Domestic violence: Fighting back

2nd June 2004, Comments 0 comments

A tough new law to tackle domestic violence, one of Spain's biggest political issues, has finally come into force. But can it make a difference? Graham Keeley reports.

Many victims do not know what resources are available to help them

The new law to crack down on violence against women finally became law last Friday.

It provides for women who are victims of domestic violence to receive legal, economic, social and psychological help.

It also contains educational clauses to help bring more gender equality to schools and introduces a complaints mechanism against potentially damaging advertising.

But the Spanish government, which has made fighting domestic violence a cornerstone of its raft of new policies, does not claim it will stop husbands beating their wives to death overnight.

Employment Minister Jesus Caldera said that it could well be that the law would not bring an end to deaths from domestic violence in a country which saw almost 100 women killed by their partner or a male family member in 2004.

But he added: "From today, women know they will be able to benefit from the support and protection of public services."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has made tackling the problem of domestic violence in Spain a top priority and said on taking office in April that he saw violence against women as the country's "worst shame."

Feminist associations had been loudly calling for a law to be introduced since the death in 1997 of Ana Orantes, a mother of 11 in her 60s who was burned alive by her former husband.

Following a court decision Orantes had been obliged to continue sharing a house with her former husband, a situation which she denounced in a television interview shortly before her death.

So far this year, at least six women have died at the hands of a violent partner.

*quote1* The latest murders took place on 23 January, when a 61-year-old woman was shot dead by her husband with a shotgun in Toledo, north of Madrid and a 22-year-old was battered to death with blunt weapon in Malaga.

These figures are, by any standards, an appalling figure. But Spain – despite its macho reputation –does not have the highest death toll in Europe. Norway has this dubious honour.

Some critics, who saw Zapatero's promise to crackdown on domestic violence as simply a way of appealing to women voters, will be only too keen to see faults with the new law.

Even the liberal Spanish daily El Pais has warned that it should not be exploited by 'victims' trying to get the most from divorce settlements by claiming they were attacked by former husbands.   

And El Pais reported there were not enough police officers to deal with the expected raft of new complaints which the law will bring.

The law provides for a special squad of 200 police and 250 Guardia Civil officers to offer protection for the women who are threatened by abusive partners or husbands.

But there are expected to be 20,000 protection orders, 14,000 'removal' orders against alleged aggressors and 60,000 complaints of violence.

So how can this tiny force deal with all this?

The new law does also set up a team of specialised judges, police, psychologists or forensic pathologists to help deal with this complex problem.

The Socialists claim this specialised judicial section will  deal with domestic violence at all levels of the legal system, both nationally and regionally.

This will ensure that women are dealt with by experienced professionals.

It would, says supporters, address one of the most common criticisms – ignorance.

*quote2* Victims must not be seen as guilty party, says Angela Almeny, of the Association of Jurists.

"A victim withdraws an accusation for fear and this is not understood by the judges and society," she says.

The same victim, who might be considering making a complaint, feels no-one will believe her as she feels guilty.

"Those professionals need to be there to support her and understand her, not to judge her," says Almeny.

Many victims also do not know what reso

0 Comments To This Article