Colombia’s Supreme Court has ruled the country’s first ever case of convicted femicide, in an unprecedented decision set to please women’s rights campaigners earlier this week.
The Supreme Court sentenced Alexander de Jesus Ortiz to 18 years in prison for the brutal murder of his wife, Sandra Patricia Correa, on the grounds that the killing was motivated by Correa’s gender.
This overturns a lower court ruling that the murder had been a crime committed through passion and jealousy.
“This is not a love story but the crushing of a woman by a man who considered her to be his subordinate,” the Court said.
Correa had been subject to numerous vicious beatings and nine stab wounds at the mercy of her husband before he eventually killed her in 2012.
The Court heard how Ortiz would publicly scream abuse at his wife, threatening to kill her and to take away their six-year-old daughter.
The murder threat became a reality when Correa agreed to meet her estranged husband in Colombia’s second city Medellin in November 2012. There, in a motel room, Ortiz fatally stabbed her in the chest.
As the first case ever described by the Colombian judiciary as femicide, it sets a precedent for judges to impose a higher penalty for the murders of women committed through hatred and discrimination in the future.
“This is an unparalleled decision that makes it clear that what happened to Correa and other women is not a crime of passion, which only serves to justify the actions of the perpetrator, but is a crime based on gender,” said women’s rights secretary Martha Lucia Sanchez at the Bogota mayor’s office.
“It sends a message to society that such crimes don’t end in impunity, and gives us a tool with which to get other convictions for femicide in the future, with a maximum prison sentence of 40 years without parole,” Sanchez told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Latin America has the highest femicide rates in the world, according to the United Nations Women agency. Entrenched social attitudes across the region tend to condone violence against women, making the statistic unsurprising.
In the first two months of 2015 alone, 126 women were murdered and more than 6,000 were physically assaulted, said the Medical Examiner’s Office only a few days ago.
According to the Ombudsman’s Office, 75% of women have suffered psychological abuse, 50% have been victim to physical abuse and 11% have suffered economic blackmailed.
The perpetrator is often the victim’s current or previous partner, family member or friend, highlighting how the crime is often contained within the home, making it difficult to identify.
Forty-five percent of Colombians asked about domestic violence said a woman who remains with an abusive partner does so because she enjoys being beaten, said a recent government poll.
This emphasizes the deep-rooted macho culture of Colombia, an attitude that will be a long-term challenge to reverse.
This week’s Supreme Court ruling could pave the way to a more vocal acknowledgement of the abuse suffered by Colombian women at the hands of sexist men.
On Monday, Brazil became the 16th Latin American country to pass a law against femicide in recent years.
For Colombia, Ortiz’ conviction could catalyse the imposition of a bill proposed by a group of women lawmakers that would make femicide a distinct and legally defined crime.
Killing a woman for being a woman, rather than killing out of passion, is currently considered an aggravating circumstance in Colombia’s legal system.