Women’s NGOs march for International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, in 2014. In recent years under the Ortega Police State such marches to draw attention to the problem of femicides, or any other public protests, are no longer allowed. Photo: Carlos Herrera

Expert says that women reporting violence in Nicaragua are forced to mediate with their aggressors, and the system exposes them to violence instead of protecting them.

By Keyling T. Romero  (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Only two out of every ten Nicaraguan women who reported their partners for gender-based violence at Police Stations, between February and March 2020, managed to open a criminal case against their perpetrators. The other eight were persuaded by police authorities to mediate with their aggressors, according to statistics published by the National Police.

“We have seen a 25% increase in reports of domestic violence this year, when compared to the same period in 2019. This shows that our population, especially women, are more confident to place a complaint with our Police, at our Women’s Police Divisions,” Commissioner Jaime Vanegas, highlighted during a presentation of the results of the “Women for life. Women, peace and wellbeing!” campaign.

In Nicaragua, according to Article 46 of the amendment to Law 779, Comprehensive Legal Framework against Violence against Women, mediation is allowed in the case of “less severe crimes” such as: physical and psychological violence, intimidation or threats to the women, kidnapping children, but only go in cases where the perpetrator has a clean criminal record and the victim accepts this procedure voluntarily.

The reality that human rights defenders are seeing

However, human rights and women’s activists are complaining that hundreds of women are being forced to mediate with people who subject them to violence. Furthermore, the mediation process shouldn’t be allowed at all because it puts victims in greater danger, said feminist lawyer, Felicita Lainez. She is a member of the Nicaraguan Women’s Network Against Violence and has worked to prevent and monitor violence in local communities.

At what point in the process is a woman recommended that she mediate with her aggressor? 

When a woman can no longer bear to be with her aggressor, she files a complaint with the Police. This is the point of entry to seek justice. However, this is where most cases end up because women are pretty much being pressured to mediate. According to procedure, the woman files a complaint, the police record it and pass it to the prosecutor’s office. If she accepts mediation for whatever reason, she should do so once the case goes to court, but this is rare. I don’t know anybody making it to the prosecutor’s office, much less somebody who has gone to court.

I know the case of one woman, who received empowerment workshops about her rights. Her aggressor had threatened to kill her and she was living in his family’s backyard. She went to file a complaint and she was told, “come back tomorrow, come back tomorrow”. She went because she knew her rights. Three months passed by and she was finally told that her case would go to a judge at the Police Station. However, there was no judge there, only a family law facilitator. A mediator to make the woman mediate with the person who had threatened to kill her.

Can victims mediate with their perpetrators?

Mediation puts women’s lives in imminent danger. It’s conflict resolution that tries to sidestep direct confrontation between the two parties. If the individual is threatening to kill the woman, how can you mediate with him? How can you mediate with somebody who is pointing a gun at you, who has a machete to your neck, who puts a knife at your stomach? Plus, the emotional impact this has on the victim is terrible. As is the impact on the children involved; there are children who say mama “why don’t we leave?”

According to the amendment to Law 776, mediation should only take place if the victim accepts. 

Mediation must be completely voluntary, but let’s remember that women are subjected to a lot of pressure during the process. They are subjected to social pressure in their local community. People will judge her and say that she must have done something for him to hit her. She is also pressured by her family, her children.

When she gets her foot through the door to justice, which is the Police Station, she is told “but fix it here, you can make up here.” She is being persuaded to mediate, indirectly of course. So, what should be a voluntary act becomes a ritual to say they are doing something. The Police have grabbed hold of mediation as the solution to the problem, but it only makes things worse.

For us feminists and women’s NGOs who are following situations like this every day, we believe that there shouldn’t be any mediation whatsoever because it puts women’s lives at risk.

What challenges do women face when filing a complaint?

Women face social pressure, discrimination, but especially poverty. Especially women in rural communities in the mountains barely have food to eat. They must borrow money so they can go to court and see how their case is developing. In the end, many abandon it.

In the case of gender-based violence cases going to court, is justice ever served?  

It’s very hard to see a case that ends with a satisfactory resolution. However, we have seen women get a satisfactory response when they are accompanied by a lawyer from our NGO. It’s hard for the case to get anywhere if they go alone. We see the most resolutions in cases of child support.

Drawing from your experience working with victims, what happens to women who file a complaint and then end up going ahead with the mediation process?

Lots of women who accepted mediation because they were pressured in many ways, were later killed. Femicides. Mediation is for other matters, not for when somebody is threatening to kill you. This is the reality we see in our communities.

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