History ETDs

Publication Date



This study focuses on how institutions, the law, and litigants of sexual crimes interpreted estupro (seduction/deflowering), rape, and incest crimes in the northeastern Mexican state of Coahuila during 1871-1931. The dissertation explores the diverse ways that liberal legislation proved disadvantageous to women and especially young girls. By taking a regional approach, I examine the role that Coahuila's courtroom practices and laws had on the adjudication of sexual crimes. I argue that despite the liberal lawmakers' intents to modernize criminal law, women and children were not protected from sexual predators. During the study's period, two pieces of national legislation that governed penal law were passed—the national 1871 Criminal Code and its revised version, the 1931 Criminal Code. Coahuilense legislators modified the national 1871 Criminal Code, creating Coahuila's 1900 Criminal Code, which remained in effect in Coahuila until 1932. However, Coahuila's 1900 Criminal Code reduced the severity of penalties for sexual crimes. To access for how Coahuilense families, offended women, and defendants constructed their own notions of sexual honor and morality, I examined 282 criminal cases. In the majority of cases litigants claimed that the sexual crime was an offense against their familial honor. In some trials involving child sexual crimes, the families labeled those as crimes against public morality and good customs. The majority of sexual victims were perpetrated against victims who were 18-years old and younger, which represent 63 percent of the litigants in this study. Yet, only 31 cases resulted in a punishment. Youth appeared to influence the prosecution of sexual crimes since 87 percent of the cases that received a guilty verdict involved a victim 18 and younger. However, the majority of case outcome resulted in acquittals often influenced by judiciary biases toward poor, educated, especially rural families, and female-headed households. Estupro and rape cases were also negatively impacted by high evidentiary burden of proof, the arbitrary judicial application of legal elements, and discriminatory courtroom practices. Consequently, the majority of litigants were not protected by criminal law.

Level of Degree


Degree Name


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Hall, Linda

Second Committee Member

Reyes, Barbara

Third Committee Member

Lipsett-Rivera, Sonya



Document Type


Included in

History Commons