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Women Have New Weapon against Domestic Violence in Argentina

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Mar 9 2012 (IPS) - Women victims of domestic violence in a city in Argentina will be given an electronic device with a panic button that will bring them immediate assistance from the police.

The “Dispositivo de Alerta para Mujeres Agredidas” (DAMA – Alarm Device for Battered Women) was created in Tigre, a city of 35,000 people located 30 km north of Buenos Aires. It is similar to devices used in countries such as Spain and the United States.

By pushing a button on the small electronic device, the domestic violence victim will activate an alarm in the city’s monitoring centre, which will show her exact location. The nearest police car in the area will be notified and sent to her aid, even if she is outside the city limits.

In a conversation with IPS, Malena Galmarini, the secretary of health and human development in Tigre, explained that the system will begin by distributing the devices to 50 women who have filed domestic violence complaints against their former partners, and who are interested in participating in the programme, which is not compulsory.

“The aim is to keep the violence from escalating and to prevent ‘femicides’ (gender-related murders) in cases in which the justice system has ordered the aggressor to move away and stay away from the home but the accused continues harassing the woman,” she said.

The new device, the first of its kind to be used in Argentina, was officially launched Mar. 8, International Women’s Day.

When the panic button is pushed, the police immediately know who the victim is and who is stalking or harassing her, giving them the necessary elements to take action.

In addition, a voice channel is activated. “As of that moment, everything that is said near the device is heard and recorded,” Galmarini said.

She added that besides the 50 devices to be distributed in the first phase of the project, a similar number are available for later distribution.

The project is based on studies by NGOs which note that domestic violence attacks tend to increase after a court issues a restraining order to keep the aggressor away from his victim.

One of the NGOs involved in the fight against domestic violence is La Casa del Encuentro, which produces an annual report on femicides, based on cases reported in the press.

Fabiana Tuñez, director of La Casa del Encuentro, told IPS that the device “to provide direct assistance to the victims is a very positive tool, because it prevents things from escalating in cases where the aggressor violates the restraining order issued by the judges.”

Tuñez stressed that the talk recorded by the device can be used as evidence that the restraining order was violated.

“Based on our reports on femicide, the city government concluded that the attacks get worse when the woman reports the violence and a restraining order is issued,” she said.

The activist said the panic button will be especially useful in the case of women who have filed three, four or more reports of domestic violence, but who continue to be harassed by their former partners.

A woman who preferred to remain anonymous told IPS that she divorced her husband, the father of her children, because he beat her. The case is in the courts, and a restraining order was issued to keep him away from the home where she and her children live in Buenos Aires.

But she lives in fear because he sometimes shows up at her door in the morning, as she is leaving for work, to insult and attack her. He also visits the school when she is picking up her children, and shouts at them.

She said she has tried to seek help, but no one has taken action to enforce the restraining order issued to protect her and the children, and her defence lawyer has told her there is no solution.

Tuñez said the DAMA – the acronym spells out the word “lady” in Spanish – device could soon be used in Buenos Aires as well, where a similar initiative is under study. It will first be essential to see how well the system works in Tigre, she added.

She said DAMA could also help encourage women to report domestic violence, which often takes victims years to dare to do, because it holds out the promise of effective protection by the state.

In 2009, the Argentine Congress passed a law providing for “comprehensive protection to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women”. But far from stopping, the violence is increasing.

According to La Casa del Encuentro’s reports, 231 girls and women were killed in 2009 in gender-related murders, and in most of the cases the killer was the victim’s partner or former partner.

The number of killings rose to 260 in 2010 and to 282 in 2011. In other words, one femicide was committed every 31 hours.

The first victims in 2011 were a 44-year-old doctor, Silvina Mehaudy, and her nine-year-old daughter Sofía Bianco.

The two were brutally stabbed to death on New Year’s Day in their Buenos Aires apartment. Mehaudy’s ex-husband, the girl’s father, against whom Silvina had filed domestic abuse complaints, was arrested and charged for the double murder.

Another crime that shocked the country, late last year, was the murder of 19-year-old Carla Figueroa by the father of her three-year-old son.

Her ex-boyfriend had been in prison for raping her, but was released as a result of a controversial settlement decision handed down by a court in the central province of La Pampa, according to which if the victim agreed to marry her rapist, the rape charges would be dropped.

Just days after the wedding, Figueroa’s husband stabbed her to death in front of her mother-in-law and the couple’s little boy.

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