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Print edition : Mar 26, 2004 T+T-

IN 1997, a singularly brutal murder shocked Spanish society. Ana Orantes, a 60-year-old woman who had been beaten by her husband throughout their long married life, went on television to denounce her husband's habitual violence. Repeated requests to the police for a restraining order had been ignored and public denunciation was her last resort. Literally. Several days after her television appearance, her husband beat her black and blue. He then tied her to a chair, sprinkled petrol over her and set her alight.

The murder of Ana Orantes lifted a corner of the thick blanket of silence and political inaction that covers the question of domestic violence in Spain, where over 100 women die each year at the hands of their partners. "These are well-documented murders where all the facts have been established beyond a doubt. We feel the actual number is much higher," says Maria Duran, who works with Themis, an association of women jurists.

Last summer, following intense pressure from women's rights activists and other social bodies, the Spanish government passed a law granting battered wives the right to obtain a restraining order against violent partners within 72 hours. In Madrid alone, over 25 women apply for such an order each day. But many women feel that these measures do not go far enough.

In a recent case similar to that of Ana Orantes, a Judge in Barcelona is being investigated for ignoring as many as 13 complaints from Ana Maria Fabregas, who was subsequently murdered by her husband.

"Our Judges display a great deal of machismo and policemen refuse to register complaints or fail to follow up with action," says activist Angela Alemany Rojo, the president of Themis. "This is the legacy of the Franco dictatorship and a long history of discrimination against women that goes back to the Muslim conquest of Spain. The present conservative government claims to be doing a great deal but in fact many of the advances are being quietly reversed."

Isabel Llinas, the director of the Institute for Women's Affairs, Majorca, was stabbed 15 times by her husband. He then hanged himself in his prison cell. She told Frontline: "My first reaction was surprise and incredulity mixed with pain and horror. Because you never imagine this could happen to you. When he had stopped stabbing me and I was lying in a pool of blood my only thought was to keep my eyes open. I knew that if I shut them, I would die. My immediate concern was to resist until the ambulance arrived. I was determined to survive for my children. I was already separated from my husband. Our separation had been amicable and although there were quarrels he had never been violent. But my psychiatrist later told me there had been signs earlier. When we were married he would not allow me to go out with friends and despite my job as a hotel manager I was always forced to stay home. I had never given that much thought. I accepted all this for the sake of my children. He was the father, a strict disciplinarian, and I felt he deserved respect. I would lie to my mother saying everything was fine. Now the children tell me, `We would shut ourselves away because we couldn't stand the atmosphere in the house. When you separated life became lighter, better.' When I was living it, I did not even realise he was psychologically ill-treating me - I thought I was lucky. I had a good job and I was not economically dependent on him. How wrong I was! Now I want to help other women recover their self-esteem and confidence. Many women continue to accept their lot because their husbands come back saying they are sorry and begging for forgiveness. They must be helped to realise that such situations never really change. They must be taught to break this psychological dependence, get out of the love-hate bind. That is what I try to do."

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