Saturday, September 18

“I’m going to give you where it hurts the most”: what is vicarious violence and how sexist aggressors use it to redouble the damage

“You will not see them again.” It is the warning that Tomás Gimeno made to his ex-wife on Tuesday, April 27, the same day he disappeared in Tenerife with his two daughters, aged one and six. He was supposed to return them to the mother that night, but he carried out his threat and since then, the girls and their father have been searched without their whereabouts being found. The case has coincided in time with the broadcast on Telecinco of the documentary series in which Rocío Carrasco denounces having suffered abuse by her ex-husband, Antonio David Flores, for more than two decades. And both issues have put on the table a type of sexist violence that is usually unknown, but not uncommon: vicarious violence, which is exercised through children with the aim of damaging women to the extreme.

The children of Itziar and Laura were murdered by their ex-partners: “The State has an absolute responsibility: they did not believe me”

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The aggressors use it in different ways, explain the experts consulted. The range of actions that encompass it is wide and includes manipulating the children, harassing and insulting the mother or her family in front of them, not complying with visits or neglecting them. “I’m going to take them away. I’m going to make them hate you,” Carrasco said her ex-husband told her about her children after the divorce. Exercising physical violence against them or even murdering them is the most extreme step, its most brutal expression, as happened in the case of José Bretón, which was a before and after. Also with 38 other minors since 2013, whose parents ended their lives in contexts of gender violence. It was the case of the daughters of Itziar Prats, murdered in Castellón in 2018 or the daughter of Ángela González Carreño, who took her case to the UN and obtained a sentence against Spain for not protecting her from the aggressor. “I’m going to give you where it hurts the most,” many of them threatened.

With the aim of making this type of violence visible and signaling when justice “supports” it with its decisions, the National Council of Women Resilient to Gender Violence has convened concentrations this Monday in different parts of Spain. “It appears fundamentally after the divorce or the complaint, and the ultimate objective is to continue mistreating the woman through whom, once the couple is separated, they have access, which are the children, and through whom they know that they will cause irreversible damage mothers, because the entire history of abuse showed them that she put up with children “, describes Sonia Vaccaro, a clinical psychologist who coined the term vicarious violence in 2012. Strictly speaking, vicar is associated with people who perform a function in substitution of another: “Only the threat of ‘I will take them away’ speaks of them being objects and instruments for the aggressors, and they are willing to use them to harm it,” adds the expert.

“It usually occurs in two ways: either using them as a common thread or exercising it directly on them with abuse or mistreatment. The first case is more difficult to identify, they will not come with a bruise, but perhaps with an insult to their mother” , explains Lara Esteve, a judge specializing in gender violence at the examining court No. 4 of Lliria (Valencia). Post-separation visitation regimes, which is precisely the way most victims use to get out of abusive relationships, are usually the space in which this vicarious violence unfolds, and that “leads to the objective of control and domination of women, because they are subject to the behavior of the aggressor when they are not with him “, adds the magistrate, a member of the Association of Women Judges of Spain (AMJE). Until then, they have been able to exert violence directly against the victims, but when they separate “they have to change direction.”

Although the target is women, the experts agree, minors “suffer irreversible damage” because they are used “because of their fragility, vulnerability, emotional dependence and age,” adds Esteve. Pablo Nieva, a psychologist specializing in care for the sons and daughters of victims of gender violence, explains that “beyond the origin of the violence, the fact that an attachment figure is exercising violence is devastating and generates trauma in development and alterations very important psychic “. But, in addition, explained the criminal lawyer Carla Vall in this interview, “this is a school for learning violence, they are absorbing a pattern of behavior, so that the protection factor that the parent should be not only does not exist, rather, as violence is normalizing, it becomes a risk factor. ”

Paternity as an “absolute right”

In some cases there are even complaints involved. This was the case of the daughters of Itziar Prats – “say goodbye to them,” her ex-husband even told her – and the son of Laura Hernández, murdered only a few months apart. Both had requested protection from justice, but no one listened to or valued the minors; In Laura’s case, she even had a restraining order from the abuser, and had broken a previous one, but even so she continued to have visits with the child without an evaluation of the situation. Its suspension is decreed very rarely: according to data from the General Council of the Judiciary, in 2020 only 3.01% of cases were canceled visitation regimes as a precautionary measure. And that despite the fact that the law has recognized since 2015 that children are direct victims of the violence suffered by their mothers. Even so, the State took four years to incorporate minors into the police risk assessment protocols and it was necessary to wait for the State Pact against Sexual Violence for mothers like Itziar or Laura to be considered victims of gender violence.

“Likewise, in the last 15 years there has been a very slight advance, but a vast majority of the cases that we attend and criminal measures have been imposed on the father, a normal visitation regime is maintained, of divorced parents”, estimates the psychologist specialized in care for children of victims of gender violence, Pablo Nieva. Until three years ago, the law even required mothers to have the father’s authorization, even if convicted, for minors to receive therapy. “I believe that it is a sample of patriarchal power and the interpretation that is made: that belief of paternity as an inexcusable and absolute right prevails and that it is above the best interests of the minor,” says the psychologist. Vaccaro believes something similar, and points out that “the role of a violent man is often erroneously dissociated from that of a father, as if it did not affect … it must be repeated that an abuser can never be a good father.”

To try to change this trend, the Organic Law for the Comprehensive Protection of Children and Adolescents against Violence, which is expected to be definitively approved next week, incorporates several measures that the experts hope will not remain on paper: between they, the prohibition of visits in cases where there is a protection order; if the accused party requests it, they may not agree to it, but they must give reasons. A point that Vaccaro considers that “leaves a discretion to the judges that may lead us to remain the same, but we will have to see what happens in the application, I want to believe that the training that legal operators now receive more in gender and childhood is favorable “, trust.

The norm will also try to prohibit the so-called Parental Alienation Syndrome (SAP), not recognized by scientific organizations and discredited by the CGPJ itself, and to protect the right of children to be heard in all procedures that affect them, an extreme in which The focus is focused on Judge Esteve, who recognizes “the very important challenge” that persists in the justice system in this area: “There have been many advances in gender violence, but the perspective of childhood must be incorporated and that implies that in any procedure in the fact that any interest of a child is compromised must be considered autonomously and independently from the parents “. The judge regrets that currently “it continues to happen that they are not listened to” and forensic evaluations are scarce, which are also weighed down “due to lack of means” and is committed to an “individualized evaluation” of each case that puts children at the center and girls