Mexican Judge Anuar Gonzalez Hemadi, shocked the Mexican community when he dismissed sexual assault charges against 21-year-old, Diego Cruz. In January of 2015, it was alleged that Cruz, along with three other men, forced a 17-year-old victim into a car in the eastern state of Veracruz. While in the car, the victim testified that she was sexually assaulted by the four young men. She continued to describe how she was later taken to a home and raped. Evidence was presented that Cruz, “touched the girl’s breasts and ‘introduced his fingers in her vagina’.” This ruling is ironically making national headlines in the wake of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the United States. The month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the United States. The purpose behind SAAM is to “raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities on how to prevent it.”
“Judge Hemadi stated that his reasoning behind his dismissal was that ‘an incidental touching or fondling will not be considered sexual acts, if proof is not presented that it was done to satisfy a sexual desire.’”
On March 22, 2017, Judge Hemadi dropped the charges against Diego Cruz. Judge Hemadi stated that the reasoning behind his dismissal was that “an incidental touching or fondling will not be considered sexual acts, if proof is not presented that it was done to satisfy a sexual desire.” According to the judge, Cruz did not have a “lascivious” intent nor the intention to “copulate.” In other words, since Cruz did not “fondle” and inappropriately touch the victim for his own sexual pleasure, he was free to go. The judge seemingly ignored the fact that these sexual acts were nonconsensual.
Additionally, Judge Hemadi stated that since the victim was able to move to the front seat during the assault it, “proved that she was not ‘defenseless’.” Cruz, according to Judge Hemadi, should not be guilty of sexual abuse. Instead, Cruz should simply be found guilty of “incidental touching and rubbing” and should not be put in jail. The victim’s father expressed his outrage by saying, if the ruling stands, any adult would simply be able get away with inappropriately touching a minor by saying they did not do it for pleasure.
When talking about sexual assault, in some communities, the topic itself is seen as taboo. The focus is often placed on blaming the victim, rather than placing the responsibility solely on the assailant. This is exactly what happened in this case cleared by Judge Hemadi. Karla Michelle Salas, a human rights attorney, told a local Mexican news station, “It has been understood that sexual violence is not always an issue of uncontrollable instinct but of power, combination, and abuse. If women don’t fit the ‘stereotype’ of victims then they are seen as consenting to their rapist.” Once again, putting the blame on victims of sexual violence.
“When it comes to the Mexican justice system, most fear that the wealthy will be able to ‘buy their way out of being punished.’”
To add insult to injury, Cruz, comes from a very wealth family. When the ruling came out, many questioned the Judge’s ruling and wondered whether Cruz’ family wealth had anything to do with how Judge Hemadi came to his decision. This case caught the national attention of many and brought with it many criticisms of the very few legal avenues available for women who are victims of sexual violence, and are seeking justice by holding their offenders accountable. This is especially true when the perpetrators are members of “Mexico’s wealthy elite.” When it comes to the Mexican justice system, most fear that the wealthy will be able to “buy their way out of being punished.” Judge Hemadi has been suspended from the bench and is currently being investigated.
Many sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape cases go unreported every year, partly due to victim blaming and male entitlement. In an effort to help steer away from a rape-cultured view of society, raising awareness about sexual violence is key. In addition to spreading awareness through education about the commonality of these types of incidents and making sure the perpetrators of such crimes are punished for their actions, more needs to be done. Judges who hear these types of cases need to be better informed about their seriousness and sensitivity. Although there has been an increasing focus on spreading awareness of sexual violence in recent years, the discretion given to judges shows a faulty pattern in how they rule in these cases. We still have a long way to go in making sure justice is rightfully provided to the victims of these horrendous crimes.
“Rape culture is defined as ‘the ways in which society blames victims of sexual assault and normalizes male sexual violence.’”
In recent cases dealing with sexual assault or rape, the rulings and comments made by judges who heard these cases, seem to validate this notion of a “rape-cultured society.” Rape culture is defined as “the ways in which society blames victims of sexual assault and normalizes male sexual violence.” Unfortunately, this is seen too often in our courts of justice.
Canadian federal Judge, Robin Camp, stepped down earlier this year after making comments in a 2014 rape trial that sparked a lot of controversy. During the trial some of the comments he made were, “Some sex and pain sometimes go together…that’s not necessarily a bad thing.” Judge Camp also asked the victim, “why she didn’t keep her knees together to fend off her alleged attacker.”
In March 2016, Brock Turner, who was a white male student athlete at Stanford University, was given a lenient 6-month jail sentence after being convicted of “intent to commit rape of an intoxicated/unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person, and penetration of an unconscious person.” The judge who sentenced him, Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, stated that, “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.” For many, the punishment did not seem to fit the crime. There was a petition to remove Judge Persky from the bench. The Commission on Judicial Performance, found that there was no evidence of bias or abuse of authority in Judge Perksy’s discretionary sentencing.
“Studies and research have shown that for some victims of rape, the freezing of the brain occurs as a response when the body detects danger.”
More recently, a judge in Turin, Italy, acquitted a man who was accused of raping a female because the victim did not cry out or show emotion during the assault. Studies and research have shown that for some victims of rape, the freezing of the brain occurs as a response when the body detects danger. One response is that of “tonic immobility” in which “the body is literally paralyzed by fear—unable to move, speak, or cry out.” So contrary to what the judge in Turin, Italy, may believe, it is possible for a woman to not scream out for help when experiencing sexual assault. These are just a few examples of how this bias in sexual assault cases can strongly and negatively impact their outcome. What needs to be done?
One possible starting point is to hold judges accountable for their rulings based on their misperception of sexual assault victims. The recent public outrage in faulty rulings in sexual assault cases have helped tremendously in shedding light to the problem. Such attention, especially through social media, is forcing those in power to act and investigate such cases. Regardless of what the outcomes of these investigations are, they will hopefully cause judges to become more aware of the seriousness of sexual assault cases. Judges also need to understand that sexual assault can occur in different forms. There is not just “one way.” One way to accomplish this is by educating those in power more about sexual violence. A refresher course or training on sexual violence may be exactly what Mexican Judge Hemadi, and many others like him, need in order to effectively and appropriately handle situations dealing with victims of sexual violence. Whether it be at a hearing, in an employment setting, church, or educational setting; awareness is essential to combating sexual violence of any form, ignorance is not an excuse.