SANTIAGO – On Mar. 2, President Piñera promulgated a new law that redefines femicide. The law comes as a result of continued petitioning by the family of Gabriela Alcaíno, who was raped and murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Significantly, the law extends the crime of femicide to any homicide with “gender motives,” and thus applies to any type of relationship that a woman has with her aggressor, even those with no prior connection.
Ley Gabriela (“Gabriela’s Law”) extends the legal definition of femicide to any person who commits a gender-motivated homicide of a woman. Gender-motivated homicides include those committed in anger over, or hate against, women for refusing to establish a relationship or for terminating a relationship. The definition also extends to the death of a woman while practicing prostitution, and levies more severe sentences for crimes committed against pregnant women.
Most importantly, femicide now includes crimes committed by ex-boyfriends, such as in the case of Gabriela Alcaíno, the law’s namesake. In addition, mitigation due to jealousy, which previously was a justifiable motive, will no longer be accepted.
Those found guilty of femicide will also now face longer sentences of 15 years and one day up to 40 years in prison. (Simple homicides, by comparison, only result in sentences of 10 to 15 years.)
Alcaíno (age 17) and her mother, Carolina Donoso (age 53), were murdered in their house by Fabián Cáceres (age 19), Alcaíno’s ex-boyfriend, in June 2018 after Acaíno terminated her relationship with Cáceres and he “rejected” the termination. Cáceres broke into the house, killed Alcaíno’s mother and then proceeded to rape and kill Alcaíno.
Despite admitting to the crime, Cáceres was only charged with rape and double homicide, as the definition of femicide at the time only included those where the victim had an existing or prior relationship of cohabitation or marriage with the murderer. Alcaíno’s family, therefore, campaigned for the crime of femicide to extend to cover any individual.
Feminist organizations continue to petition for greater awareness of gender equality and violence against women in the country, arguing that in Chile there still exists a damaging stigma against women. They point to the remarks of President Sebastián Piñera, himself, during his very speech promulgating Gabriela’s law on Monday, Mar. 2.
The president told the audience, “Gabriela once said: ‘If there is something that my mother (Carolina) taught me it is that nobody can put their finger on me, or their hands, or anything. I know what self-esteem is.’ ” He then added, “That reflected an attitude that is very necessary because sometimes it is not only the will of men to abuse but also the position of women to be abused. We have to correct the abuser and we also have to tell the abused person that she cannot allow that to happen, and that the entire society will help and support her in denouncing and preventing those events from happening.”
After many criticized his comments as victim-blaming, the president clarified his words by briefly stating that his government has “zero tolerance for all types of violence against women.” He then reiterated the call to the victims to “denounce any risk or threat, to receive the help of the State.”
The concept that women are in part responsible for the crimes committed against them is one of the reasons for the Ley Gabriela in the first place. Isabel Plá, Minister for Women and Gender Equality, spoke on the importance of changing the stigma in Chile: “The most important thing is to change the deep-rooted tolerance of gender violence and violence against women in our society. We need to raise awareness and support the younger generations, who are at the forefront of this movement, that in no circumstances will we tolerate violence against women.”
Senator Adriana Muñoz argued that “for us women, it is important to insist that femicide is the most dramatic expression of violence suffered by women. The previous law … does not include all the complexity expressed by femicide in Chilean reality and in the world where women are being killed by men because of their gender status.” The recognition of gender violence committed by any individual against a woman as femicide and the more severe charges support the fight for gender equality by supporting those who have been victims and offering greater protection to women.
In a comment, one of the authors of the bill, Karol Cariola from the Communist Party (PC), said, “We believe that justice must be done. There can be no more femicides that go unpunished in our country. The victims of every day that passed without this law passed by the Republican party will remain forever without justice.”
In 2019, 46 women were murdered by ex-spouses and partners.
Katie is a student from Exeter University where she is studying English Literature and Spanish. This year she is interning with Chile Today as part of her year abroad in Latin America. She believes in the importance of a global newsroom which spreads the news of the world to every corner and gives voice to the people.