EUROsociAL+, a European Union programme, is accompanying the Public Prosecutor's Office (MPF) in Argentina in designing and implementing a protocol for receiving gender-based violence complaints in the Territorial Agencies for Access to Justice (ATAJOs), initially through a pilot project in the Villa 1-11-14 ATAJO in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, which will later be extended to all the ATAJOs in the country. ATAJOs are offices of the Public Prosecutor’s Office located in the peripheral and most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the country, where complaints are received, conflictive situations are prevented, and work is done to promote the rights of people in vulnerable conditions. For this work, it has had the technical assistance of the Spanish General Prosecutor's Office through the public prosecutor of the delegated court against violence against women, Pilar Martín Nájera.
EUROsociAL+: What is this protocol’s main goals, and at which groups is it aimed?
Pilar Martín Nájera: In the first place, it should be noted that this protocol is the consequence, among other things, of the great effort for transformation and growth made in the last 5 years by the Argentine Public Prosecutor’s Office, accentuating, with the advice of multidisciplinary teams, its role as Public Ministry and source of support for the most vulnerable people to defend their rights and facilitate their access to Justice. The creation of the Specialised Prosecutor’s Unit for Violence against Women (UFEM) represented an advance in promoting equality and care for women who are victims of domestic or intra-family violence, and promoting more effective criminal policies and strategies to end the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.
It is based on the legacy of Law 26485 on gender-based violence, which sets as one of its goals making access to justice easier for women who are victims, along the lines established by international organisations, CEDAW, the Belem Do Pará Convention and, more recently, the 100 Brasilia Rules approved by the Plenary Assembly at the Ibero-American Judicial Summit.
The approach to victims promoted by the Public Prosecutor’s Office required a serious and real analysis of the situation and the specific problems that women had in accessing justice, with the first barrier being the remoteness, saturation and insufficiency of the Domestic Violence Office (OVD), which is dependent on the Supreme Court, the only body for receiving complaints and risk assessments that makes it possible to grant protection measures. At the same time, there was a significant increase in complaints from women in certain neighbourhoods or areas far from the centre, reflecting the increase in gender-based violence and the added difficulties of having to go to a distant place to file a report: lack of time, lack of knowledge of the language, culture, rights, mistrust, lack of family or social support.
In this field work, the RETEGER programme was essential. Through the programme, the social agents from those neighbourhoods advise and help to inform the victims of their rights, confirming the severe institutional abandonment suffered by those neighbourhoods except for the ATAJOs, which is engendering mistrust and ignorance.
The high rates of impunity for these crimes is another of the main problems and challenges that had to be faced.
A protocol for receiving complaints came out of this situation. Its main goal is to bring justice to women and girls over the age of 13 so that they can exercise their rights as citizens, without having to travel to the Domestic Violence Office. This ensures they are attended to by specialised professionals, which not only makes it easier to lodge a complaint, but also speeds judicial procedures, which has also required an effort of institutional coordination with the nation’s Judiciary, Ombudsmen, centres for access to justice, neighbourhood police stations and Public Prosecutors, amongst others.
The beneficiaries are women and girls who are victims of violent crimes or crimes against sexual freedom within a relationship or within the family environment who live in those poorer, distant neighbourhoods where the presence of the State is weakest. They suffer from multiple vulnerabilities arising from poverty, being a foreigner, lacking local roots, and lacking family support.
ES+: As a first step toward designing the protocol for receiving domestic violence complaints, a diagnosis of the situation and a field visit to Argentina were conducted. From this prior analysis, what are the main gaps in access to justice faced by women who are victims of gender-based violence in Argentina?
PMN: I think Argentina has come a long way in the fight against gender-based violence, but they have special difficulties, mainly arising from their federal configuration, which gives rise to great jurisdictional complexity. Coexisting in the City of Buenos Aires are the federal, national and local jurisdictions, with little coordination between them.
Along with this, during my stay in Buenos Aires I detected a certain lack of specialisation, awareness and, ultimately, a lack of gender perspective in the gendarmerie and police, which is essential for women to trust them and come to report and ask for protection.
Furthermore, women who are victims of gender-based violence in Argentina have the common difficulties that all countries have, not only at the time of reporting, but throughout the procedure where, as a consequence of the lack of specialisation, they frequently suffer significant revictimization, and often a delayed and inadequate judicial response. A state based on the rule of law must strengthen a safe and respectful framework for victims that allows them to participate in the process and exercise their rights as citizens.
ES+: Experiences and good practices from other countries in Europe and Latin America were also analysed. From your experience, is there a country in Europe and/or Latin America that can be considered a role model in addressing this issue? What public policies have been put in place to this end?
PMN: All countries are aware of the high rate of gender-based violence, and that the way to overcome this figure is to carry out campaigns that encourage women to get out of that hell by breaking the silence and going through the judicial system. But if, when they make that difficult decision, the system does not respond to them, does not make it easy, does not help them, and if she does not feel well-served and understood, the victim will abandon the process and the Prosecutor’s Office will not be able to obtain a conviction, in most cases, nor adequate protection for that victim.
For this reason, in Spain, in particular, there is a great concern for appropriately serving the victim when she files the complaint, for her to feel supported by the system, to facilitate access to resources and provide her with full information on the process. Psychological support and accompaniment throughout the victim’s process and ongoing training in the gender perspective for all operators, to try to end the gender stereotypes that are so present in these crimes, are two important instruments.
Undoubtedly, free and compulsory legal advice, without having to prove their economic situation, for all victims of gender-based violence by specialised lawyers, is a very powerful tool that helps to break down those barriers that we are talking about.
In Spain, the Observatory of the General Council of the Judiciary has published a guideline of best practices regarding how to take a statement from a victim, which is addressed to all Spanish judges.
Also, the National Bar Association has produced an excellent guide to action aimed at lawyers with a gender perspective.
ES+: The confinement situation caused by COVID-19 does not affect everyone equally. The Secretary General of the United Nations, UN Women, the European Parliament and organisations such as Oxfam International and Human Rights Watch, among others, have all warned that violence against women can be exacerbated during confinement, since, in many cases, victims of gender violence are forced to live with their abusers 24 hours a day and may face additional obstacles to fleeing violent situations and accessing essential services. According to the UN, due to confinement in some countries , the number of women who are calling assistance services has doubled. What measures of protection and assistance to victims of gender-based violence can be put in place to address this situation?
PMN: The situation of confinement is a factor that increases gender-based violence arising from forced cohabitation for days with the aggressor, in addition to making it difficult to ask for help or access the different existing resources.
In Spain, all the actions related to the protection and precautionary measures in favour of victims have been declared essential services, both in the procedural and assistance fields, such that complaints are received from victims and requests for precautionary measures are ruled upon. Likewise, the reception centre and the social and psychological services that care for victims continue to work, but obviously not in person, rather online.
The provisional analysis of the data we have in Spain indicates a significant reduction in the number of gender-based violence complaints, which we cannot merely identify with a reduction in gender-based violence in general, and which must be carefully evaluated and all the concurrent factors analysed. What we can affirm is that in this period the number of fatalities, two in more than a month, has decreased compared to previous months.
As measures implemented in Spain, in addition to the usual systems, the Police and the Civil Guard have increased contact and control with victims registered in VIOGEN with frequent telephone calls. More telephones, emails and WhatsApp channels have been launched to facilitate advice and electronic reporting. The support and commitment of relatives and neighbours is being requested to notify the police, the ALERTCOPS application on the telephones of the victims transmits a warning to the police by simply pressing the icon for 5 seconds in a row, and finally the FARMACIA 19 system, that, with the collaboration of the Association of Pharmacists, allows women to go to the pharmacy and say this password, alerting staff to immediately notify the Police.
Along with these measures, the Government Delegation has published an action guide for victims of GBV in times of COVID-19, which has been widely disseminated.
In any case, I believe that the inclusion of women in decision-making to resolve this crisis still needs to progress further and, when we do get out of it, special measures must be designed insofar as women will be the labour group most negatively affected.
ES+: Finally, going back to the new model for receiving domestic violence reports that is being implemented in the ATAJOs in Argentina, what factors do you consider key to guaranteeing the success of this work?
PMN: The availability of interdisciplinary teams with a gender perspective, specialised in gender-based violence and with a territorial and community focus, and their professionalism and commitment, is the key to the project’s launch and success.
Another essential factor for it to work is maintaining proximity and visibility in the neighbourhood, through coordination with territorial leaders, which allows the peculiarities of that place to be known and the confidence of the women to be won.
Finally, the success of the Project requires an effort of coordination between all the institutions involved and adequate control and analysis through the monitoring commission created for this purpose.
More information about ATAJOs on the EUROsociAL website: