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Europe

Spain Tackles Domestic Violence

Around 100 women are killed by their current or ex-partners in Spain each year. The Spanish authorities have recently cracked down on domestic crime with increased awareness, new laws and soon electronic tagging.

Domestic violence is no longer a taboo subject in Spain

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero tapped into public sentiment when, just hours after being sworn in as Spain's new prime minister, he visited a woman in hospital who had been beaten and burned by her husband, as well as victims of the March 11 bomb attacks who were in the same ward.

In Spain, at least one woman dies every week at the hands of her partner. Though certainly not the only country with a domestic violence problem, the difference between it and Germany or Britain is that the Spanish authorities are making a strong effort to prevent such crimes. One of Zapatero's first acts in office was to bring in new domestic violence laws.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

One of the main problems combating domestic violence in Spain has been the long time lag from when a woman denounces her partner and requests protection, to when she actually gets protection. In fact, most deaths had been occurring while the woman waited for the authorities to act.

Now, once a woman makes a phone call reporting her attacker, the police act immediately to protect her with specialist domestic violence teams, Alfredo Prada Presa, vice president of Madrid's regional government, told DW-RADIO. A judge can also place a restraining order on the man within a day. All the elements of the system necessary to help -- police, social services, the judiciary -- are geared up to work much more quickly and effectively.

Zero tolerance

Starting early next year, judges in Madrid will have an additional option: As part of what the regional government calls a "zero tolerance" approach towards domestic violence, an electronic tagging system is being introduced.

This is the first time there's every been a preventative warning device like this, Prada Presa said. The aggressor is compelled to wear a plastic watch-like gadget. If he comes within 500 meters (around 550 yards) of his intended victim, she hears the alarm on a handset similar to a mobile phone. Simultaneously the emergency services receive a signal that locates the victim and the aggressor.

The expectation is that the electronic tags will save many lives, since at the critical moment the woman will be warned and the emergency services will be able to act, Prada Presa said.

Still, Madrid's regional government wants more done, like enforcing heavier sentences on the men who commit these crimes and making changes to the penal code to ensure psychological harm to a victim -- not just physical harm -- counts more in sentencing. Politicians have a responsibility to raise awareness among the judiciary and doctors, Prada Presa said, adding that awareness of the problem was indeed increasing.

Medical staff overwhelmed

But psychiatrist and psychotherapist Francisco Orengo, who works with women who are victims of domestic violence, said the changes to the law hadn't led to a decrease in the number of people coming to see him. They have had a different affect, he said.

"Where we have already seen the impact is in the refuge houses. Now women can stay at home and the batterer is supposed to leave, the repercussion of this law is that the woman are staying at home and don't need to go to the refuge centers," Orengo said.

The other issue is getting help to the women who don't report the problem. In their cases, it's essential that the general practitioners and nurses who treat their physical injuries are aware of the problem and know what signs to look for.

"The highest problem is that the people who get more patients are the general practitioners and nurses, and they are really overloaded to levels you cannot imagine," Orengo said. "Many women simply don't get treatment because they are too scared to come forward or aren't noticed by a general practitioner," he added.

Orengo said GPs need to given more resources. He also called for more solidarity groups that create environments where women feel they can come forward and report the crime.

One-side focus?

The other side is the men.

"Men's treatment is really the missed issue here," Orengo said. "The breakthrough that we have seen in relation to the treatment of domestic violence in women is yet to come in men. There is a directorate for women's affairs -- a directorate for men's affairs should also be created."

At the moment, there doesn't seem to be any real reduction in the number of women dying at the hands of violent men. Every day, in Spain's capital alone, judges issue four protection orders to protect women from violent men. But reporting the crime is on the increase and more and more women are getting treatment. There are still issues to deal with, but the experts are confident that Spain is making considerable progress.

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