In the last decade, 398 women have died in Portugal as a result of domestic violence. An average of almost 40 women are murdered each year. In 2014, there were 42 of these homicides; 35 were killed in the hands of her current and ex-husbands and boyfriends. The remaining 7 were killed by parents, uncles or in-laws. Around 4 women per month – one per week. Alarmingly, there has been a drastic increase in this type of murder, with 2014 seeing more than the previous year.
Women are the main victims of domestic violence, with a peak of 548 reported victims in 2003. In 17% of these cases, the victim was between 26 and 35 years-old and, in 14.7% of these cases, between 18 and 25.
Situations which can bring about such homicides tend to relate to jealousy, to dependency issues or to the aggressor believing that the woman is an object owned by him. In most cases, domestic violence occurs for at least 2 years prior to the murder.
Exposure of this problem has brought some legal changes to combat the upsetting figures. Among them are the improved expertise and training within NGOs, victim support organizations, security forces, courts and officials dealing with the issue; as well as the creation of several informative and preventative campaigns. However, despite these attempts, the horror harboured in both North and South of the country has not disappeared.
Maria Fernanda Alves, a magistrate who coordinates the investigation unit of these crimes at DIAP (Central Department of Investigation And Prosecution) in Lisbon, reveals that the relevant processes in court are often suspended at the request of the victim herself. This is partly a consequence of the fear of reprisals or reluctance to leave the relationship. In Portugal, leaving home for this reason has an attached stigma, often leading to regular and intense insults, threats, harassment, embarrassment or guilt for “destroying” the family and increasing the difficulty of living through relying on one income. Last year, DIAP showed that 1527 files were archived, 206 were suspended and 1281, at the end of the year, remained inconclusive. Only 252 resulted in prosecution. Of the minority that comes to trial, a number of victims do not testify. The suspended sentences are usually followed by the prohibition of contact and distance of residence between the aggressor and victim; in extreme cases, electronic surveillance may also be needed – which, unfortunately, does not always prevent the aggressor from reaching the victim in the future. Nevertheless, the success rate of the implementation of electronic surveillance to prevent contact with the victim is 96.64%.
Discrepancy between law and practice remains one of the biggest problems in this fight. According to Frederico Marques (technical advisor from the direction of APAV), “if it is true that the vast majority of citizens have the notion that protection is a right, then [they] have as well the perception that what exists is not enough”. Data lead the APAV (a victim support organization) to encourage the idea that we must invest in communicating information about domestic violence to the public. So, they developed an app for Androids and iPhones that “provides access to an even easier way” to access all the relevant information. Due to the latest investigation conducted by Intercampus for APAV on “Perception of the Portuguese population on the Rights of Victims of Crime” – for which they interviewed 1038 people – the general Portuguese public know the basic rights of victims of domestic abuse and homicide, but not in enough depth. The study also indicates that “the recent EU directive on the rights of victims in criminal proceedings calls for a large definition of the concept of [a] victim, including, in particular, the families of murder victims.”
Crimes of domestic violence are the most common offence committed against women. This reality led to the creation of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, an UN initiative, celebrated on 25 November each year.
There are numerous organizations and leading figures that offer their voices and images for this cause. The football player William Carvalho, the surfer Vasco Ribeiro and the presenter Silvia Alberto are among those dedicated to a campaign created last month with the slogan, “quem te ama não te agride!” (“who loves you does not attack you!”). “If someone assaults you, if someone humiliates you, if someone controls you, if someone isolates you from your friends, this isn’t love, [it] is violence”.
Studies from over the past decade show that “boys and girls have acceptable levels of violent behaviors that are very worrying”. One in four young people surveyed admitted to have already been an aggressor in a relationship. A recent study also shows that many of these boys and girls have witnessed situations of violence in their family. This shows the great need to invest in public education of this issue, starting in schools. As Portuguese citizens, we know this is where the solution lies. However, Portuguese society has a set idea of the role of women. It all started with the idea that women should be submissive and that they should remain that way. Nowadays, Portuguese woman have a freedom that did not exist in the past. Nevertheless, the issue of domestic violence occurs. Today, women are gaining a voice, yet many remain silent in their home. Can we actually say that there has been a change in the social expectations of Portuguese women?