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Salud mental

versión impresa ISSN 0185-3325


RODRIGUEZ, Eva Ma. et al. Experiencias de violencia física ejercida por la pareja en las mujeres en reclusión. Salud Ment [online]. 2006, vol.29, n.2, pp.59-67. ISSN 0185-3325.

Violence against women is an everyday problem which is expressed in various ways, whether physically, sexually or emotionally, and it may occur at either public or private level. The subject of violence against women has been regarded as a worldwide priority, since it obstructs every area of women's development. Society has acknowledged the fact that this violence "prevents the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace and that it violates, reduces or prevents (women's) enjoyment of human rights and fundamental liberties.

A recent report by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the Center for Health and Gender Equity shows that at least one out of every three women has been physically mistreated, forced to engage in sexual relations or suffered some type of abuse in the course of their lives.

In Mexico as in other countries, violent behavior has been regarded as "natural" in relation to the way how to treat women; norms and everyday life have kept it hidden. Epidemiological surveys, however, show figures that reflect the scope of the problem, which in turn has meant that it is now considered as a serious health problem. Consequently, approaching the issue of intra-familial violence compels one to consider a characteristic cultural aspect: the questionable fact of referring to its existence solely within the private sphere. It is felt that what goes on inside a home is an intimate affair and that outsiders should not be aware of this, far less intervene. The same happens when one discusses the violence experienced by women living in prison, since they often continue to experience violence or abuse when they receive their conjugal visits; or else at the hands of other prisoners or from the institute itself and no-one seems willing to intervene.

Women living in a penitentiary environment designed essentially for men, occupy a secondary position and are marginalized as regards planned work, cultural, sports, and recreational programs, partly due to the fact that the prison population is thought to be primarily male (1990 to 1994 reports).

As Barquín notes, most women in prison experienced violence from their parents or witnessed their mothers being mistreated, and therefore became used to this type of behavior and more tolerant of it. This does not mean that these experiences should be regarded as the reason why women commit a crime or the main cause why they were admitted to the penal system. The cycle of violence that begins in the family is perpetuated in marriage and would appear to be completed in prisons, recommencing when women are released from prison. Being deprived of freedom as a result of imprisonment, together with the abuse that take place in jail appear to be a further link in the chain of multiple types of violence which constitute the path for some part of this population.

Human Rights Watch is an organization that has undertaken specialized research in prisons since 1987 and in its 1988 report points out that Venezuelan prisons housed a total population of 25381 individuals, 4% of which were women.

This same source reported that drug-related crimes led to a 55% increase in the jail population. In 1991, the percentage of female prisoners held in US state prisons for violent crimes was 32.2%, although that the majority had been imprisoned for non-violent crimes. Donzinger points out that the majority of women prisoners that had been sentenced for the murder of someone close to them had been victims of mistreatment or sexual abuse at some time in their lives, and thus violence against women should become an important issue for the authorities, as it is one of the most outstanding problems that reflects the current situation of the living conditions in prison centers.

Given the importance that has violence against women in general, and the lack of statistical indicators on the issue of women in prison, the main objective of this paper was to describe the types of physical violence exercised by the partners of 213 women, interviewed at a Preventive Center and at Social Re-adaptation Center, in order to determine the scope of the problem and to propose intervention strategies. A non-probabilistic sample of 213 women, selected for reasons of convenience, was used.

A specially designed instrument was used, consisting of a semi-structured interview with 242 questions, covering the following areas of the lives of the women interviewed: demographic data, school history, current family, family of origin, legal status, previous history of imprisonment, work experience, social networks depression, suicide risk, anguish, alcohol consumption variables, alcohol consumption measurement, variables for measuring the use of medical and non-medical drugs, scale of motives for consumption, treatment barriers, intimate relationships and sexuality, sexual abuse, violence/victimization, criminal violence, post-traumatic stress, prison environment, general health, and life styles and impulsiveness.

The most important demographic characteristics of women found were: most were in the group aged from 28 to 40 year (45.5%), had six years or less of schooling (41.3%), secondary school (36.2%) and high school or technical college (16.4%) and were single (48.6%) or living with their partners (21.6%) while 50.7% had children under the age of 18.

Of the 213 women interviewed, only 161 reported having suffered violence at the hands of their partners; 29.2% had experienced 1 to 5 acts, 23.4% had experienced 6 to 10, and 23.4% had been the object of 11 to 17 acts of violence.

Statistics presented in this article in various research studies on family violence in most countries only show a small part of all the violence produced in families, and the results found in this research show that violence is higher among the group of female prisoners.

One should not forget that prison reflects an exercise of the system that performs a marginalizing function, as it includes the poorest women from the most disadvantaged sectors, with low educational level. As Lima suggests, women are doubly stigmatized in prison, as they suffer first as women and second as criminals, not only because they belong to an underprivileged group in every social aspect, but because they belong to the group that has violated the classic image of women imposed by society, a fact for which they are severely punished, while the violence and abuse they have suffered is ignored.

Palabras llave : Violence; women; prison.

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