Domestic violence is an important social problem in Spain. It is a type of physical or psychological violence which occurs within a household or an intimate relationship for example within a marriage, a family or cohabitation or even when dating. Domestic violence has many forms, including physical aggression but emotional abuse, intimidation; stalking and depravation of freedom are all forms of domestic violence.
Even though the victims of domestic violence are predominantly women, children and elderly people are vulnerable and can also be victims. Men can be victims but this is less common.
In 2004 the Spanish parliament approved organic law 1/2004 of 28th December. The law is devised to combat domestic violence and comprises of many different measures aimed at rapid protection for victims or potential victims and swiftly punishing the aggressors.
Law 1/2004 increased the penalties and hardened the conditions for suspension of sentence. Additionally any suspension of sentence will not prevent the perpetrator from undergoing a social rehabilitation programme and psychological therapy.
Resistance or lack of cooperation while in rehabilitation or therapy will mean the cancellation of the suspension and the full application of the sentence. A suspension of custody, patria potestad, and foster care will always be applied in cases where there are minors in the family.
The prison sentence can be turned into community work at the Judge’s discretion.
Psychological aggression, mistreatment or any other physical aggression without injuries will be punished with prison sentences from 6 months to one year. The additional aggressions above will be taken into consideration.
Menace or coercion will be punished with prison sentences from 3 months to one year. A special aggravation of 50% of the sentence will be added if the crime was perpetrated in the presence of minors.
Other penalties for mild abuse which are not considered as a crime will be sentenced with fines.
Protection measures for the victims and their families
Depending on the situation, the Judge will be able to apply estrangement measures and may order the victim or the perpetrator to leave the family domicile. The estrangement measures will be enforced with any means that will be deemed necessary including forcing perpetrators to wear GPS locator bracelets.
In exceptional cases the judge can instruct a public or private agency to find a temporary dwelling for the victim.
The Judge can decide to prevent any form of communication between perpetrator and victim.
Apart from the suspension of custody, patria potestad, and foster care, the judge can enforce the suspension of visits to children by the perpetrator.
In any case confidentiality will be of the utmost importance and victims will be allowed to change their names as a temporary or permanent measure.
Help measures for victims
Where possible victims will have the right to flexible working hours, work time reduction and work mobility. If a domicile change results in unemployment, the time spent looking for a new employment will still be accounted for regarding pension contributions. Special help will be given for finding a new job.
If the victim has an income below 75% of the minimum professional salary, social services will help with a single payment equivalent to 6 months of unemployment benefit. If there are other circumstances involving handicapped people or dependent children that sum can be increased up to 24 months of unemployment benefit.
Victims will have priority access to social housing. In any case the judge considering the situation can apply a housing benefit payment.
What to do if you are a victim.
It is very important to collect any evidence available like broken objects, ripped clothes and any object that served as a weapon or stained with blood.
If you go or the police take you to hospital, clearly specify that you have been assaulted and do not alter your physical appearance (like changing clothes or showering) as this could destroy evidence that could be collected by medical personnel. Get a medical report; it will be important when you report the aggressor later on.
If the aggressor insists on going with you to hospital, keep in mind that he will probably try to influence your statements at the hospital.
Report the aggressor
Past behaviour is an indicator of future behaviour; therefore if you have been assaulted once by your partner or a family member, it is likely that the pattern is going to repeat itself. Physical or psychological aggressions have no space in a civilized society therefore aggressors must be punished. Victims should not feel guilty when reporting their partner or a family member to the police. Reporting the aggressor is also a way to help him as it is the first step towards rehabilitation therapy.
Before starting the process it is important to collect all possible evidence. If the police come to your home, make sure that they collect all possible data that will support the legal procedure.
Experts say that after reporting aggression it is risky for the victim to share the same dwelling with the aggressor as the “denuncia” could trigger even more violent behaviour. It is therefore recommended to leave the common domicile until the tribunal dictates an estrangement order for the aggressor or a protection order for the victim. This is very quick and will take 72 hours at most.
Criticism of the law
Law 1/2004 has been extensively criticised.
It has been argued that men are pre-emptively considered guilty before enough evidence is collected. In a growing number of cases a false "denuncia" is used as a weapon for women preparing for divorce, trying to get child custody as well as trying to deny visitation rights for the father.
Others say that this law has been ineffective in curbing domestic violence in Spain. Statistics show that in almost 8 years of the law’s application, domestic violence in Spain is continuing unabated.
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