Alleged kidnapping and rape victim Yakiri Rubi Rubio is out on bail but could spend ten years in jail for “excess of legitimate defense” – turning her attacker’s knife back on him – in a case that reveals continuing problems of unequal justice in Mexico.
“If they judge us for having survived, the justice system wants us dead.”
This phrase, emblazoned on banners and protest signs, has become central to the campaign for the freedom of Yakiri Rubi Rubio, a 20-year-old woman in Mexico City who was recently incarcerated for murdering Miguel Angel Ramirez Anaya, a man who – she alleges – kidnapped, raped and attempted to kill her.
The issue of women’s right to defend their lives in the face of sexual violence and increasing femicide has come to the forefront with the case of Yakiri, as she is known by her supporters. Her case went viral with a photo of her, accompanied by a phrase clamoring for her freedom: “Machista violence is a crime that will also incarcerate you for defending your life. #YakiriLibre” After spending nearly three months in prison, Yakiri was released March 5, 2014, on $32,000 bail. She is no longer being accused of “qualified homicide” but still faces up to a 10-year sentence for the extremely uncommon charge of “excess of legitimate defense.”
According to Yakiri, at 7 PM on December 9, 2013, she exited the Metro station in La Doctores, a working-class neighborhood, home to various institutions of the Mexican justice system, just south of the city’s historical center. She says she was on the way to meet her girlfriend when two men, nearly double her size, approached her and invited her to mount their motorcycle. Her refusal was rejected by Ramirez Anaya, who, with the blade of his knife to her back, forced her onto his vehicle and wedged her between himself and his brother, Luis Omar. Minutes later, the men, who still had a weapon to her back, forced her to enter the Hotel Alcazar, across from Mexico City’s Supreme Court. According to Yakiri, the doorman acted as if nothing was out of the ordinary and passed the Ramirez Anaya brothers keys to a hotel room, without even asking them to pay or register.
Yakiri testified that once in the hotel room, both men sexually abused her. And when Luis Omar left, Miguel Angel Ramirez Anaya raped her and continued to inflict knife wounds. She said she thought she was just about to die when she successfully twisted his wrist so that his own knife pierced his jugular vein. At that moment he bolted and, according to his family, arrived back at their building complex, right next to the district attorney’s office, where he allegedly died by their side. Yakiri escaped the hotel and, after being denied help by staff members, was able to clean herself up at a local ice cream shop and find police, who accompanied her to the local precinct, where she testified.
Simultaneously, Luis Omar arrived to denounce his brothers’ death and contrary to all legal protocols and protections for victims of sexual violence, he was allowed to enter the same room as Yakiri. He testified that Yakiri murdered his brother – and in the eyes of the justice system, she was instantly transformed from a victim to an assailant. The officers on duty continued to break protocol and did not use a rape kit nor allow her to make a phone call to her family. Police officers went to the hotel supposedly to preserve forensic evidence, yet they did not properly seal the room and only focused on evidence they could use to prove the murder, not the rape. Even though Yakiri accused Luis Omar of kidnapping and sexually torturing her, the police let him walk free and sent her to the women’s prison in Santa Martha Acatitla.
Yakiri told Truthout about her dwindling faith in Mexico’s legal system: “I used to believe in the justice system and that the police were going to help me. I trusted them and then I realized that the exact opposite happened to me.”
The district attorney of Mexico City, Rodolfo Ríos Garza, publicly stated, “We have statements in the previous investigation, where she enters the hotel willingly with someone, and therefore there is no evidence of rape.” The DA’s office refused to comment for this article because the case is still in review. The mass media joined the judiciary system in criminalizing her, publishing numerous articles negating the existence of a rape because of the possibility that she knew her assailant. Before 2000, the Mexican judicial system didn’t recognize that violence could exist between spouses, so it comes as little surprise that a little more than a decade later, a woman is incarcerated for defending herself from her alleged boyfriend. In a 2003 survey, 46 percent of women over the age of 15 in Mexico said they suffered from emotional, physical or sexual violence in their romantic and intimate relationships. However, less than 20 percent of women report the violence they suffer to the authorities because a lack of confidence in the police and judicial system.
Women Incapable of Self-Defense?
The women’s rights organization Mukira issued a report with recommendations to improve victims’ access to justice that includes a gender perspective. Author of the report Laura Aragón Castro stated, “There is a large gap between the occurrence and severity of the problem and the quality of the judicial response. Most cases of violence against women are not formally investigated, prosecuted and punished by the justice system.”
While still incarcerated, Yakiri mentioned that she was surprised and saddened by how many women behind the bars were imprisoned in situations similar to hers. Edith Lopez is a lawyer and member of the newly formed Citizens Committee in Defense of Yakiri and says she has represented various women whose stories are similar to Yakiri’s. Lopez remarked that in a macho society, people don’t believe that women are capable of killing men in self-defense. “There is a stereotype of women that they don’t believe that we can defend ourselves,” Lopez said.
Mukira has documented various cases of women incarcerated for self-defense and detailed the story of Rosa Emma, a mother of four in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Emma’s ex-partner forcibly entered her house and attacked her and her children and attempted to kill her with a knife. She defended herself, turned the knife on him, and, after injuring him, subsequently took him to the hospital for care. He died hours later, and she was sent to jail. The prosecutor in the case said Emma’s aggressor “never really wanted to kill her, because if his intention was to kill her, as a strong man he would have been able to, and really his intention was for her to take the knife away.” With the help of lawyers and a feminist organization, she was freed after 21 days.
Last year, the case of Lucero Salcedo Palacios circulated in social networks. She was given a ride home by a friend of a friend who tried to force her to have sex with him. And when she refused, he tried to kill her. The case was plagued with irregularities, and the judge did not charge her assailant with attempted murder, instead focusing on Lucero’s “immorality” since she had admitted that she was sexually active. Lucero wrote a letter sarcastically denouncing the patriarchy within the system; “My hearing was very curious, since the victim ended up being considered guilty and accused of being slanderous, sloppy, provocative and immoral, the kind of women that I am.”
Just this month, a 14-year-old indigenous woman in Chiapas was incarcerated for abandoning her husband, who says he paid 15,000 pesos for the wedding and demanded repayment. She was fined 24,700 pesos (about $1,868), which is just shy of a yearly minimum wage. She was released from the jail, where she was denied food and blankets, only after her family promised to pay the fine.
The director of feminist news agency CIMAC, Lucia Lagunes Huerta, who closely covered Yakiri’s case, stated, “There is a certain logic in the world that women don’t matter and that violence against us is provoked by us.” She recognized that Mexico has made many advances in the past decade – passing laws about gender-related violence to comply with international positions, but noted the way the laws are implemented rarely reflects what they actually say on paper. Lagunes also added that Mexico is far from the only country whose justice system fails to legally protect women’s rights. The case of Marissa Alexander proves her argument. Alexander, a young African-American woman in Florida, is serving 20 years in prison after she fired a gun, which she legally owned, at the wall as a warning shot when her ex-partner attacked her.
When Yakiri finally was freed from jail on the exorbitant bail noted above, she denounced the judges and district attorney, stating, “What I want is an end to the injustice and machismo, because machismo was behind the charges against me.”
The irregularities in Yakiri’s case were so flagrant that the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City decided to intervene, issuing an amicus curiae in conjunction with the Citizens Committee to Free Yakiri. The amicus curiae highlighted the numerous witnesses in the case who were called to testify against her and that there was no witnesses testifying in her favor or, at the very least, testifying to the existence of a sexual assault. During the court dates in the first few months, Yakiri’s girlfriend Rosa Gabriela Sánchez was not allowed to testify – letting the judge continue with his argument that her aggressor was her boyfriend. The prosecution also attempted to prove that Miguel Angel Ramirez Anaya was her boyfriend based on love letters that she carried in her bag bearing his name. A young admirer of Yakiri named Miguel Angel Camacho attempted to testify that he had written the letters and volunteered to do a graphology test, but the prosecution rejected it. Additionally, Yakiri’s lawyers say that Miguel Angel Ramirez Anaya’s telephone contained numerous communications between him and the district attorney’s office – known as “The Bunker” – including messages offering the sale of drugs. However, these messages have not been investigated.
Mexico City is home to one of the largest system of surveillance cameras in the world, but they are used selectively to investigate crimes. In this case, no evidence has surfaced to allow the lawyers to understand what happened even though there were numerous cameras in the area. Last year, 12 young people were disappeared from an after-hours club in a highly monitored central part of the city, yet no camera footage was found. Months later, their bodies were found in a common grave just outside the city. When a Coca-Cola-sponsored Christmas tree was lit on fire, allegedly by a Molotov cocktail, during a protest in December 2013 against a transit fare hike, footage of the action was released immediately, and a young man was arrested.
Tilemy Santiago, a criminologist who formerly worked at the district attorney’s office, says that, unfortunately, the government does not use its arsenal of technology to investigate cases such as Yakiri’s because it doesn’t consider her case “relevant.” “A relevant case is one in which the victim has enough political or economic power such that their case is actually taken into account. Sadly, it is clearly evident that some people’s lives are worth more than others,” Santiago said. He added that low salaries and inadequate training also undermine proper investigation and that in this case it was likely that the prosecutor believed that it was easier to prove the existence of homicide instead of rape and self-defense. They therefore pursued that line of investigation. It is important to note that the judge in this case – Santiago Avila Negron – was accused of corruption and sexual harassment in 2004, but those accusations did not impede his career.
The Justice Absent in the Courts is Demanded in the Streets
Kidnapping, rape and murder is far from unusual, and it is estimated that femicide is on the rise – not just in the north of the country but also in Mexico state, which borders Mexico City. What is extraordinary in the case of Yakiri is the support she had from her family, lawyers, feminist activists and performance and graphic artists. She is from the rough and tough neighborhood of Tepito, home to one of Latin America’s largest black markets. Her father, Jose Luis Rubio, and mother, Marina Beltran, teach salsa as a means to combat neighborhood violence and have supported a variety of causes – including that of the Zapatistas. In an interview with Truthout, Beltran said, “We have seen that salsa and dancing has successfully helped many youngsters escape monotonous cycles of violence, drugs and illegal activities.” Within days of her incarceration, Yakiri’s parents publicized a change.org petition, and pictures of Yakiri with the hashtag #YakiriLibre went viral, with people all across Mexico expressing their support. Her family took to the streets to protest their daughter’s incarceration in front of various institutions of the justice system and were quickly joined by an artist collective sporting printed T-shirts and patches proclaiming “I would have done the same” and a group of women covered with colorful masks, Pussy Riot-style, rapping: “They beat you, they rape you. But you are alive, and you can defend yourself. All of your rage comes out for you.”
As Yakiri appeared in court facing her alleged kidnapper, activists held a sign out front stating, “Those that defend themselves deserve applause, admiration, support and respect – not incarceration.” The mass media has mostly served to criminalize Yakiri, and these actions have attempted to show that self-defense is not a crime.
Three days after Yakiri was released from prison, she took to Mexico’s principal avenue to march with thousands of supporters for International Women’s day, denouncing femicide. The following day, March 10, 2014, a few hundred people took Yakiri’s walk from the subway stop she had exited from the night of the incident and marched to the hotel that they say was complicit in her kidnapping and rape. Hotels in Mexico City are infamous for hosting networks of human trafficking and serving as sites for kidnappings, so it comes as no surprise that this hotel was implicated. The activists splashed red paint on the building and pasted their own versions of Suspended Activities Signs claiming that the hotel had been closed for allowing kidnapping, rape and assault, etc.
Simultaneously, the chief of government of Mexico City, Miguel Mancera, publicly stated duringa Women’s Day celebration that to respect women, the government must advance certain protocols and construct “a legal framework to respond in an effective manner and clear up practices that overshadow the work of the government.” An audience member urged him to revise Yakiri’s case.
Yakiri Still Faces 10 Years in Prison
While it is clear that Yakiri has a wide network of support, her future is unclear, as the judge has failed to recognize that she killed Miguel Angel Ramirez Anaya in legitimate defense of her own life. She is still facing 10 years behind bars and fears for her family’s safety and her own. Yakiri told Truthout she now has clearer goals in life and wants to dedicate her time to fighting for the rights of women as a lawyer or human rights activist. “I hope that there will not be any more of this, that I will be the last woman who will have to live through a situation like this because it’s really hard and difficult and no one should have to go through this,” commented the young women who refused to be another femicide statistic.