Who Is María Elena Ríos, the Musician and Activist Who Accused Tenoch Huerta of Sexual Assault?
In response, Huerta posted an Instagram Story on June 12 describing her claims as “false and completely unsubstantiated.” Hours later, Ríos fired back— reminding Huerta of her crucial activist work against femicide and assault.
On Twitter, the saxophonist wrote, “Tenoch Huerta, I can’t calmly answer your statement today.” She continued, “As you know, I promote a law for women violated by abusers, cowards, and the power-obsessed to be able to have justice.”
As Ríos put it, her activist work is to help these women “not have fear, like the fear [Huerta] and his fans try to plant in [her].”
While the musician may release another statement in response to Huerta’s post, her tweet reminded many people of her passionate activism for abused women. In fact, Ríos is an acid attack survivor herself. She even inspired the Malena law in Mexico to protect women against similar attacks.
Ríos suffered a horrifying acid attack in September 2019 at 26 years old
As reported by El Universal, Ríos survived an acid attack on September 9, 2019 in Huajuapan De Leon, Oaxaca when she was 26 years old. Her ex-boyfriend, Juan Antonio Vera Carrizal, allegedly planned the attack. He is a former local deputy in Oaxaca of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
According to VICE, the attack occurred while Ríos sat in her studio.
While Vera Carrizal allegedly ordered the attack, authorities arrested and accused three other people of carrying it out.
As per Mazatlan Weekly, Vera Carrizal is accused of sending someone to throw two liters of acid at Ríos’ face after she ended their relationship. According to the outlet, the men arrested for the attack named the former local deputy, his son, and one more person as the “masterminds” behind it.
The attack, classified as a femicide attempt, left Ríos with extreme wounds.
Ríos recalled to Los Angeles Times, “I remember when my dad asked the surgeon [at the hospital]… ‘Doctor, how long will it take to cure my daughter?'” While the doctor told them “Those burns take 15 to 20 days to heal,” Ríos immediately knew “that was completely false.”
“The only thing I could see were my arms, and my arms were black,” she remembered. “Like when the body is in a state of rotting. That’s how you look when they burn you.”
She told the outlet, “In that moment, I asked the universe, God, to not let me hate, because to hate I need a lot of energy, and I prefer to use that energy to heal my body and spirit.”
Ríos also spoke to NBC about her attack, explaining, “It bothered my attacker a lot that I was a musician.”
She also described how the attack transformed her from a notable saxophonist to being “forced” into activism.
“I am not her anymore. I am not the beautiful young woman who played the saxophone anymore,” she said. “Today I can say I have been forced to become a defender of my own rights, and a defender of the rights of other fellow women survivors.”
While the alleged perpetrator is behind bars, Ríos works to promote the “Malena” law after her attack
As reported by VICE, by 2022, Ríos was back onstage playing the saxophone. At her first concert after the attack, she told fans, “I feel free…This is a very special day for me.”
Still, she told the outlet, “The attack changed my whole life and made me live with fear and guilt.” She also talked about receiving “mocking, hate and a lot of digital violence” after the traumatizing event.
Meanwhile, ever since her attack, Ríos has worked arduously for the Mexican government to classify acid attacks as equivalent to attempted femicides.
As the saxophonist said at a concert last year, “What he did to me was not an attack. It was an attempt to murder me.”
According to NBC, Mexican legislators have now unveiled a bill titled after her nickname “Malena.”
This law would classify acid attacks as equivalent to attempted femicide instead of assault.
As described by El Universal, the musician has become an activist of her cause, yet fights for justice for other women.
While undergoing several surgeries, Ríos could classify her attack as a femicide attempt instead of an injury case. That is exactly what inspired her to try to change the law throughout Mexico.
Ríos and supporters are making significant progress with the Malena law, it was approved in Puebla in March
She told Expansión, “[Acid attacks] are classified as injuries, which are a grave crime, but these types of acid attacks…are hate crimes against women.”
Ríos began a Change.org petition to make that classification a federal law, receiving almost 50,000 signatures. As she explained in the petition, “Sadly, I’m not the only woman in Mexico who has dealt with this kind of situation.”
“In 2022, more than 50 women in the country were attacked with some type of acid or chemical,” she described. “In a country with so much impunity, those of us who live this situation don’t receive justice.”
In March, 2023, Puebla, Mexico, became the first state to approve the Malena law. This approval means authorities will now consider acid attacks as femicide attempts there. It also means attackers will face 26 to 40 years in prison.
While Ríos told NBC that her saxophone is her “sword” in her activism, there’s no doubt her story is full of adversity.
As many are currently pointing out on Twitter, the musician is a “recognized survivor of attempted [femicide]” and fights for laws protecting women. As one user put it, this means people should “take the accusations against Tenoch Huerta very seriously”:
Another agreed, “Before you say something stupid, look up who Maria Elena Rios is.”
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