Spanish government and media join efforts to solve domestic violence

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By CRISTINA FERNANDEZ-PEREDA
Observer Staff
March 26, 2008

Murders of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, have become known worldwide. During the last 10 years, over 400 women have been murdered in the region, according to Amnesty International.

While the violence against women in Mexico is well-known, people would be dismayed to know that Spain has an even higher murder rate due to domestic violence. Five-hundred and seventy eight women have been murdered by their husbands or ex-husbands in that same period of time in Spain.


Photo by Marcelo Del Pozo/Reuters
Female protesters hold large paper dolls displaying names
of women murdered by their partners during
demonstration against domestic violence in Seville.

News of more than four deaths every month, numerous police reports about domestic violence and 145 calls every day to the government’s help line continue to challenge the Spanish government, authorities and society.

Governmental measures, such as creating the Courts for Violence Against Women in 2004, a special court that only handle cases of domestic violence, haven’t helped solve a problem that is deeply rooted in Spanish society. Each day more and more people get used to reading stories of domestic violence in the news: When online news sites pull down the story of the last woman killed, a new murder is committed.

According to advocates, because of the lack of pressure by the Spanish justice system, authorities and society, domestic violence has been an ongoing problem in Spain, to the extent that even those women who denounced their husbands didn’t get any help or protection. It is not difficult to find cases in which the woman had previously made several reports to the police, got a restraining order against the husband or started the legal process to get a divorce and got killed before the papers were signed.

Also, Spanish violence analysts have noted similarities among murders committed close in time. Experts have even advised that media coverage is not helping. The everyday presence of murders in the news, instead of telling the public how big the problem is, has spread the knowledge of how many people are accused of domestic violence for years without showing up at the court room.

On Feb. 26, four women died. The presidential campaign for the March 9 general elections was held at that time, but domestic violence wasn’t a big issue on the candidates’ agendas. It took the deaths of four victims within a 24-hour time span for them to initiate discussions about how they were going to re-educate a society that has overlooked this problem for too long, how to better protect the victims and even help those men who have requested attention from psychiatrists and got a sad “we are not ready for this” as a response.

Considering that all the details the news media are offering about each and every homicide are having a negative effect, the Spanish government has had informal meetings with editors aiming to find a better way to report the cases. The goal is to report on the penalties and sentences for those who are accused of domestic violence and have a restraining order, instead of reporting on the details of the crime.

As vice president Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega expressed, the details reporters are offering are leading the problem toward the wrong direction. For example, one of the changes they are trying to introduce is that the media stop referring to these cases as “woman murdered by her husband” and just say that a woman has been killed.

In a different approach to the problem, the Spanish socialist government of Rodriguez Zapatero has been reinforcing measures that support equality between men and women for the last four years. When President Zapatero presented his first governmental team, it was the first time in the history of Spain that there were as many men as women in the highest positions.

In 2007, the Spanish Congress approved the Law on Equality. With the Popular Party, the second major political party in the country voting against it, the socialists managed to pass a measure that requires companies to name the same number of men and women in the higher management positions.

With examples like these and the news media involvement, the Spanish government and society are looking forward to a future where people are no longer desensitized to the domestic violence issue after finding the same story over and over in the news and share the efforts to reduce the number of victims to zero.

The American University School of Communication Graduate Program in Journalism works to prepare students for the realities of today's news and information space and the challenges of tomorrow. Find out more by visiting us online at soc.american.edu

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