GENDER VIOLENCE

In Spain, gender violence claims more lives in last 30 days than in first four months of 2021

The Equality Ministry is set to present a new analysis of the situation with tools to combat the surge in assaults on women

A protest against gender violence in Madrid's Puerta del Sol on June 11.
A protest against gender violence in Madrid's Puerta del Sol on June 11.DAVID EXPOSITO

Violence against women has surged in Spain in the space of a month. Twelve women have been killed by their current or former partners since May 17, compared with eight fatalities during the first four months of the year. The constant stream of cases has led Spanish authorities, headed by the Equality Ministry, to analyze the situation in search of new solutions.

Several specialists had warned that this kind of crime would spike following the end of the state of alarm introduced in March 2020 to curb the spread of the coronavirus. While Spain’s strict home confinement ended three months later, tough mobility restrictions remained in place until May 8 of this year, preventing citizens from traveling to other regions, cities, and sometimes even neighborhoods.

Victoria Rosell, the government delegate in charge of gender violence affairs, recently said in an interview with this newspaper that “Covid-19 is a pandemic on top of another pandemic: gender violence. When restrictions get lifted, you see what lay beneath.”

Complaints filed by relatives of victims represent just 2% of all cases that reach the courts

The domestic violence death toll has now risen to 1,098, counting since 2003. The list includes teenagers who had just given birth, like 17-year-old Rocío Caíz, who was killed and dismembered by her boyfriend in Estepa, in the southern province of Seville, earlier this month. There was also Lucía Dotto, director of a luxury hotel chain, who was found dead by her son in May after he returned home from school. And María Teresa Aladro, who was shot dead last month by her ex-husband with a hunting rifle shortly after their separation.

Thousands of people staged spontaneous marches across Spain on Friday to protest gender violence.

The latest victim was Consuelo, 81, who was attacked and killed with a hammer by her husband this week. She had never filed any complaint, as is the case with 80% of victims. This large pocket of concealed cases is one of the main issues that institutions are trying to address.

There are many reasons why these women fail to seek help from the police or the courts: sometimes they are not aware of the risk they face; other times they may fear for their own or their children’s lives if they make a move. They might lack a support network to turn to and so cannot just walk out on their lives. And they might also mistrust a system that often revictimizes them.

The Equality Ministry has met with representatives from other ministries, regional governments and various organizations to analyze the efficiency of existing tools and find ways to improve them. Rosell is due to present the results of the research on Thursday. There was another meeting on Wednesday to seek out “ways to reinforce the protocols and tools against gender violence,” according to a press release from the Equality Ministry.

One of the proposals on the table is a system called Formulario Cero, expected to be ready “in the coming weeks,” that would trigger surveillance measures even when the police are contacted by a relative of the victim, instead of by the woman herself. This in practice happens very rarely, as family members are not always able to identify the problem or know how to help. Complaints filed by relatives represent 2% of all cases that reach the courts. Currently, the police protocol follows a system called VioGen, which focuses on asking the women a series of pre-established questions that also include specific queries about the risk to their children.

“Be alert”

Marisol Rojas, a psychologist specializing in sexist violence, says that close friends and relatives should keep a close eye on at-risk women. “I urge them to stay in touch on a daily basis, to be alert to events, to develop some kind of code in case the woman cannot speak freely in their presence.”

“They must have support from family, neighbors, friends who are aware of the situation, people to help them at a given moment and to keep tabs on them,” adds Rojas. “They can always go to the police even if they don’t dare file a complaint – but at least let someone know what they are going through. Support is important, the feeling that they are not alone.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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