Spain has perhaps one of the worst rates of domestic violence in western Europe, but it has also, to its credit, started to get to grips as a society with the problem, and to be appalled at instances of what it calls violencia de genero – gender violence. This terminology aims to recognize that violence is sometimes directed at men, but it remains statistically and appallingly evident that in the overwhelmingly majority of cases the violence is directed at women. The main domestic violence law in Spain is Ley Orgánica 1/2004, de 28 de diciembre, de Medidas de Protección Integral contra la Violencia de Género, though there is also the Canarian Ley 16/2003, de 8 de abril, de prevención y protección integral de las mujeres contra la violencia de género.
The 2004 law defines domestic violence as any act of physical or psychological violence, including attacks against sexual freedom, threats, humiliation, coercion, sexual abuse, or deprivation of liberty. It makes the following provisions for women who are suffering domestic violence: these are therefore fundamental and guaranteed legal rights. It is important to note that it specifically covers all women regardless of their place of origin, their religion, or any other factor. If you are in this situation, you have the right to:
- report the violence to any police force, whether National Police, Canarian or Local Police, or Guardia Civil. In an emergency, call 112. Your report initiates a Court investigation which can result in custodial sentences for the assailant. Your initial report should be as detailed as possible and include previous incidents as well as the one that triggered your call for help. Remember to ask for a copy of your report.
- request a Court Order to provide legal protection while this investigation is ongoing. This protection can include eviction or a restraint order covering physical, electronic or postal communication. If you feel that this legal protection is necessary for your safety, you should ideally request it at the same time as you make the report, though it can be made later if, e.g., your home situation deteriorates.
- leave your home if you are in danger without losing any of your rights. If you need to leave home immediately in order to be safe, remember to take your personal documents with you. You might well need your passport, healthcare documents, bank account details, a rental contract or proof of property ownership, as well as identifying details of the person who has been violent to you, so a copy of his passport, for example.
- full information and advice appropriate to your personal situation from all public services, organizations and administrative offices, most importantly covering your protection and security, what help is available, and where it can be obtained. This information must be offered in accessible and comprehensible form. The Tenerife Cabildo has a Domestic Violence Unit as part of its Social-Health Attention Institute (IASS) as a starting point for such advice. Phone them on 922 843 142.
- social services assistance including emergency help, psychological and social support, and women’s refuges, the providing services working in conjunction with the police, Courts, legal aid system and the health service;
- immediate and free legal representation by specialist abogado and procurador (equivalent of solicitor and barrister) in all proceedings resulting from the domestic violence suffered. Under the terms of the Legal Aid Law HERE, if you are later deemed capable of paying for legal services, you will be required to pay the bills incurred.
- a rearrangement or reduction in working hours, though with a corresponding reduction in wages in the latter case, or a temporary suspension of employment with the option to return to work within 6 months (this period can be extended by the Courts for further periods of 3 months up to a maximum of 18). Your right to social healthcare will not be affected. You may not be legally sacked for the exercise of these rights, nor is absence from work a breach of contract if caused by an accredited physical or psychological condition arising from domestic violence. If you are self-employed, and have to stop working in order to be safe, you are entitled to a 6-month exemption from social security payments. Again, your right to social healthcare will not be affected.
The authorities really have put in place a raft of measures and organizations to help women in situations of domestic violence. Perhaps you will be surprised at how broadly this is defined: it is not just a physical attack. Women in this situation are not alone. Don’t suffer when help is at hand.