La República exposé: The killer was at home

Translated from a special report in Sunday’s La República:

By Ghiovani Hinojosa

Jorge Sánchez decided to kill his wife in front of his son. He had no qualms about preparing his service weapon, or firing a well-aimed shot at his companion of 22 years, Rossana Pichilingue.

This 49-year old police officer was very perturbed by an intuition that his spouse was being unfaithful. But current accounts (of the story) reveal the psychological contradiction in which Sánchez fell: he was the one caught cheating by Rossana in 1999.

“Since then, I saw my mother suffer, she only lived for us, and was tormented by my father,” said Daniel Sánchez, who also testified to his father’s suicide.

The murder, which occurred on Jan. 2, 2009, was this year’s first feminicide. It was lost amidst the gloomy diet (of events covered by) TV new programs and the bloody police stories published by the capital’s newspapers. It seemed more of the usual. However, this case reflects a horrendous tendency for violence in our country: the murder of women by their partners or ex partners.

The Public Ministry’s Observatory on Criminality’s first report reveals a (shocking) fact: 42 percent of women assassinated in Peru are killed by their partners or husbands, while only 3 percent of men are killed by their significant others. The data was collected between September 2008 and February 2009, from newspapers based in Peru’s capital, Lima, and in the country’s various regions.

Making this diagnostic is important, because we can now assess the real magnitude of this problem.

According to lawyer Rocío Villanueva, who directed the study, the main obstacle to tallying statistics about feminicide in Peru was the manner in which homicides were recorded: the relationship between the victim and the killer was omitted. So, for decades, if not centuries, the murder of women was registered as “parricide,” or as the murder of a relative and/or family member. This made violence against women invisible, and impeded any government action.

On Feb. 20, 2009, the Women’s Homicide Registry was created, modifying the existing death registry system to include more specific data. First-hand information will be collected in order to more accurately record how – and by whom – women are killed. The registry is a first in Latin America, as the model comes from Spain.

“In Spain, they compared the number of deceased women to the number of women who had asked judges, attorneys and police for help,” said Villanueva. “They determined where their protection system was failing, and were able to improve it.”

Two elements retrieved from the Public Ministry’s report are enough to get a good picture of feminicide in Peru: 38.5 percent of women murdered are aged 19-24, and one of every two of these women was assaulted in her husband or boyfriend’s home.

What do these numbers mean? According to historian and writer María Emma Mannarelli, this wave of violence can be explained, in part, by the nature of Peru’s social structure, which imposes behavior that is not necessarily interiorized by individuals.

“In our country, the regulation of masculine behavior has been weak and sporadic, and has come from men,” said Mannarelli. “For example, part of the control of sexuality comes from the Catholic Church, which does not speak out against men’s behavior: women are the ones who must be selfless, chaste and domestic.”

For Mannarelli, feminicide can also be explained by the precariousness of Peruvian politics. “It’s not that we are by nature insensitive, and we – rightly so – trust our authorities,” said Mannarelli. “But the delegitimization of police, for example, endorses the criminal behavior of men. Women don’t have access to a space to process rejection, sadness and frustration. Everything is kept within a domestic logic.”

We must throw down abstractions to remember how the “you surely did something (wrong)” are often directed toward women who file complaints, and are used by some police officers to justify the aggressions.

When 23-year old Judith Félix’s family burst into the room where she was murdered by her boyfriend, Urbano Gómez, he was still holding the piping hot revolver he used to shoot at her twice. Unable to accept that she wanted to out of the relationship, he ended the tragic story by killing (Félix) and himself. The murder took place in the Comas district, and put an end to a relationship which, according to the family, was wrought by Gómez’s jealousy.

The Public Ministry’s report specifies that one of every two feminicides is motivated by jealousy or insecurity. But, according to Pilar Aguilar, psychotherapist and researcher for Peru’s Legal Defense Institute, or IDL, “putting all these cases in the same basket is too simple.”

“Not every jealous person kills their spouse,” added Aguilar. “In reality, jealousy doesn’t kill, but pathological relationships do.”

According to Aguilar, the promotion of gender equality laws – which already exist – is not the answer to understanding and halting gender violence. Rather, changing mentalities is key.

“There is no equality within the four walls of the home, in the bedroom or in the kitchen,” said Aguilar. “The surest way to reduce gender violence is to increase respect. Machismo doesn’t allow girls to feel valued, and doesn’t allow boys to learn how to express their emotions.”

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