Here's a joke: When is a rape not a rape? When the alleged rapist doesn't have fun. Think the punchline sucks? That's because this isn't a joke—it's a real-life rape case hitting the headlines in Mexico this week.
In the early hours of New Year's Day 2015, a 17-year-old girl attended a party with her classmates in the Mexican coastal state of Veracruz. As she left the party, she was allegedly forced into a black Mercedes by Diego Cruz, then 19, and his three male friends. The victim said that Cruz and his associate Jorge Coahuila sexually assaulted her in the car, with Cruz touching her breasts and penetrating her with his fingers. The girl said that she was later raped at the house of one of the young men.
After a protracted legal process, presiding judge Anuar González Hemadiacquitted Cruz on Monday. Cruz's actions, the judge decided, constituted "incidental rubbing" without "carnal intent," and Cruz was found not guilty of sexual assault. Basically, if you didn't get off on the alleged act of penetrating an unwilling girl with your fingers, you might be totally okay in the eyes of the Mexican legal system. At the same time, González determined that the victim wasn't "helpless" during the attack, despite the fact she was a 17-year-old girl forced into a car by three older boys.
The case has galvanized public attention in Mexico, because the accused are all scions of prominent and affluent business or political families. Dubbed "Los Porkys" by local media, the case showed up the divided and unequal nature of the Mexican criminal justice system as clearly as luminol on a blood stain. In a nation where nearly half of the population lives in poverty, the rich and well connected are perceived to act with total impunity.
"Mexican justice is usually a docile creature in the face of the upper class and ferocious against those who occupy the lowest levels of our social structure," wrote inequality expert Ricardo Raphael in newspaper El Universal, according to comments quoted in the Guardian. Meanwhile violence against women—which is endemic across Mexican society—goes unchallenged by the criminal justice system.
According to the UN, 35 percent of Mexican women experience intimate partner violence. Meanwhile, only 19 percent of those accused of sexual violence receive any form of punishment. As the majority of victims do not alert the authorities, sexual violence is largely unchecked by the Mexican legal system.
Cruz had fled to Spain before being extradited back to Mexico to stand trial. The group of young men had already appeared to admit to the assault in two widely circulated videos filmed by the victim's father. "We made a mistake," conceded Cruz in the footage, though Cruz and his associates later claimed that they had been forced into the apology.
"Violence against women and girls in Mexico, including sexual violence, is endemic," explains Kasia Staszewska of Amnesty International. "The perpetrators come from across the spectrum—from wealthy individuals as reported in this case to gang members, politicians and security forces—and they are rarely brought to justice."
The Los Porkys case, Staszewska argues, "makes an already dangerous situation for women even more so, as it sends a message that these attacks on them by men will be tolerated. The Mexican authorities must take urgent action to hold all perpetrators accountable and ensure that women and girls are safe from violence."
"This is an egregious insult to all women that rape isn't rape if the man doesn't get off on it," argues Rachel Krys of the End Violence Against Women coalition. "What does matter is that women all over the world reject this and we are fighting back," she says, pointing to the efforts of Mexican women's rights activists who championed the case in the face of institutional apathy from prosecutors.
Meanwhile, the victim's father recently wrote an open letter to the accused's families, shaming them for their complicity in helping them to evade justice.
"You have a daughter the same age as mine," he wrote to the father of one of the accused. "How much is your daughter's happiness worth?"