Domestic Violence Law Approved – Again

December 17, 2004

The Legislative Assembly onTuesday approved in first debate a controversialbill that penalizes with jail psychologicaland physical violence towardwomen. Before it can become law, the billmust be reviewed by the ConstitutionalChamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV)and approved by legislators in second vote.The bill, which passed the first debatewith 41 votes of 52 legislators present, hasbeen at this stage four times before.Still, legislator Gloria Valerín, of theSocial Christian Unity Party, is confidentthe law is close to becoming a reality.“I am very optimistic we are finallygoing to see the second debate and the billpassed,” she said.The bill focuses on violence committedagainst adult women by aggressors in arelationship of power (generally workplacerelated) or trust (in a familial, romanticor neighborhood connection).It has been before Congress since1999 and has faced a long battle. Its primaryopponents are members of theLibertarian Movement Party, who say theyoppose the law because it singles outwomen. The party says crimes against allcitizens should be dealt with equally.THE bill proposes a penalty of 20-35years in jail for someone who kills awoman in the context of the above describedrelationships – nearly double the12-18 years currently applied to homicideconvictions.The proposed law calls for imprisonmentof six months to three years for thoseconvicted of violence against women, andimprisonment of 12-18 years for thoseconvicted of rape with penetration.It also punishes with three months totwo years in jail someone in a trust orpower relationship who destroys, damages,renders useless or takes away the propertyof a woman.“This is one of the worst punishmentsthat men, mates, put on women – they takeaway the stove, or refrigerator, or her car ifshe has one,” Valerín said.Some of these crimes are already in thepenal code, but the bill establishes a new circumstance:the relationships of trust orpower between aggressor and victim.LIBERTARIAN congressmanFederico Malavassi said the law is not asolution. It was “proposed by a group ofpeople who seek to maximize the conflict,”he said, adding it would only exacerbatethe problem.The Libertarians are sending the bill tothe Sala IV for a constitutional review. Thecourt will have one month for the review,although they are on vacation from Dec. 24to Jan. 17.If no discrepancies are found, the billwill return to the assembly for a finaldebate and vote.The Sala IV has declared previousversions of the bill unconstitutional on fouroccasions, the first three citing proceduraloversights (TT, Nov. 28, 2003).In April, after the bill was approved inFebruary, the bill was again sent to the highcourt, which at that time objected to 18 articlesregarding the types of penalties applied.The bill has since been corrected,Valerín said, which gives her confidence itwill finally be approved.“There are no more objections,” shetold The Tico Times on Wednesday.Despite the long battle, the bill hasgained support along the way, according toGabriela Zúñiga, of the Feminist Centerfor Action and Information.“People are still against the law, butwe’ve seen a shift in political will. Also thislaw is unique in the world; it’s the first lawwhich punishes violence against women,”she said.COSTA Rica’s current domestic violencelaw calls for “methods of prevention”in cases of continual abuse, but theyoften prove ineffective.The proposed law would allow judgesto apply preventive detention measures toaggressors who are believed to be lifethreatening to women, Valerín said.“Right now, things like restrainingorders prove useless, as there are no consequencesfor not complying with them,” shesaid.Since January, at least 18 women havedied at the hands of a partner, ex-partner orfamily member (TT, Nov. 26).In January alone, there were ninedomestic-related slayings. In one case thatmonth, a man shot and killed three of hischildren, injured a fourth and shot his pregnantcompanion twice in the abdomenbefore taking his own life (TT, Jan. 30).The woman and her baby survived (seeseparate article).The man had a restraining order, andhad been arrested three times in the same dayin December on domestic-violence charges.THE National Women’s Institute(INAMU) said restraining orders and currentlaws failed to protect 80% of womenkilled in domestic violence incidents inCosta Rica last year.(Tico Times reporters Kim Beecheno,María Gabriela Díaz and KatherineStanley contributed to this report.)

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