How Argentina Is Changing Tactics To Combat Gender Violence
Argentina has tweaked its protocols for responding to sexual and domestic violence. It hopes to encourage victims to report crimes and reveal information vital to a prosecution.
BUENOS AIRES - In the first three months of 2023, Argentina counted 116 killings of women, transvestites and trans-people, according to a local NGO, Observatorio MuMaLá. They reveal a pattern in these killings, repeated every year: most femicides happen at home, and 70% of victims were protected in principle by a restraining order on the aggressor.
Now, legal action against gender violence, which must begin with a formal complaint to the police, has a crucial tool — the Protocol for the Investigation and Litigation of Cases of Sexual Violence (Protocolo de investigación y litigio de casos de violencia sexual). The protocol was recommended by the acting head of the state prosecution service, Eduardo Casal, and laid out by the agency's Specialized Prosecution Unit for Violence Against Women (UFEM).
The UFEM designs, among other tasks, sex-crime policies and response strategies. Its recent protocol against femicides has been approved, and is in force, in 11 of the country's 23 provinces.
On March 8, International Women's Day was celebrated and a mobilization was held in Cordoba demanding an end to patriarchal violence and gender inequality.
A complicated justice system
Its aim is to provide a solid, legal framework for investigations into this murky and elusive area of criminal conduct, in line with international norms. There are problems at present, the first of which is that "often the victims do not go to the police," the head of the UFEM Mariela Labozzetta, told Clarín, attributing this to "distrust of the justice system."
A woman's statements on sexual violence are received with skepticism.
The other obstacle to investigations was "in how testimonies are taken. There are international norms on special procedures for registering testimonies, for example in a private space with a person you feel you can trust, of the same gender if a woman wants it, and respecting time limits."
The victim's testimony has a "special weight," says Labozzetta, because domestic or sexist violence happens in private spaces, without witnesses. Often, she says, "a woman's statements on sexual violence are received with skepticism, which doesn't happen when people report other crimes, like theft." Labozzetta is herself a public prosecutor in the district of Morón in the Buenos Aires province.
After a formal complaint, the protocol focuses on gathering circumstantial evidence of use to police and ensuring no evidence is destroyed.
March 8, 2023: A woman during the International Women's Day rally in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Intervention is also tied to two factors: the time lapse between an incident and its reporting (are authorities dealing with a matter of urgency, recent or less recent events, or a longstanding situation?), and abuse categories (sexual abuse with physical contact, with or without lesions, and abuse without contact or injuries). Labozzetta says "if the sexual abuse happened just now, the victim is taken to hospital to create a clinical history, before following a specific procedure that is set out."
In less recent incidents, she says, "the construction is historical in nature," considering incidental or secondary testimonies, their repetition or the victim's emotional state when making a statement. The UFEM will also seek information on the aggressor.
"Generally if the aggressor has escaped or wasn't identified, the case is shelved as there is no way to proceed. But even here, there are international commitments on clarifying the case."
Labozzetta says investigations also need a "context, and to analyze the suspect's track record and whether or not he previously engaged in similar behavior."
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