Skimming through Argentine dailies often feels like scanning soap tabloids: “Man confesses to murdering and burying wife,” “Man murders ex-girlfriend in cafe then attempts suicide via ‘hara kiri’,” “Man rips out wife’s tongue in an attack of jealousy.”
Title options for a macabre telenovela? No, these are real headlines from trusted news sites covering this week’s news in Buenos Aires.
According to figures provided by Argentine NGO La Casa del Encuentro, femicide is on an alarming upswing in the country. It estimates that 277 women were murdered in 2014, a slight decrease from 2013’s 295 toll, but a marked leap from 2008, which registered 208 femicides.
There have been 1808 women killed since 2008, an average of one murder every 30 hours.
Faced with the government’s refusal to provide official statistics on the number of women murdered in Argentina, La Casa del Encuentro has taken on the task of doing so, drawing from the media for approximate figures.
“The government just doesn’t see this as a top priority,” said Fabiana Túñez, La Casa del Encuentro’s coordinator.
A law for the integral protection of women was rolled out in 2009, purportedly to “prevent, sanction and eradicate violence against women within spheres in which women carry out their interpersonal relationships.”
It was bulked up in 2012 – undoubtedly in response to rising figures of violent incidents – with the addition of a number of articles extending prison terms, previously between eight to 25 years, to life imprisonment for those who would murder an “ascendant, descendent, spouse, ex-spouse, or the person with whom one maintains or has maintained a partnership,” and specifically, “a woman when the act is perpetrated within the context of a gender-based hate crime.”
However, while the law has helped better prosecute transgressors, it has not done much in terms of prevention, Túñez argued.
“We need to launch massive advocacy campaigns through all forms of media and communication and provide direct assistance to victims in a wholesome way. Every woman needs a psychologist, social worker and lawyer. There needs to be a budget for this,” she said.
Seizing on spiking femicide numbers in the country, the Argentine press has taken to publishing a storm of articles on the matter. However, the click-bait nature of these pieces has raised alarm bells among feminist organizations concerned that this sort of media attention actually impedes consciousness-raising.
The Argentine media appears to be morbidly fascinated by the cases themselves. The norm is to present detailed accounts of precisely how women were beaten, raped and murdered, and which tools or weapons were employed, as well as offer telenovela-worthy speculations as to why attackers committed the crimes (“out of jealousy,” “he saw her with another man,” “she left him,” etc.).
Túñez expressed her concern over this lack of journalistic professionalism as well as the public insensitivity it engenders.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” she conceded. “We have to look at these cases from a different angle; provide the frame and context without going into the details. We have to analyze these things within a social and humanitarian context.”
The Argentina chapter of the International Network of Journalists with a Gender Perspective (RIPVG – Argentina) has taken up the mantle. The nonprofit, whose stated mission is to encourage “more inclusive journalism,” came down hard on Argentine media for its approach last year to a case involving a young woman’s murder.
“By generating blame, looking into computers and searching for secrets in the lives of girls brutally assassinated, journalists exercise their role irresponsibly,” the NGO fired in a critical statement.
“Pointing to suspects before the legal system does, using resources that would be acceptable in novels or movies – such as music or images – in order to accentuate the morbid not only demonstrates bad journalism but a lack of respect to mourning families,” it added.
Among Latin American countries, Argentina has the fifth highest femicide rate. The regional list is headed by Mexico – with an average of five femicides per day – and followed by Guatemala, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.