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GENDER VIOLENCE

Spain failing to protect minors in cases of domestic abuse, say experts

A total of four children have allegedly been killed by their fathers in just seven days

The house in Castelldefels in which the victims were killed by their father.

It’s been a dark week in Spain in terms of domestic violence, with a total of four minors allegedly killed by their fathers in the space of just seven days. Since 2013, a total of 18 children have died in similar cases. On paper, Spain has protocols that are supposed to alert the authorities to the need to monitor and protect the children of women who are victims of gender violence. But experts claim that this is not being put into practice, and that aggressors are often able to visit their children without supervision, in many cases violating conditions and restrictions that have been imposed by a judge. “An abuser can never be a good father,” they warn.

An abuser can never be a good father”

The Spanish government has just approved the Infancy Law, which recognizes the children of female victims of domestic violence and reminds judges that they must always rule on cautionary measures that affect them (agreed visits, custody, etc.)

The law itself reflects the fact that there is still a lot of work to do in Spain when it comes to protecting minors, something that experts are in agreement with. The debate has been reopened after the cases last week, in which a man is alleged to have killed his wife and two children in Castelldefels (Barcelona), before killing himself, and another man in Moraña (Pontevedra), who slit the throats of his two daughters.

“The first step in a case of domestic violence should be a systematic evaluation of the risks faced by the children, but in many cases the courts don’t do this and claim it’s unnecessary,” explains Miguel Lorente, a lecturer in Medical Law and the University of Granada and a former Gender Violence delegate.

The first step in a case of domestic violence should be a systematic evaluation of the risks faced by the children”

“Domestic violence has very deep roots [in Spain], and is still normalized and minimized,” explains Tania Sordo, a lawyer specializing in women’s rights. One of the stereotypes is that a man can be a good father despite being an abuser. “The process is failing,” she continues. “The credibility of many victims is taken away. They are not granted the condition of victim and judges do not intervene to evaluate the greater interest of the minor, which should always be above the right of a father to see his children.

Both Sordo and Lorente relate cases of children who are scared to be left with their parents, with witness statements that are documented, but that are not taken into account by the courts. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by Spain, states that minors should be listened to according to their maturity and age, and that their opinions should be taken into account.”

Experts explain that this kind of violence is not directed physically at the woman, but it has a direct effect on her. Children are the means by which abusive men can do the most damage possible. “The revenge component is partly what motivates these crimes,” explains Antonio Andrés Pueyo, a psychology lecturer at the University of Barcelona. “Revenge, anger, sexism, impulsiveness, blind moments of rage, and emotional disorders are the others.”

Children are the means by which abusive men can do the most damage possible

In the two most recent cases of violence against children, Lorente does not believe that the first case would have influenced the other. Seeing another such crime can “reinforce the actions of the abuser, and make them think more about a possible crime,” he explains, but adds that these actions are usually premeditated and planned in advance.

In the face of this week’s crimes, the opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) called for the implementation of a risk-evaluation system, which would allow judges to adopt the measures needed to protect children from domestic violence. The health minister, meanwhile, has called for more of these cases to be reported to the authorities. Telling the police, however, doesn’t always avoid tragedy. One in every three women killed last year in Spain (there were 54 victims in total) had reported their abuser.

One in every three women killed last year in Spain (there were 54 victims in total) had reported their abuser

Marisa Soleto, from Spain’s Women’s Foundation, points to another problem: the training received by those who deal with gender-violence cases. In the case in Castelldefels, for example, the regional police force had visited the home of the couple – a 61-year-old man from Uruguay, and a 45-year-old woman from Bielorrussia – due to their regular arguments and fights. No formal complaint was ever made, however. “How is it possible,” asks Soleto, that after a number of interventions by the Mossos, even though there was no official report, no one had thought that the minors that lived there needed to be protected?”