Daniel Alves case exposes Europe’s challenges against gender violence


The outcome of the case of soccer player Daniel Alves, arrested on charges of raping a woman in a Barcelona nightclub, is still uncertain. But her preventive detention, without the right to bail, takes place in a new legal and cultural context in Spain, even though it is the construction of a decade of feminist movements.

The Spanish institutional arrangement on gender violence has become a model for the European Union (EU). The bloc brings together the countries where there is more equality between men and women on the planet, but it also faces impasses and setbacks in this field.

In the EU, one in three women has suffered physical or sexual violence at least once in her life, and at least one in 20 has been a victim of rape, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Europe is also concerned about the rise in online violence, which already affects one in ten women in the EU and is the target of bills that attempt to conceptualize and criminalize its various practices.

This scenario, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality, is the result of inequality between men and women in various dimensions and the lack of sex education and teaching respect between genders from childhood. The President of the European Commission, the German Ursula von der Leyen, included gender equality and the fight against violence of the type as one of the priorities of the EU until 2025.

The Spanish model that took Daniel Alves to jail includes protocols for immediate assistance to victims, disseminated among employees of nightclubs and cultural and leisure events, and training of police officers in assisting women.

There is also the weight of new legislation. The Law for the Guarantee of Sexual Freedom, known as the law of “Solo sí és sí” (only yes is yes), was approved after two years of discussions and entered into force in Spain three months ago.

“The old law determined that the woman who suffered sexual violence had to prove that she physically resisted the aggression”, explains the activist Almudena Rodríguez García, from the Association of Sexual and Reproductive Rights, a feminist organization based in Barcelona.

“It was absurd because this resistance is impossible if the woman is immobilized, under threat or simply afraid that any reaction will cost her her life.”

But the law has problems, he ponders, referring to the cases in which it has been used to reduce the sentence of already convicted aggressors, causing clashes between Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the Minister of Equality, Irene Montero, who is mainly responsible for the project. “But she promoted important advances and placed the victim at the center of the processes.”

The law unified sexual assault and sexual abuse into a single crime, guaranteed assistance to women even when they did not wish to report their aggressors, and created means of reparation for victims.

According to García, this is the result of “years of work by feminist groups based on the realization that the police and judicial model did not work for issues related to gender-based violence”. “The only response women had from the state was stigmatization, blame and institutional violence.”

The turning point was the case known as “La Manada”, which shocked the country in 2016, when an 18-year-old girl was raped by five men who maintained a Whatsapp group with that name.

“They received lighter sentences than those for rape because, as it was not possible to prove the use of violence, the case was classified as sexual abuse”, explains García.

The mobilization of feminist groups around the case led to the production of protocols that, years later, were institutionalized and applied in the case that today involves the Brazilian soccer player.

For the activist, it was crucial that women occupied important posts in institutional and party politics in Spain, such as the mayor of Barcelona, ​​Ada Collau, and Monteiro, the Minister of Equality, who created policies with a feminist sensibility.

“With the strengthening of protocols, which we see are working, and the strength of a new law, the Dani Alves case comes at a time when these new frameworks protect the victim more and promote a more agile and adequate institutional response.”

In addition to social mobilization and the rise of women to Spanish politics, the law “Solo sí es sí” incorporates the main guidelines of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, known as the Istanbul Convention.

This is the first international instrument on the subject that obliges States to comply with the guidelines, in a binding manner. It sets out principles of gender equality and non-discrimination, as well as legal and policy measures to prevent violence against women and promote support for victims and punishment of perpetrators.

In one of its key points, the convention criminalizes physical, sexual and psychological violence and harassment, and qualifies rape as any type of non-consensual sexual relationship.

The Convention was only not ratified by Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia. It should not be a coincidence, therefore, that these are the countries that figure among those with the least gender equality in the index developed by the European Institute for Gender Equality.

The index uses indicators of work, education, financial independence, political participation and access to health, among others, and scores countries from zero (less equality) to 100 (greater equality).

At the extremes of the indicator are Sweden (83.9) and the Netherlands (77.3) on the more equal side, and Greece (53.4), Hungary (54.2), Poland (57.7) and Slovakia (56) among the most unequal.

These are also the countries that have hindered the European Parliament’s efforts to get the EU to ratify the Istanbul Convention.

In recent years, debates surrounding the ratification of the treaty have turned into a political battleground between progressive governments and those led by European ultra-right parties, who accuse the treaty of contravening traditional family values ​​and promoting gender ideology in education.

In July 2020, the government of Poland announced its intention to withdraw from the Convention. And, in 2021, Turkey, the first country to ratify the treaty, announced its withdrawal from the treaty that bears the name of one of its cities, where the rules were drawn up.

“Countries that chose not to ratify the Istanbul Convention are not, in fact, committed to combating sexist violence”, assesses Cristina Fabre, head of the gender violence unit at the European Institute.

Counterintuitively, these are the countries where data on physical and sexual violence against women are generally lower than those of countries at the top of the gender equality rankings. Thus, while only 12% of women in Bulgaria report having been victims of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, in the Netherlands, which occupies the third position in the ranking, it is 41%.

“This means that women in more unequal countries naturalize violence suffered and that, in countries with more equity, they have more information and awareness about these aggressions” says Fabre. “In addition, the data suggests that the legal arrangement for dealing with this type of crime is better in these places. [com melhores posições no ranking]which leads more women to make complaints.”

She cites the case of Sweden, where the conviction rate for sexual crimes increased by 75% after a change in the law that defined rape as non-consensual sex, which removed the requirement for proof of resistance from the victim, as in the Spanish case.

For Fabre, this legal device helped the Spanish Judiciary react quickly to arrest Daniel Alves. “It was an action that sent a very strong social message that no one is above the law.”

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