Neza Bordo prison, accused of the crime of homicide. Although she gave her version, the tests corresponding to a sexual assault were not carried out. Her trial was full of irregularities.

Dozens of people have accompanied Roxana. Photo: Cuartoscuro.
Dozens of people have accompanied Roxana. Photo: Cuartoscuro.

Freedom and sentence

She spent nine months in prison when the collective We Want You Alive Neza began to give her a voice and seek help. Her defense got her to continue her trial for freedom, although a court revoked this measure and asked Roxana to return to prison.


On May 10, a judge sentenced her to simple homicide for excessive use of self-defense, as it was validated that she was indeed raped and acted in self-defense. Five days later, she received a sentence of six years, two months, and seven days in prison; she was also ordered to pay a reparation payment of 280,000 pesos to her rapist’s family.

Roxana has expressed her position after the sentence. Photo: Cuartoscuro.
Roxana expressed her position after the sentence. Photo: Cuartoscuro.


With tears in her eyes, Roxana Ruiz came out of the courtroom and gave her first statements after the sentence. She said she was disappointed with justice and stressed that it was her life or her rapist’s, so she acted to protect herself, to stay alive with her son -who had his birthday that day-. Women from the collective and other activists accompanied her.

Her lawyer, Ángel Carrera, considered that there was no gender perspective in the sentence, which he considered unjust and unfounded. He said it is impossible to know how long to stop when people defend their lives about the judge’s comment that a blow to the head was enough.

Support for Roxana has been fundamental in her struggle. Photo: AP.
Support for Roxana has been fundamental in her struggle. Photo: AP.

The case reached the international media, which pointed out that a victim who defended her life was blamed in addition to the irregularities in the process. Society also reacted with indignation and considered the sentence a serious setback to women’s rights, which they had fought hard to achieve.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in his morning conference that the federal government was looking for ways to help the young woman and even said that they were considering the possibility of a pardon to avoid her serving her sentence. However, Roxana’s lawyer rejected this possibility, arguing that it would mean accepting her guilt for defending herself.

To demand that the young woman not be imprisoned and acquitted, a demonstration was held on Friday, May 19, organized by the collective “Nos queremos vivas Neza,” under the slogan “Defending my life is not a crime.” Roxana participated in the march that started from the Glorieta de las mujeres que luchan to the Angel de la Independencia.