The successes and failures of Spain’s fight against domestic abuse

A decade after gender violence courts were introduced, experts say more education is needed

Reyes Rincón
Women march against gender violence in Madrid on November 7.
Women march against gender violence in Madrid on November 7.álvaro garcía

Ten years after Spain introduced a network of courts specializing in domestic violence cases, experts are applauding the specific attention the law is now giving to victims but warning that sexist stereotypes and forms of behavior persist.

So far this year, 48 women have died and 42 children have been left mother-less as a result of gender violence in Spain.

Organizations that work with victims insist on the need to report domestic abuse more frequently and to eradicate sexist attitudes that remain deeply ingrained in Spanish society.

Women have changed a lot in recent decades and men have adapted badly”

Miguel Lorente, expert on gender violence

In 2014, the number of complaints grew for the first time since 2008, reaching 126,742, a 1.5-percent rise from 2013.

But only nine of the 48 women killed by their partners this year had filed a complaint. And without one, the state’s victim protection mechanisms cannot be activated.

A report by the Adecco Foundation released on November 25, which marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, ties the number of complaints to the effects of the economic crisis.

The foundation, which helps victims find employment, surveyed 300 abused women and found that 91 percent failed to report violence out of fear that either they or their partners would lose their job.

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The survey also revealed that 65 percent of victims did not have a job at the time of the abuse. And 81 percent responded that the best way to deal with abuse was to be financially independent.

“The recent rise in reports could be an indicator of women’s increased trust in an awakening labor market,” said Francisco Mesoneros, director general of Adecco.

Meanwhile, the president of the Domestic and Gender Violence Observatory, Ángeles Carmona, welcomed the rise in the number of criminal convictions.

The latest Interior Ministry figures show that six percent of Spanish inmates are serving sentences for gender violence. “Abuse no longer enjoys impunity,” says Carmona.

Her predecessor in the post, Inmaculada Montalbán, also applauds the trend but notes that the second major tool in the domestic violence law – education – has suffered setbacks in the last decade.

Only nine of the 48 women who were killed by their partners this year had filed a complaint

“The justice system acts when the violence has already taken place,” she says. “The best vaccine against violence is education.” Montalbán feels that the elimination of civic education courses from the school curriculum has “deactivated” a good tool for breaking stereotypes.

Miguel Lorente, an expert on gender violence, shares her concern.

“Women have changed a lot in recent decades and men have adapted badly,” he says. “This makes many young men use violence to keep controlling women. Faced with the latter’s steps to free themselves, they respond with greater violence.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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