Sunday, January 16

From false SAP to sexist biases: what is behind the UN’s criticism of Spain for the abuse of minors


The UN has just focused on the Spanish judicial system to warn of the lack of protection of children against violence or sexual abuse when they are committed by their parents. In a forceful statement, eight rapporteurs who make up a monitoring procedure of the Council of Europe have sounded the alarm about a situation that mothers and organizations have been denouncing for some time, and urge our country to “do more” so that the courts “overcome prejudices against women “and apply a gender and childhood approach, but what does the United Nations refer to?

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Experts highlighted the case of Diana García M., a woman who recently lost custody of her six-year-old daughter after being accused of “hindering” the relationship between the little girl and her father. “Despite the history of violence and the evidence that he had committed sexual abuse against his daughter for years, the father obtained full custody” in a Madrid court, they say in the statement.

This is the pattern followed by the thirty cases that have reached the UN and the 400 documented by Protective Mothers, an association that brings together women in this situation. Their spokesperson, Virginia Sanchís, thinks that the figures they handle are “the tip of the iceberg” and describes what they have in common: “In almost all cases there is a situation of prior gender violence, most of which are not reported. When the mother denounces It is because their son or daughter verbalizes the abuses or the pediatrician or the schools notice, but they end up in files and in accusations to them that they are instrumentalizing the minor or that they are figures that are harmful to their children. ”

In other words, for these mothers, reporting turns against them. And it is that they are the people other than the victims who most denounce childhood sexual abuse, according to a recent Save the Children study, while in one out of every four cases committed in the family, the aggressor is the father. It is in this context that the United Nations warns that these mothers sometimes end up losing custody of their children “accused of making contact difficult” between father and minors, and are finally “punished by the courts instead of obtaining protection” for they.

This is how false SAP enters the process

What the rapporteurs are talking about is how the so-called Parental Alienation Syndrome (SAP) continues to grow, a pseudoscientific theory discredited by the General Council of the Judiciary and not endorsed by the scientific community but which serves as a foundation. “Different names are used, but basically what is being said is that the mother is manipulating the sons and daughters against the father and without getting to the bottom of the matter,” says Sanchís.

For a long time there has been a clear prejudice towards children’s cognitive ability and to tell the truth, which has undermined the belief in the veracity of their testimonies

Virginia Sanchís
Protective Mothers Spokesperson

According to this theory, the rejection that a minor may be manifesting at a given moment would not have to do with the fact that his father may be being violent towards him, but rather that his mother is instrumentalizing him to achieve something. But the inclusion of this syndrome is also compounded by the “lower credibility” of the testimony of women compared to that of men, something that the UN highlighted as a “structural pattern” in our country.

Deep down, stereotypes unfold in two directions: on the one hand, the myth of the bad and manipulative mother, but also that of manipulative minors. “For a long time there has been a clear prejudice towards children’s cognitive ability and to tell the truth, which has undermined the belief in the veracity of their testimonies,” says Cristina Sanjuán, Child Awareness and Policy Technician at Save the Children. Moreover, if they can be suggestible, it is usually more with the objective of “hiding something that has happened” than with the invention of facts, the expert emphasizes. The children’s organization estimates, in fact, that only 15% of child sexual abuse ends up coming to light.

For the false SAP, which although in theory was conceived as gender neutral, only judicial decisions in which it is applied against women are known, are introduced into the judicial process, they usually refer to either the defenses of the alleged aggressors or the forensic teams attached to the courts that assess children. And it is finally the magistrates who appoint him to substantiate a file of the complaint or a withdrawal of guard and custody.

If, as a judge, I do not reject the SAP, I provoke institutional violence in two ways: I use an unfounded label and give it more credibility than the testimony of the mother and children, and I also do not investigate adequately

Lucia Aviles
Magistrate of the Criminal Court No. 2 of Mataró

There are professionals, however, who are forceful against its use, which has also vetoed the recently approved Children’s Law. This is the case of Lucía Avilés, magistrate of the Criminal Court No. 2 of Mataró: “If, as a judge, I do not reject her inclusion, I provoke institutional violence in two ways. On the one hand, I use an unfounded label based on a belief and give it greater credibility than the testimony of the mother and children, and on the other, I do not investigate adequately “.

Investigate cases thoroughly

The also founder of the Association of Women Judges (AMJE) focuses on that extreme, on the need not to stay “on the surface”, which is, she says, “a distorted reality” and to thoroughly investigate the discomfort or fear manifested by minors towards the father. That is, delve into their life experience and do not use their rejection as the basis of the false SAP. This is what is called the principle of due diligence, which mandates the courts “not to remain in a mere appearance, but to continue investigating with all the tools at our disposal.” And do it, Avilés continues, with a gender and childhood perspective.

For the experts, however, this is one of the main flaws: that these instruments are sometimes underused, which can more easily lead to the filing of complaints. Virginia Sanchís knows of a multitude of cases that have reached Protective Mothers in which “reports are rejected” or “the teachers who have warned of the abuse are not directly cited to testify.” “We have cases in which there are different pediatricians, all seeing the same thing, and are not taken into account” or cases in which “the boys and girls undergo a ten-minute examination without the appropriate means,” he exemplifies.

The UN statement reflects the need to listen to the child victims, but to really listen to them, with all the guarantees, that the statements are the minimum necessary and are carried out by trained professionals

Cristina Sanjuan
Save the Children Child Policy and Awareness Technique

The files of the causes, Avilés clarifies, can occur for many reasons, but sometimes they occur because not enough has been investigated. “When it happens because there are not enough elements of judgment, we tend to think that it is the parties, as if it were a civil process, who are obliged to provide evidence, but in reality the court can decide ex officio what it deems appropriate. And it is not done or it is done insufficiently. As in other crimes we investigate up to the maximum circumstances, we must also do it in these. ”

The judge agrees that the story of the minors “is a very valuable piece as an element of judicial decision”, but when they are listened to, “on many occasions it is not done with the necessary conditions or guarantees.” Sanjuán points to the same, for which the UN statement “reflects the need to listen to the child victims, but to really listen to them, fulfilling all the guarantees, that the statements are the minimum necessary and are carried out by professionals prepared to conduct the interviews. ”

Shield your right to be heard

Since last June, these are not just recommendations from the experts, but many of the issues they put on the table are already contained in the Organic Law for the Comprehensive Protection of Children and Adolescents against Violence. The norm does not explicitly prohibit PAS, but it does indicate that public powers “will take the necessary measures to prevent theoretical approaches without scientific endorsement that presume interference or adult manipulation, such as the so-called parental alienation syndrome, from being taken into account.”

The law, whose application corresponds to the Ministry of Social Rights and the autonomous communities, also provides for shielding the right of minors to be heard “without age limits” in adapted spaces and by professionals and with specialized methodologies, but it has not yet been translated in specific protocols. “Once the law is approved and is in force, we must continue working so that its application is effective, and this also involves training all professionals on its content”, Sanjuán ditch.



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