To date, in Chile there are 11 completed femicides and 72 attempted femicides, according to data from the National Service for Women and Gender Equality, in a statistic that does not stop and that is advancing dramatically. This escalation of gender violence not only has a negative effect on the physical and mental health of those who suffer it and their environment, but also has a short and medium term, intergenerational effects, and such damage impacts not only those who survive the experience but also has consequences at the family, community and society level as a whole.
The absence of procedures in line with international agreements signed by the Chilean state results in a still tiny number of oral trials and convictions that do not correspond to the prevalence of the problem. Examples of this and of the impunity in which they were or are for a long time, are the names of Fernanda Maciel (raped and murdered while pregnant in 2018 and the case closed this year), Antonia Barra (four years after committing suicide for having been raped, today a new trial is being held after the nullity of the previous one), Nabila Rifo (savagely attacked in 2016 and the case closed a year later), Nicole Saavedra (raped and murdered in 2016 and the case closed in 2021), Antonia Garros (two years after her suicide, her aggressor received a light sentence and the State was condemned to compensate her father for an error in police procedure four years after her death) and Gabriela Alcaíno (murdered in 2018, and also her mother, with a case closed in 2022) who symbolise hundreds of women who have been victims of violence by men in recent years in our country.
In the last ten years, the violence of all kinds against women, present since childhood in a continuum in their family lives and in the spaces in which they live, has aroused the interest and preoccupation of the international and national community, thanks to the constant visibility and public denunciation, mainly by feminist struggles, that is, by the very women who suffer this infamous violence.
It is thus established that such violence represents the most absolute violation and violation of their fundamental rights as established in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, an international treaty adopted in 1979 (CEDAW) and that Chile enacted the Optional Protocol to the Convention in 2020 with official publication in 2021.
The majority of efforts and multiple governmental and non-governmental initiatives to eliminate this scourge have been in vain, as women continue to suffer violence regardless of class, religion, age, nationality or place of residence; the culmination of this violent spiral, and its most brutal expression, is femicide, a misogynist crime, which reflects to an extreme degree, the sense of ownership, domination and control exercised by men over women in patriarchal societies.
Despite attempts on the subject, such as the Law on Domestic Violence (No. 20.066 – 2005) which prevents, condemns and seeks to eradicate domestic violence, providing protection to victims; the Law on Femicide (No. 20. 480 – 2010) which only considers it as such in a family relationship and cohabitation between the victim and the perpetrator; the Gabriela Law (21.212 – 2020) which extended the legal framework beyond the couple’s relationship but, depending on the interpretation and investigation carried out by the judiciary. In practice, women must overcome a series of institutional obstacles, as a result of the deficiencies of the legal system, which, added to the lack of a safe complaint, leave them brutally exposed to helplessness and the risk of losing their lives.
There are many cases of complaints and trials that end in acquittals, non-existent or ineffective protection orders, invalidation of the victims’ statements on the assumption that “they are not profoundly coherent and clear accounts”; and the constant blaming of the victims, in reiterative and extremely long trials, through speeches and sexist questions from the same professionals in charge.
A study carried out by the International Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the subject points out “that the investigation of cases of violence against women is negatively affected by a variety of factors. Firstly, there are unjustified delays on the part of the bodies responsible for carrying out the investigation to carry out the necessary procedures, due to the perception that these cases are not a priority.
The IACHR has noted the lack of investigation of the facts reported as a result of the influence of discriminatory socio-cultural patterns that disqualify the victims and contribute to the perception of these crimes as non-priority. Likewise, there are voids and irregularities in the proceedings per se, which hinder the trial process and the eventual condemnation of the cases. There are deficiencies such as the failure to carry out key tests to identify those responsible; the management of the investigations by authorities who are not competent and impartial; the exclusive emphasis on physical and testimonial evidence; the lack of credibility given to the victims’ assertions; and the inadequate treatment of the victims and their families when they try to collaborate in the investigation of the facts.
This set of problems and deficiencies in the investigation of cases of violence against women translates into a low number of cases in which the investigation is initiated and the judicial process is carried out, which do not correspond to the high level of complaints received.
Not exempt from this sad reality is the National Service for Women and Gender Equity (SERNAMEG), which receives direct collaborators from the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations (MIMP) and whose institutional mission is to design, propose and coordinate policies, plans, measures and legal reforms leading to equality of rights and opportunities between men and women; and to diminish discriminatory practices in the process of political, social, economic and cultural development of the country.
This government department presented a series of irregularities in the plans implemented for this purpose, as detailed in a report by the Comptroller General of the Republic in 2021: In 94% of the cases, the public policies implemented by Sernameg RM failed to generate the conditions for the necessary contact with these women and, in this way, to prevent acts of violence such as those mentioned”, concluding that “Sernameg, in accordance with the above, not only has a relevant role in the coordination of public policies, but it also has a relevant role in the prevention of violence against women and girls”, not only has a relevant role in coordinating the different public services and agencies for the implementation of policies, plans and programmes related, in what is being analysed here, to the prevention and early detection of serious situations of violence against women, but also in the implementation of programmes aimed at preventing, eradicating and condemning violence against women and domestic violence”.
Chile has acquired international obligations, which are Human Rights norms, of different sources and contents. These obligations are to respect the enshrined rights, to protect them from possible interference by State officials and private individuals, and to adapt national legislation to achieve the effective attainment of these goals.
At least four internationally enshrined rights are relevant to gender-based violence: the right to liberty, the right to equality, the right to security of person and the right to a life free from inhuman or degrading treatment. Because of these rights, the Chilean state is obliged to take the necessary measures so that women who suffer violence are protected from it, allowing them to order their lives according to their legitimate interests and not to discriminate in legislation or in its application, that is to say, the necessary measures must be taken to adapt domestic legislation, eradicating the bad practices of institutions and officials that perpetuate structural violence against women and that clearly leads to the double and often triple victimisation of those who suffer this violence.
All the evidence gathered in the last decades indicates that regardless of the ambit in which violence is exercised, it is mostly women who are the victims, and although laws, institutions and procedures have been put in place to address this issue, the obstacles are still present and numerous.
There is still an evident pattern of systematic impunity in judicial prosecution and proceedings in cases of violence against women due to the lack of effective investigation, condemnation and reparation. Impunity for these rights violations perpetuates the social acceptance of the phenomenon of violence against women, the feeling and sense of insecurity among women and a persistent distrust of the justice system by women.
Resolving this situation depends on a strong public policy, with funding commensurate with the critical need, that incorporates the gender perspective, mainly in formal public and private education, from pre-school to higher education, where the three branches of government are truly involved in the prevention, eradication and condemnation of violence against women as a systemic phenomenon, assuming that it is a social problem, the responsibility of all and not only of those who suffer it.
It is essential that we all take responsibility and become part of the solution, not allowing this situation to become normalised and to continue as if nothing had happened. At the same time, we must demand effective responses from the authorities to eradicate the dramatic expression of gender inequality, the prevention and elimination of which is indispensable to guarantee the longed-for social justice.
Collaborative writing: Angélica Alvear Montecinos; Guillermo Garcés Parada; César Anguita Sanhueza
Public Opinion Commission