Spain sees worst year for gender violence deaths since 2015

A total of 55 women lost their lives at the hands of their partners or ex-partners in 2019, with the number of victims passing the macabre milestone of 1,000 since records began

A demonstration in Madrid against gender violence held on November 25, 2019.
A demonstration in Madrid against gender violence held on November 25, 2019.Andrea Comas
Pilar Álvarez

The first was called Rebeca Alexandra Cadete, and she was just 26 years old. She was stabbed to death by her boyfriend. Her five-year-old son was left without a mother. She had never filed a police report. The last victim of the year, Yulia S., 41, left another three children orphaned. She had also never raised any alarms, as happens in the overwhelming majority of cases. A total of 55 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners in Spain in the year 2019, which was the blackest in the last five years. Not since 2015 has the number of domestic violence victims been so high. As well as the women who lost their lives in such cases last year, there were also three children killed, bringing the total of youngsters lost due to domestic violence to 34 since the official records began in 2013.

It’s still too early to get any in-depth insight as to why this violence has seen an uptick, and it remains to be seen whether this will become a trend in years to come. Gender violence is a complex phenomenon and has numerous causes, but a number of specialists warn that, together with a lack of planned measures to combat the issue, one of the factors that has had an influence is the narrative of denial employed by emerging far-right party Vox.

One of the factors that has had an influence is the narrative of denial employed by the far-right party Vox

The group has been arguing that “violence has no gender,” going against the institutional consensus that has existed for years. “You can’t say that the rise [in gender violence deaths] is exclusively down to the messages against the protection of women that are being put out there by the far right, but it is clear that it’s a factor that is having an influence,” explains coroner Miguel Lorente, a former government delegate for gender violence.

The majority of women killed by their partners have never sought help from the authorities, as was the case of Yulia S. and Rebeca Alexandra Cadete. In the last year, four out of every five (80%) had never filed any kind of report. This is the highest percentage since 2012. But the system also failed in the cases of the other 11 victims who did warn of the danger they were in, and in some cases, were even under police and judicial protection.

The year 2019 saw the official total of women killed by their partners or ex-partners in Spain hit the macabre milestone of 1,000. The figures date back to 2003, and now number 1,033. Last year was also the 15th anniversary of groundbreaking legislation passed by the Socialist Party (PSOE) government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero: the Organic Law of Comprehensive Protection Measures against Gender Violence, which has helped bring down the number of victims. In the first years of official figures there were around 70 victims every year, while in recent years the number has been around 50. The legislation also served to change the social perception of a crime that was considered to be a private issue, one that was to be addressed behind closed doors.

We can find 100% of women in the health system, and so we can develop a global strategy to protect them from there

Miguel Lorente, ex-government delegate for gender violence

Last year will also be remembered for the arrival of Vox in Spain’s institutions, and the party’s calls for laws that protect women to be repealed and demands that funds destined for combatting gender violence be slashed. The far-right group took 24 seats (around 10% of the vote) in Spain’s lower house, the Congress of Deputies, at the inconclusive general election held in April. At the repeat election in November, however, it fared much better, taking 52 seats (15% of the vote), and becoming Spain’s third-biggest political force after the PSOE and the conservative Popular Party (PP).

“The behavior of Vox means that victims are less trusting of the institutional protection that is offered to them, while the aggressors see their behavior as being reinforced,” explains Lucía Avilés, who is a magistrate and the founder of the Association of Female Judges. She is calling for “an in-depth and objective analysis to determine all of the causes” of the latest spike in the figures.

It is likely that a new government will be formed on January 7, headed by a coalition of the PSOE and left-wing group Unidas Podemos. If so, the administration will have to deal with the pending issues that have accumulated over the last year, a time during which Spain has been led by a caretaker PSOE administration. These will include implementing the State Pact against Gender Violence, which was approved in 2017 but has barely been developed. This parliamentary agreement includes, among other things, measures focused on combatting the lack of official reports against abusers as well as steps to guarantee protection for those who do file a complaint.

“Eighty percent of victims had never filed a single report, but we can find 100% of women in the health system, and so we can develop a global strategy to protect them from there,” explains Miguel Lorente. The State Pact includes plans for doctors to be able to implement measures and questionnaires in order to detect and combat cases of violence, as well as getting help from local councils to spot cases before they are reported.

The head of the Women’s Foundation (Fundación Mujeres), Marisa Soleto, also draws attention to the other side of the coin: those women who did file reports but still ended up dead. “If we had managed to protect them over the years, we would be talking about 200 women still alive,” she says. “It’s the biggest failure of this whole period.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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