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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Spanish fireman accused of gender abuse has sex change during case

Criminal courts find that they may no longer have jurisdiction over this unprecedented situation

The courts have struck uncharted territory. A man reported to the authorities by his wife for psychological abuse seven years ago has undergone a sex change and become a woman before the case against him could be brought to a conclusion.

Sex-change surgery.
Sex-change surgery.

As Spanish gender violence legislation does not address female-on-female abuse in this context, a 48-year-old fireman from Asturias who is now officially a woman could soon be off the hook.

The defense attorney, Íñigo Urien Azpitarte, asserts that his client’s case is now under review as no precedent for it is known in Spain. When Urien accepted the case seven years ago, he was representing a man married by the Church whose wife had brought charges of “insults and harassment without physical aggression.”

The lawyer also claims his client worries about losing her job as a firefighter after her sick leave ends

According to Urien, when the couple were getting divorced his client started to refer to himself as a woman. He was diagnosed with a gender identity disorder, and this diagnosis enabled him to alter his name in the Civil Register after undergoing hormone treatment and surgery to change his sex.

Urien has asked for the case to be dealt with by a court of civil law in Asturias rather than through the criminal courts, which would try the accused for domestic violence. “My client is not an alleged abuser because the alleged psychological violence was inflicted by a woman on another woman,” he argues. “This person has been diagnosed with gender identity disorder, which means that she has been a woman from birth. In these circumstances, laws dealing with domestic violence cannot be applied because domestic violence is considered to be a crime between a man and a woman.”

The accused has not given the attorney permission to reveal her identity. She is, Urien says, “very upset” and “doesn’t want to speak” for fear of adding to the suffering of the couple’s two children, who are eight and 10, and whose custody is shared between the defendant and the mother, a 45-year-old office worker.

The attorney doesn’t rule out the possibility of the case reaching the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

The lawyer also claims that his client’s anxiety has been exacerbated by the uncertainty of whether she will lose her job as a firefighter after her sick leave ends.  “The other party maintains that if she was really a woman when she passed the exams to become a firefighter, then she did not meet the established qualifications for the job,” says Urien.

The attorney doesn’t rule out the possibility of the case reaching the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. If the family court in Asturias does not take on the case, Urien has his sights on the Supreme Court and, if that doesn’t resolve the issue, the Constitutional Court. “We’re going to see if they’re prepared to open up a new judicial route in the EU,” he says.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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