Archive for May 22nd, 2008

The United Nations is investigating allegations that its peacekeepers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo committed sexual abuses, a U.N. spokesman said last week.

He declined to give details of the investigation but aid workers based in Congo’s violence-torn east said the inquiry was focusing on Indian U.N. peacekeepers accused of paying for sex with underage girls.

“There are allegations and independent services are working on them,” said Kemal Saiki, spokesman for the U.N. mission in Congo (MONUC).

He said the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was investigating the alleged incidents in North Kivu province, where U.N. troops have been policing a shaky ceasefire between rival rebel and militia factions and government troops.

“Who would believe you if you tell people that your own husband has raped you? They would laugh at you and tell you it is his right since he is legally married to you. Even when he does it with a butcher’s knife under your throat, you have to keep quiet and cannot go to the police,” said Amen, with a lump in her throat. For two years, Amen struggled to stop her husband from raping her. “It did not take long after my wedding for my husband to demand sex at any time of the day,” she recalls. “Three to four times a day was not enough for him. But the worst was in the night when he had a butcher’s knife under my throat. When I struggled he threatened me with the samurai sword he kept under bed.” Leaving after two horrendous years, even then her fear did not stop, as she received harassing telephone calls from him. She changed telephone numbers several times. Finally, her divorce went through.

One of the very few female lifeguards in the country, Amen, seems to have all the necessary qualities and abilities to deal with difficult, stressful and painful situations. She is physically strong and composed under pressure. Yet in her house, she was powerless to stop her husband. She says she would have sought help if there had been a law and the proper environment to protect her. There are hundreds of women like Amen, ashamed to talk about what is happening to them because much of society views it as unconceivable for a husband to rape a wife.

The popular notion is that men have the right to sex anytime they want, and a woman should comply. A social worker doing therapy with married women said, “These women cannot denounce their aggressor. One of my clients had love marks on her neck she said her husband did this purposely so that people would not believe her.”

The recognition of marital rape is not only key to women’s rights, but has become an issue with irreversible consequences with the pandemic of HIV and AIDS. The relationship between gender violence and HIV-AIDS has not been adequately addressed. Women experiencing violence have little negotiating power when it comes to safe sex. Although Part 6 of the draft SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which is going to the Heads of States Summit in August 2008, is comprehensive in addressing a range of forms of gender-based violence, it is silent on marital rape.

The SADC Protocol Alliance, a coalition of 16 organisations, views this with concern. It’s urging governments to include reference to marital rape as gender-based violence to be outlawed. Without proper legislation, marital rape survivors will find it difficult to seek legal aid, let alone have access to post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent possible HIV infection, and other support services. Marital rape affects women, their children and the community. These women lose confidence and may suffer from physical and mental illnesses.

In October 2007, the Sexual Offences Bill went to the Mauritius Parliament. This piece of legislation clearly stipulates that: “Any person who, without the consent of another person intentionally penetrates the vagina or anus of that other person with any part of his body, with any object, shall commit an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a term of a penal servitude not exceeding 45 year.” However, unfortunately in prudish Mauritius due to a public outcry, the Bill did not go through and was sent to a Select Committee.

The recommendations have not come out yet. Asked for her views the minister of Women’s Rights, Indira Seebun, said, “If one word is removed in the draft Sexual Offences Bill, that is anal sex, women in Mauritius might be more prepared to accept the Bill.” In a recent declaration the minister of Justice, Rama Valayden said: “We want to position ourselves as a model of human rights in the region.” Human rights are also women’s rights.

The Mauritanian government says it is trying to increase prosecutions of rape cases but poorly trained judges working with murky, outdated legal texts make for slow progress.

The penal code, which is heavily based on Sharia or Islamic law, does not give a precise definition of sexual violence, said lawyer Bilal Ould Dik, so a judge’s personal point of view can strongly sway his conviction decision.

“Rape convictions are very rare [in Mauritania] because we are working with such unclear legal texts,” he told IRIN. As a result, “rapes often just end with a settlement between the family of the perpetrator and the victim”.

And, according to Dik, many judges automatically label sexual abuses as voluntary sexual relations occurring outside of marriage, known as the crime of ‘zina’ in Mauritania.

“For many judges, the rape victim is 50 percent responsible for what has happened to them,” said Zeinebou mint Taleb Moussam, chairwoman of non-governmental organisation (NGO) Mauritanian association for the health of mothers and children (AMSME).

While the number of reported rapes in the capital Nouakchott has tripled from 25 to 75 in the past year, according to Ahmed Seyfer head of child protection for UNICEF, next to none of the perpetrators were punished.

The Mauritanian authorities tried to build more robust legal protection for children who have been sexually assaulted, on top of the penal code, by passing the Juvenile code in 2005.

Because of that Mauritanian children theoretically enjoy some of the strongest legal protection than children in any of their West African neighbours, according to Frederica Riccardi, representative of NGO Terre des Hommes.

With the code came the setting up of a government child protection department and a special police force to protect minors, while judges, policemen and social workers have been sent on training courses in how to implement the law.

But despite this, few judges are well-versed in its texts or well enough trained to implement them and thus fall back on the weaker penal code said Moussam of AMSME.

Men in Mauritania can still become judges with nothing more than an informal Koranic education, while women are barred from becoming magistrates.

And the lack of training extends to social workers and psychologists who are able to help victims. “It is only NGOs that currently provide support to victims, but we need trained educators and psychologists who can also do the job,” Moussa told IRIN.

Organisations such as AMSME help victims through their proceedings with police to report assaults, and through administrative procedures for conviction, as well as giving them psychological support if they need it.

But the real challenge is convincing rape victims to visit them in the first place, according to Moussa.

For her, getting more sexual assault cases prosecuted requires changing attitudes to sexual assault across society as well as better training for magistrates and justice reform. Until then, “the topic of sexual assault will remain taboo in this country,” she said.

A semi-nude protest by a woman against Punjab police inaction in registering a case against some men who allegedly raped her has landed her in a lock-up.

The victim took off her clothes on a busy crossing on the Ferozepore-Ludhiana highway here on Monday and shouted that her pleas to the police for getting a rape case registered had fallen on deaf ears.

The protest shocked people moving along the highway.

The protest took place just a few hundred metres from a police station. After passers-by informed the police, a few officials rushed to the spot and caught the woman. No woman police personnel came to arrest her.

She was later booked for obscenity at a public place and sent to a police lock-up.

Embarrassed by the incident, police announced that they had already registered a case against two men for having allegedly raped the woman.

District police chief Ashok Baath said the case had been registered well before the woman staged the protest.

Police officials said there had been delay in registering the case since the woman’s complaint was being investigated.

Last week, another woman in neighbouring Haryana’s Yamunanagar town had stripped down to her undergarments inside a police station complex after the Haryana police did not register a case on her complaint that she was raped. She was also booked by the police for obscenity.

In a shocking trend, the number of minors becoming victims of rape this year has shown a sharp increase vis-a-vis those above 18 years, according to statistics with the Mumbai police.

On Monday, an eight-year-old girl from Antop Hill became the latest victim. She was raped by a laundry shopowner, who offered her sweets and took her to an empty house in the neighbourhood.

For long, rape victims from across the city have been referred only to the police hospital at Nagpada by the cops for medical examination. Doctors and activists now plan to appeal to senior IPS officers to refer victims to the four super-speciality hospitals in Mumbai, which are well-equipped to deal with such cases. This is because the expertise of doctors from the super-specialty hospitals in handling such cases is high. There is better collection of evidence, assistance of laboratory aids and psychological counselling offered at these hospitals.

According to the statistics maintained by the police, 10 cases were reported in January where minors had been targeted. This number surged to 11 in the month of February, while the girls targeted above the age of 18 years remained constant at 5. In March, there have been five cases of rape involving minors and four involving those above 18 years.

Activists working for victims of child abuse say that the IPC is not sufficient to deal with sexual assault cases. They have been demanding an amendment in the existing laws for speedy trials and strong conviction, when the rape victim is below 15 years, so that it acts as a deterrent.

“Following up on the prosecution becomes very important. Often, these cases are reported, but no one knows their status in court or whether a chargesheet has been filed,’’ says Mansoor Qadri, an activist from Saathi, an NGO which works for protection of children. “Psycho-social support and counselling of the girl besides rehabilitating her is necessary and we are attempting this.’’ Saathi is following up on the prosecution of four cases of child sexual abuse. “One of them is a case of incest where a man was raping his little daughter for several years, but she was too scared to complain. Another case dates back to last week where a 12-year-old girl was repeatedly sexually assaulted at Malwani,’’ Qadri said.

“We have been trying to communicate to the police for a long time that the four super-speciality hospitals in the city—KEM, LTMG (Sion), JJ and Nair—are well-equipped to deal with cases of sexual crime. We have four medical colleges where forensic medicine is a speciality subject, under which sexual crimes fall,’’ said Dr Shailesh Mohite, head of forensic medicine at Nair Hospital. “In the hospital, we have a special cell which looks into the psychological problems of the victim as well as her family.’’

Mohite said the cell looked into cases referred to it by the child welfare committee or the court. “We are asked to verify the age of a girl or whether a sexual assault has taken place or in some cases, if there is the presence of a sexually-transmitted disease. But most of these cases are sent to us only after a day and the delay hampers tests,’’ Mohite added.

JCP (law and order) K L Prasad said the suggestion of referring rape cases to super-specialty hospitals appeared feasible and would be considered. “The increase in number of minors targeted in rape cases can be attributed to a rise in awareness among complainants…. People now approach the police against relatives and neighbours also.”

From the frat house to the jury room, victims of date rape who voluntarily used drugs or alcohol prior to their assault are judged more harshly than those whose drinks were deliberately “spiked” by their attackers, says a University of Windsor researcher.

Doctoral student April Girard, who wrote the report in conjunction with her project supervisor, psychology professor Charlene Senn, said the results of the four-year study that surveyed 280 male and female undergraduate students showed the “she-was-asking-for-it” mentality still persists on campus and in society. Voluntary drug use by a woman, Girard said, “decreases perceptions of her worth as a crime victim.”

The Role of the New Date Rape Drugs in Attributions About Date Rape, to be published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, found that the “perpetrator” is still held responsible for the sexual assault, but his actions are “marginally excused” in cases where the victims voluntarily may have drunk to excess or taken illegal drugs before the crime was committed.

“Women’s voluntary consumption of drugs prior to a sexual assault reduced perceptions of perpetrator responsibility and blame and increased blame to the victim compared with other situations,” the paper’s conclusion states. “Our attitudes remain harsh on women who behave in a way society does not approve of,” said Senn. “It remains a real obstacle to justice . . . We have to do more education to make sure our criminal justice system, the police and judiciary are not operating from those biases as well.”

The participants, who were canvassed about their own sexual experiences, alcohol and drug use and beliefs in rape myths, were asked to read various scenarios involving sex assaults, and then to rate based on percentages how much each person’s actions were responsible for the outcome of the incident.

In one scenario, both the victim and the attacker are sober. In a second, the victim and the perpetrator have both been drinking the same amount of alcohol. In a third, the perpetrator is surreptitiously mixing the victim’s drinks three-times stronger than his own. In the next, the victim has been slipped the date-rape drug GHB. In the final scenario, both are taking drugs. In all the scenarios, the participants assigned the highest blame to the perpetrator.

However, levels of blame for the victim increased in the scenarios where they consumed drugs voluntarily. In the involuntary drug scenario, the perpetrator was assigned 91 per cent of the blame. Results varied but In the voluntary drug use category, the perpetrator was given 79 per cent of the blame.

There was no significant spread in response depending upon the gender of the participant. However, Girard pointed out, the men were more likely to subscribe to “rape acceptance myths” such as a victim is more responsible if she wears provocative clothing.

Senn added that “in a very tiny minority” of cases, some participants blamed the victim 100 per cent for a rape if she had been voluntarily using drugs before the attack.

“Unfortunately, the results didn’t surprise me,” said Girard, a doctoral psychology student. “It lives up to stereotypical attitudes. ‘She was wearing provocative clothes, what was she doing out at night?’ So it’s not surprising that people would question her drinking and not conclude a rape is a rape, is a rape.”

She said background information she accessed in her research also showed that those same attitudes, to one degree or another, extend into jury rooms and into perceptions in the general population.

Starting next year across the country, rape victims too afraid or too ashamed to go to police can undergo an emergency-room forensic rape exam, and the evidence gathered will be kept on file in a sealed envelope in case they decide to press charges.

The new federal requirement that states pay for “Jane Doe rape kits” is aimed at removing one of the biggest obstacles to prosecuting rape cases: Some women are so traumatized they don’t come forward until it is too late to collect hair, semen or other samples.

“Sometimes the issue of actually having to make a report to police can be a barrier to victims, and this will allow that barrier to cease, to allow the victim to think about it before deciding whether to talk to police,” said Carey Goryl, executive director of the International Association of Forensic Nurses.

The practice is already followed at some health clinics, colleges and hospitals around the country and by the state of Massachusetts. But many other jurisdictions refuse to cover the estimated $800 cost of a forensic rape exam unless the victim files a police report.

Beginning in 2009, states will have to pay for Jane Doe rape kits to continue receiving funding under the federal Violence Against Women Act, which provides tax dollars for women’s shelters and law enforcement training. States will decide how many locations will offer anonymous rape exams and how long the evidence should be kept.

Emergency rooms typically use a “rape kit” to collect evidence for use by police and prosecutors. It consists of microscope slides, boxes and plastic bags for storing skin, hair, blood, saliva or semen gathered by a specially trained nurse. The victim’s injuries are also photographed.

What makes a Jane Doe rape kit different is that it is sealed with only a number on the outside of the envelope to identify the victim. Police do not open the envelope unless the victim decides to press charges.

The FBI has recommended such an option since at least 1999.

“The idea is to collect the evidence now, while it’s still there,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the national Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

The new requirement applies only to adult victims. Hospitals and doctors must still report incest or abuse involving children to the police.

In Cecil County, local authorities started offering Jane Doe kits four years ago, after a rape victim recanted. Anne Bean, clinical director for a rape and sexual assault counseling program in Cecil County, said giving women the option of keeping police out of it until they are ready to press charges is crucial.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, 272,350 sexual assaults were reported in 2006. The same survey estimated that only 41 percent of rapes and other sexual assaults are reported to police.

“Many times, you have people who were drunk, maybe doing drugs, maybe they’re underage, and you start talking about the police and they get scared,” Bean said. “So, sometimes it’s not until long after they’re willing to report, at which point of course any physical evidence is gone.”

Massachusetts officials had no immediate figures on how many rape kits were collected anonymously there, or how many were ultimately opened.

In Allegany and Cecil counties in Maryland, evidence is kept at least 90 days. So far, 13 women have submitted anonymous evidence, and none has returned to press charges.

Still, hospital and police officials credit an offer of Jane Doe testing with encouraging a reluctant victim in Cecil County to undergo an exam. During that process, she decided to report the crime, and her attacker was successfully prosecuted.

“Just to let people know this option is out there is good, to say, ‘It’s OK, you don’t have to prosecute if you don’t want to,'” said Kathleen, a rape victim in Pennsylvania who spoke on condition her full name not be used.

Kathleen underwent an exam after being raped in Virginia in 2004, but her rapist was never found or charged. Kathleen said she wasn’t offered anonymous reporting, but she has met rape victims in group therapy who regret not going for an exam.

“They’re embarrassed. They don’t even go get tested for STDs because they’re so embarrassed,” Kathleen said.

At Union Hospital in Elkton, forensic nurse Chris Lenz said Jane Doe testing is not offered unless a medical professional fears the victim will leave without the option.

“Of course we encourage reporting. That’s what we would like. But when they’re adamant they don’t want to report — if we think, `She’s going to walk out if she has to go through with this,’ — that’s when we offer it,” Lenz said.

Girls and women have made dramatic strides toward gender equality in the United States. Role models and opportunities for girls in science, technology, and sports exist today that were not available 50 years ago. Despite these advances, results from a new study show that teenage girls from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds continue to experience sexism.

The findings are from a study of 600 girls between the ages of 12 and 18 from California and Georgia. The girls were Latina (49%), White (23%), African American (9 %), Asian American (7.5%), and multi-ethnic or other (7.5%), and came from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. The study, the first to examine social and individual influences on girls’ personal experiences of sexism, was carried out by researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz and the University of Kentucky. It appears in the May/June 2008 issue of the journal Child Development.

In surveys, the researchers asked the girls about their experiences with sexual harassment and about discouraging comments they’d received about their abilities in science, math, or computers, as well as sports. The vast majority (90%) of girls said they had experienced sexual harassment at least once, with few reporting that such experiences had taken place more than once or twice. Specific forms of sexual harassment included receiving inappropriate and unwanted romantic attention (67% of girls), hearing demeaning gender-related comments (62%), being teased because of appearance (58%), receiving unwanted physical contact (52%), and being teased, bullied, or threatened with harm by a male (25%). Furthermore, for most girls, the discouraging comments about their abilities were conveyed simply because they are girls; these comments related to science, math, or computers (52% of girls), as well as athletics (76% of girls). Most of the discouraging comments came from male peers.

Because not all girls perceive sexism equally, the study also examined girls’ understanding of this type of prejudice in their lives. The researchers found that both individual and social factors influenced whether girls were aware of sexism, with girls who were older and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds reporting more sexism than their peers. Moreover, Latina and Asian American girls reported less sexual harassment than girls from other ethnic groups.

The types of messages girls heard from others also influenced their reports of sexism. Girls who had learned about feminism through either the media or people they knew (mothers, teachers, etc.) were more likely to recognize it than girls who had never heard about feminism. Girls who felt pressure from parents to conform to gender stereotypes perceived more sexism than other girls.

Finally, girls’ own attitudes about themselves and society affected how they perceived sexism. Girls who felt atypical for their gender or were unhappy with stereotypical gender roles reported more sexism than other girls.

“This study documents the continued pervasiveness of sexism in the lives of adolescent girls,” notes Campbell Leaper, professor of psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz and the study’s lead author. “When sexual harassment frequently occurs, girls may come to expect demeaning behaviors as normal in heterosexual relationships. And when girls’ achievement is discouraged in traditionally male-dominated fields, their potential is limited and society loses potentially talented individuals in important fields such as science and technology.”

Recognizing when sexism occurs is a crucial first step toward overcoming discrimination, adds Leaper. “Otherwise, it is more likely that individuals attribute failure to their lack of ability rather than to the obstacles in their environment.”

Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 79, Issue 3, Perceived Experiences with Sexism Among Adolescent Girls, by Leaper, C (University of California Santa Cruz), and Brown, CS (University of Kentucky).

Contact: Andrea Browning at Society for Research in Child Development

The Cabinet of Barbados has given the green light to the recently developed data collection protocol on domestic violence and stakeholders are expected to begin using it by August, 2008.

This disclosure has come from Acting Director of the Bureau of Gender Affairs, John Hollingsworth, who said the instrument was approved on March 18 this year, and over the next few weeks, key personnel in some agencies would be trained to use the form.

Financial assistance was received from the United Nations Development Fund for Women in 2005 to develop the protocol, and a series of consultations was held with the Bureau’s partners. The protocol itself was developed because of an identified need to monitor the impact of policies and programmes employed in the fight against domestic violence, as well as to establish incidence and prevalence estimates.

Barbados’ current data collection systems are said to be “inadequate due to under reporting, under documentation, administrative incapacity and a lack of appreciation for the use of statistics in the policy formulation and monitoring cycle”. Mr. Hollingsworth pointed out that the primary source of data was from police records, while some were also garnered from the hospital.

But, he noted, in the case of the lawmen, that information was only used to apprehend and bring charges against the perpetrators, while data from the hospital were used to determine and provide optimal patient care.

“As a result,” he stated, “we needed a more holistic and integrated response to address the needs of victims and the treatment and punishment of perpetrators, and this protocol will assist in filling this void.” According to the Acting Director, it would provide profiles of victims and perpetrators of gender-based violence, suggest factors that give rise to it, identify at-risk groups, and ascertain the correlation between domestic violence and other socio-economic and cultural factors.

The protocol, he said, would be tested for three months, then reviewed to assess its strengths and challenges, and tweaked if necessary. “A determination will also be made as to which agency will be responsible for collation and analysis of the data, but initially, the Bureau of Gender Affairs; the Bureau of Social Policy, Research and Planning; and the National Task Force on Crime Prevention will be responsible for it,” Mr. Hollingsworth remarked.

The organisations that will use the data collection protocol are the Welfare Department, the Poverty Alleviation Bureau, the Ministry of Health, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the Royal Barbados Police Force, the Probation Department, the National Task Force on Crime Prevention, the Emergency Medical Clinic, the Business and Professional Women’s Club, and the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners.

A meeting was recently held with stakeholders to update them on decisions pertaining to the document, and to iron out any issues that may affect its smooth implementation. For many years, concerns have been raised about domestic violence, which mainly affects women.

At the United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1985, the view was expressed that the incidence of violence against women was downgraded to a side issue of discrimination and development. As a result, the UN system undertook several ad hoc initiatives, over time, to bring awareness to this issue, striving to always keep it on the forefront of the international agenda. Barbados is a signatory to the 1979 Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the 1994 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violent Crimes Against Women (Belem do Para).

As a result, this country is obligated to play its part in ensuring that gender-based violence is eliminated. To this end, the Bureau of Gender Affairs has already commissioned a study on the social and economic costs of domestic violence, and is currently reviewing the first draft. Additionally, a survey is expected to be conducted during this financial year on the incidence and prevalence of domestic violence.

Indeed, government has been implementing a number of initiatives to reduce and weed out gender-based violence which can destabilise the economic and social progress the island has made over time. Barbadians are, therefore, being urged to support the data collection protocol, which is designed to assist government in better assessing this continuing problem in its social and economic aspects and so guide strategies to address it.

There had been a legal challenge against the new domestic violence legislation in case it broke the principle of equality in the Spanish Constitution.

The Constitutional Court has backed the idea of harsher prison sentences in domestic violence cases where the aggressor is a man.

The difference in punishment according to sex is part of the new domestic violence law from the Government and the court has now considered the legislation to be constitutional by seven votes to five.

The vote on article 153.1 of the Penal Code came after a challenge to the legislation placed by Penal Court 4 in Murcia, which thought it could go against the principle of equality in article 14 of the Spanish Constitution.

While domestic violence in Spain is becoming more and more visible, the country’s laws and justice system are proving weak instruments to fight the phenomenon, according to experts from different fields who are demanding further legal reforms to address the issue.

The government of socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who took office in 2004, passed a Law on Gender Equality, appointed women to key positions in the administration, created special courts and issued drastic instructions to crack down on domestic violence.

But the violence continues: between 2001 and 2007, 425 women were killed in domestic violence cases in Spain, with 71 of the murders occurring in 2007 alone.

And this year, 32 women were murdered by May 12. Feb. 27 was a particularly black day, with four women killed.

Between the creation of the special courts for violence against women in 2005 and the end of last year, 69,400 men were prosecuted and 48,971 convicted. In 2007 alone, 126,293 complaints were filed.

But the courts are snowed under with cases and are short-staffed, so prosecutions drag on for years.

Progress in fighting domestic violence is also undermined by delays by judges and police in enforcing court sentences or orders, and the lenient treatment received by perpetrators in some cases, activists complain.

On Monday, a court cut the prison sentence handed down to Colombian national Andrés Julián L. H., from 25 to 17 years, after he confessed to the crime with which he was charged: the rape of a 10-year-old girl, who became pregnant and had a baby as a result.

The girl’s mother, Laura Montenegro, told the press that “for the sake of justice, he should have got life in prison.”

Two days earlier, the former partner of 67-year-old María Juana cut her throat because she had filed a complaint against him for threatening her. The court had issued a restraining order against him, but he violated it, as do many who are subjected to similar restrictions in Spain, because of little or no police surveillance.

Spain’s criminal code also permits abusive parents to regain custody of their children. The press recently reported the case of police officer José María Cenamora, convicted of raping his daughter and stepdaughter, who committed suicide at the age of 17 after telling her mother and other relatives about the abuse she had suffered for years.

The judge in charge of the case sentenced Cenamora to four and a half years in prison — three years for the abuse of his stepdaughter and 18 months for that of his daughter, who is now 10. But she only cancelled his legal rights as a father for the 18 months he will serve for molesting his daughter, instead of the six years provided by law.

Reporter Mónica Belaza, who specialises in such issues, wrote in the Madrid newspaper El País that according to this criterion, “it can be concluded that criminal law takes the view that in some cases rape, aggression or sexual abuse of a child by his or her father or mother may be compatible with the child’s care and protection.”

Another controversial case was that of Argentine national Sylvina Bassani, who was killed by her ex-husband on Apr. 10, in spite of having reported several violations of the restraining order against him.

The court in charge of the case had requested assistance from the Consejo General del Poder Judicial, the governing body of the Spanish judicial system, because it was unable to deal with the number of cases assigned to it. After Bassani’s murder, the court secretary wrote that “the delay in processing gender violence cases is truly disturbing,” and pointed out that 41 other courts are also in a state of collapse for similar reasons.

The degree to which courts are overwhelmed depends on the city or province where complaints are dealt with. “Victims seeking justice receive a very different quality of response, depending on the location,” said Montserrat Comas, the head of the Observatory Against Domestic and Gender Violence, sponsored by the Consejo General del Poder Judicial.

After receiving some 200 demands for the same penalties to be applied to men and women convicted of violent attacks, based on the argument that different treatment is unconstitutional, the Constitutional Court ruled Wednesday in favour of retaining the difference, by seven votes to five.

The rector of the Sociedad de Estudios Internacionales (SEI), legal expert Fernando de Salas López, told IPS that the same penalty should apply to the same crime, whether it is committed by men or women.

Not only must gender violence be effectively combated, but also domestic violence against elderly people, who are “weaker and more sensitive,” he added.

That view was echoed by lawyer and former judge Javier Gómez de Liaño, in an article published Tuesday in the Madrid newspaper El Mundo.

“All attempts to compensate for historical injustice, based on differences of sex, religion, birth, physical appearance, race or any other distinguishing feature, deserve to be struck down as running counter to the constitution and, therefore, inadmissible,” he wrote.

Article 14 of the constitution states that Spanish citizens are equal before the law, and that there cannot prevail any discrimination on the grounds of birth, race, sex, religion, opinion or any other social or personal condition or circumstance.

But the Constitutional Court has upheld differential penalties for men and women, and it has the final word.

Now it is a matter of enforcing the law, and Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega made reference to that at the Third Spain-Africa International Meeting “Women for a Better World”, which was held in the West African nation of Niger from Monday to Wednesday. “If we don’t want laws to become dead letter, we have to make them a reality, and that is possible in the case of gender violence,” she said.

“In many countries, women have won recognition of the political and social rights that belong to us. Over the length and breadth of the planet, we have achieved legal recognition of the right to equality, and gender policies have become part of the international agenda,” the deputy prime minister said.

“We have made progress, but we must continue to advance,” she added.