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Politics

The failure of the fight against gender-based violence

Fernando del Pino Calvo Sotelo

January 15, 2024

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”. Churchill’s famous maxim applies perfectly to the fight against gender violence in Spain.

According to official government data, in the last two decades in Spain there has been an annual average of 58 homicides of women at the hands of their partners or ex-partners[1], the vast majority of which (an average of 82%[2]) have been classified as murder. The fact that the absolute figure is now higher than it was 22 years ago after so many laws, observatories and campaigns surrounded by incessant political and media hammering can only be described as a resounding failure:

Homicide is obviously violence taken to the extreme, but if we take a broader indicator of the concept of abuse such as the number of protection orders taken after judicial resolution (precautionary measures taken to protect the victim at risk), the conclusion is the same. In the last 15 years there has been no clear decrease, but rather a cyclical behavior[3]:  

How come this failure? Are we facing an unsolvable problem? Logic dictates that there will always be abuses and crimes and that, therefore, there will be a minimum number of cases that no law or social system of values will be able to reduce. Starting from the proper anthropological concept, based on the fallen nature of man, the gift of freedom makes it impossible to completely eradicate evil even through the best incentive system. That being said, are the figures for gender-based violence, virtually constant for the past two decades, the best we can aspire to as a society? I am reluctant to believe so, and therefore venture that the problem lies elsewhere.

Gender violence is a global problem, but in other countries it is perhaps more appropriately called domestic violence[4] (as the police do in Sweden) or intimate partner violence[5] (in the USA). The nuance has a certain relevance since the concept of “gender-based” violence is based on biased assumptions. Indeed, it might make sense to call intimate partner violence “male gender” violence if we were to consider the majority sex of the aggressor, since in 88% of the cases the perpetrator is a man (note that 90% of all homicides in the world are committed by men and 80% of the victims are also men[6]). However, the term “gender” does not refer to this but is a real ascription of intentions aimed at stigmatizing men. Thus, the preamble of Socialist former PM Zapatero’s 2004 law defined gender violence as “the most brutal symbol of the existing inequality in our society (…), which is directed against women for the very fact of being women”. In other words, the law was based on the unverified (and, as we shall see, false) hypothesis that gender violence was violence against women “simply because they are women” based on “inequality”, i.e., a mixture of misogyny and sexism. Perhaps this is the reason for the failure of the fight against this scourge in our country, since how can we fight evil if we do not start from the truth?

Firstly, although in recent years 88% of murders at the hands of partners or ex-partners in Spain the victim has been a woman, in the remaining 12% the victim has been a man[7]. Have these men been murdered “just because they are men”?  

Secondly, more rigorous, and somewhat independent institutions expose a wide range of individual, relational, community and social risk factors that contribute to this type of violence. For example, the US CDC lists 20 individual risk factors that help explain the profile of the aggressor. In this order, it mentions low self-esteem, low educational level, aggressive or delinquent behavior in youth, alcohol and drug use, depression and suicide attempts, anger and hostility, antisocial personality traits, borderline personality disorder, loneliness, economic problems such as unemployment, etc. A sexist attitude is only mentioned in 16th place, which shows the low importance given to it as an explanatory factor for intimate partner violence[8].  

The EU makes a similar list of categories and risk factors for the aggressor in femicides that includes, in this order, alcohol and drug abuse, violation of a restraining order, mental problems, having witnessed abuse as a child in the family, unemployment, history of violence, pathological jealousy and coercive control over the partner. The sexism factor is only mentioned in ninth place and only in the community category, i.e., referring to the environment or culture of aggressive masculinity in which the aggressor moves rather than to his individual psychological traits[9].  

One third of the murderers who killed their partners or ex-partners in Spain were foreigners[10], which is three times the percentage of foreigners residing in our country (a simple arithmetic operation that most journalists find too difficult to do). An explanation must be sought for this overrepresentation of foreigners. Although both in South America and Africa (where most immigrants living in Spain come from) the rates of intimate partner violence homicides are 4 and 2.5 times higher, respectively, than in Europe[11], before venturing to draw conclusions that could fuel xenophobia a correlation study should be conducted to consider the overlapping of other explanatory factors, for example, to find out whether unemployment, low educational level, crime, substance abuse or a violent environment are more prevalent among the immigrant community.

Also, in one out of three cases (a very high proportion), the perpetrators committed suicide or attempted suicide after murdering their partners[12]. In these homicide-suicide cases, mental illness “plays an important role”, according to a meta-analysis that reviewed data recorded over 60 years in four continents looking for the prevalence of mental illness among murderers/suicides[13]. In fact, the study recommends as a preventive measure the identification and treatment of psychiatric disorders in potential offenders. Another systematic review of 49 different studies covering 26 years of data confirms “the significant contribution of psychopathological factors (such as depressive disorders or psychotic delusions) in these murder-suicides, most of which occurred in the context of recent separation, divorce or domestic conflicts[14]“. As you can see, sexism, inequality or aversion to women “just because they are women” are conspicuous by their absence as a relevant factor in these cases (I repeat, one third of the total) which psychiatry rightly defines as a “complex” phenomenon.

Comparative data in Europe also call into question the use of the epithet “sexist” to refer generically to intimate partner violence in our country. In the first place, Spain is one of the countries in Europe where there is less violence of this type[15], a fact that contrasts with the social perception that we ourselves have and that is a product of the relentless ideological campaign carried out by the political and journalistic class for the last two decades. In fact, despite being one of the most respectful countries in Europe (and, therefore, in the world) towards women, Spain is the country that carries out the highest number of campaigns to denounce “male” violence. Hard data, once again, contradict beliefs.  

This does not question the existence of a minority remaining cultural sexism especially persistent in some regions of our country, but rather the relationship between such cultural sexism and violence against women. In fact, according to EU data (2014), southern countries such as Spain or Italy, considered a priori as sexist, have much less violence against women than northern countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Holland, Sweden or Denmark, considered as progressive and egalitarian[16]. In fact, the Nordic countries, leaders in equality, have the worst data on domestic violence against women, a contradiction that some call, in order to get out of the way, “the Nordic paradox[17]“. In short, the relationship between inequality and intimate partner violence in the EU is “weak and heterogeneous[18]“, and although some studies have found a positive correlation, this is low, so it cannot be considered an important explanatory factor from the population or ecological point of view (even less so from the individual point of view)[19].

Although, as we have been repeating throughout the article, domestic violence is a complex phenomenon that eludes simplistic explanations, from the EU data it can be inferred more roughly than scientifically that, counter-intuitively, southern and Catholic countries are safer for women than northern Protestant countries.

In the case of murders of women by their partners, Spain is once again among the least violent countries in Europe, with a rate of 0.2 deaths per 100,000 women, compared to 0.3 in Germany, 0.38 in France, 0.43 in Sweden and 0.65 in Finland[20]. These data call into question the constant campaign that aims to convey to public opinion a false image of our society, which damages our self-esteem and affects our image abroad.  

In short, the objective analysis of the data questions the suitability of qualifying domestic or partner violence as “gender” violence and disqualifies its denomination as “sexist” violence, an epithet that lacks scientific basis and does not withstand the scrutiny of the data. However, since the Left transformed it into a political banner in 2004 and the Right embraced it with its chronic sheepish attitude, “sexist” violence continues to be a slogan repeated ad nauseam by our political and journalistic class. Not surprisingly, therefore, if we start from an erroneous diagnosis the problem cannot be solved, as we are unfortunately witnessing in Spain.

The ideologization and frivolity with which this issue is treated is a serious matter, since intimate partner violence not only causes an annual average of more than 50 deaths of women at the hands of their partners and leaves dozens of children orphaned, but even in non-lethal cases it causes physical and psychological sequelae that affect not only the victim, but also minors who witness traumatic violence that they may normalize when they reach adulthood with a possible pattern repetition.

If the government wanted to combat this social scourge it would leave the feminist ideology aside, call it domestic or partner violence and not mislead the population with the adjectives “sexist” or “gender”. This would mean attending to its real complex causes and focusing the actions on the Ministry of the Interior and not on the Ministry of Equality, that superfluous ministry (the favorite of sexual aggressors in Spain thanks to the flawed “Yes is Yes” Socialist Law, that permitted sexual aggressors leave jail prematurely).

One more thing. Given the lack of rigor of the 2004 socialist law on the causes of “gender” violence, it seems that the real objective of the legislator was not only to fight it, but rather to promote a political agenda that stir the “battle of the sexes” as a substitute for class struggle. It was yet another example of the politics of appearances in which an apparently laudable goal hid a sinister objective: to divide and confront. In fact, one wonders whether there is still any real intention today to seriously address the problem or whether, on the contrary, the most radical feminism is content with the weekly propaganda of demonization of men that permeates every news of these dreadful crimes suits the embittered hatred of feminism.

As a nineteenth-century historian said, there are plenty of rulers who are driven by ambition and not by conscience, but what the data clearly show is that, twenty years later, the fight against domestic violence has not achieved any results at all with respect to what it claimed to fight.

[1] Instituto de las Mujeres – Mujeres en Cifras – Violencia – Víctimas Mortales por Violencia de Género (inmujeres.gob.es)
[2] C.G.P.J – Grupos de expertos (poderjudicial.es)
[3] C.G.P.J – Datos sobre Violencia sobre la mujer en la estadística del CGPJ (poderjudicial.es)
[4] Crime Victim in a Close Relationship | The Swedish Police Authority (polisen.se)
[5] Risk and Protective Factors|Intimate Partner Violence|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC
[6] Global study on homicide (unodc.org)
[7] C.G.P.J – Víctimas mortales de violencia de género y violencia doméstica en ámbito de la pareja o ex-pareja (poderjudicial.es)
[8] Risk and Protective Factors|Intimate Partner Violence|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC
[9] Femicide, its causes and recent trends: What do we know? (europa.eu)
[10] Instituto de las Mujeres – Mujeres en Cifras – Violencia – Víctimas Mortales por Violencia de Género (inmujeres.gob.es)
[11] Femicide_brief_Nov2022.pdf (unodc.org)
[12] Instituto de las Mujeres – Mujeres en Cifras – Violencia – Víctimas Mortales por Violencia de Género (inmujeres.gob.es)
[13] Mental illness in homicide-suicide: a review – PubMed (nih.gov)
[14] Characteristics of homicide-suicide offenders: A systematic review – ScienceDirect
[15] Análisis epidemiológico de la violencia de género en la Unión Europea (isciii.es)
[16] fra-2014-vaw-survey-main-results-apr14_en.pdf (europa.eu)
[17] Sweden tops statistics of gender equality and domestic violence – Boston University News Service (bunewsservice.com)
[18] Does country-level gender equality explain individual risk of intimate partner violence against women? A multilevel analysis of individual heterogeneity and discriminatory accuracy (MAIHDA) in the European Union | European Journal of Public Health | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
[19] An ecological analysis of gender inequality and intimate partner violence in the United States – ScienceDirect
[20] EIGE’s indicators on intimate partner violence, rape and femicide: EU state of play | European Institute for Gender Equality (europa.eu)

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