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A case of domestic violence in Mexico: Grettel’s quest for justice

Shortly after 4 a.m. on 16 September 2009, Grettel Rodriguez Almeida, a young lawyer from the State of Yucatan in Mexico, was stabbed several times with a kitchen knife by her boyfriend, Germán Alyn Ortega Hernández.

“He came to me and stabbed me on the face,” Grettel recalls. Immobilized, she could only use one hand to defend herself. “I could not move. I used my free hand to fight back. These are from defensive wounds,” she explains, as she shows her scars.

Grettel was also stabbed in the neck and the abdomen. She was rushed to the hospital by her parents who heard her screams. The doctors sutured her wounds without anesthesia to save her life.

Her boyfriend was arrested soon after and confessed attacking Grettel.

But that was just the beginning of Grettel’s quest for justice, for herself and for all the women victims of domestic violence.

Although Ortega Hernández was formally charged and indicted for attempted murder, the crime was later reclassified to aggravated assault. After spending 1 year, 8 months and 25 days in prison, he was set free.

Grettel started living in constant fear as her former boyfriend started harassing and threatening her again. He would send her threatening messages via Twitter and on her phone. “I was scared for my life,” Grettel says.

But Grettel did not give up. She was committed to take the case to Mexico’s Supreme Judicial Court. She researched some past cases of attacks on women and decided to make her story public, and to seek assistance.

“I was shocked to hear a young woman tell me how she was stabbed seven times by her fiancé – only to face the indignity of seeing him freed in court, by a woman judge, who thought she was being too harsh on him,” said UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay referring to Grettel’s story during a visit to Mexico in 2011.

In support of Grettel’s case, the UN Human Rights Office in Mexico filed an amicus curiae brief. An amicus curiae is a person who participates in a case not as a party but as a ‘friend of the court’.

In it, the Office drew the Court’s attention to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women to which Mexico is a party. The Office stressed that “the failure to duly investigate and punish violence in the private sphere sends a message of social acceptance” and that “the administration of justice must avoid reinforcing prejudice and stereotypes that justify, tolerate or minimize the intrinsic gravity of acts of violence against women.”

After several setbacks and months of struggle, on 31 October 2012 Mexico’s Supreme Judicial Court ordered the reinstatement of attempted murder charges against Ortega Hernández.

Grettel also received support from the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City; human rights non-governmental organizations, in particular Centre Prodh, and State officials.

Grettel welcomed the decision of the Court. “What I wanted was to have the case re-examined, because this was never done before for a victim. I wanted to set a precedent. I knew I was swimming against the tides. It is meaningful that the trial will begin all over again,” she says.
 
Grettel studied law because she wanted to “save the world” or work for the United Nations. She believes that “everything happens for a reason”. “I am alive and should not be; my dream is to “save the world”. I know it is not possible, but I am doing my little part, and I hope it is useful to someone else.”

The day the case was reclassified, Grettel started her own research and came across the word femicide. “I did not know what it meant but I became curious and looked for more information: I read about a lot of cases and I saw myself in all of them. The difference was that I was alive and many other victims were not. This is what gave me the strength to stand up and make my voice heard.”

According to the 2011 report by the Mexican National Institute for Women, in Mexico 5 out of 10 women aged 15 years or older have been victims of domestic violence and 13.5 per cent of women have been victims of physical violence in their homes. However, only 2 out of 10 women victims of domestic violence have sought help.

8 January 2013

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