Peru: Women are victims of male machismo at home & in court

Publication Date: 
May 21, 2010
Latin American Herald Tribune

LIMA – Preys of the machismo culture and domestic violence at home, Peruvian women also have to deal with a justice system that often justifies the behavior of the aggressor.

Last year – during which there was a 40-percent increase in cases of domestic violence compared with 2005 – there were 139 women slain and 64 injured, while in the first three months of this year, 29 women were murdered and attempts were made to kill another 17, according to figures from the Ministry of Women.

The average is “10 women slain per month. That figure fluctuates but it probably has a tendency to rise,” the legal counsel for the ministry’s National Program against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Marta Rivera, told Efe.

The number of domestic-violence cases attended by the program’s 92 emergency centers has soared from 28,671 in 2005 to 40,882 in 2009.

In the first months of this year, the centers have attended 9,970 cases, counseling the victims on how to file complaints, seek means of protection and receive clinical treatment, Rivera said.

“What happens in Peru is that violence is not considered a serious problem and that in certain cases it is justified,” the head of women’s affairs in the National Ombudsman’s Office, attorney Teresa Hernandez, said.

Society in general finds violence justified when the woman does not fulfill the role she “should” perform: not looking after her spouse enough, not asking permission to go out, or spending too much time outside the home, she said.

“When women behave that way, it is considered inappropriate and deserving of punishment – that’s why our hypothesis is that since those who enforce the law (police, prosecutors, judges) have that criterion, complaints are not processed with the priority or the urgency they require,” Hernandez told Efe.

She is currently working on case studies of women murdered in the five regions with the highest levels of violence.

Hernandez and her colleague Patricia Sarmiento have encountered a great deal of reluctance in the justice system to provide sound protection measures, and in more than half the cases they just urge the attacker not to go on being violent, without taking more effective action like issuing restraining orders or confiscating the offender’s weapons.

Figures from the Attorney General’s Office show that 18 percent of women slain in Peru had asked for protection.

“Very few judges order effective measures of protection,” Sarmiento said, adding “there is widespread disregard for the national and international regulations that are essential for resolving these cases,” such as the 1994 Belem Inter-American Convention to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women.

Both victims and aggressors tend to be in the 18-35 age group, and two-thirds of victims are romantically involved with their attackers, according to the Ministry of Women.

Thirty-eight percent of the killers say they acted out of jealousy.

Some 34 percent of the victims were stabbed to death, 26 percent died of a beating and 15 percent were shot.

When the aggressors are caught and tried in court, they usually ask for the benefit of a sincere confession or say that the homicide was the result of violent emotion, which reduces their sentence to less than 15 years behind bars, Sarmiento said.

“Finally, an atmosphere of impunity is created that makes the situation worse, because another aggressor will think nothing will happen to him” if he commits the same crime, the attorney said.

By: Monica Martinez