by Gabriela Sepúlveda *

Berenice Osorio and Jessica Astorga are part of the common fabric and mythology of the migrant woman. Despite contributing to 48.4% of total migration in 2017 [1], the figure and stories of migrant women are reproduced outside the popular imagination.

The phenomenon of migrant women is woven with various threads – some economic, others social, cultural and legal – these diverse experiences are individually co-conceptualized, despite existing interactively and creating multiple realities.

Several of the realities of migrant women are traced in the lives of Berenice and Jessica: the two Latin American women in love with European men migrate to Europe with the intention of reuniting their families, the two die in 2018, victims of femicide in French-speaking countries. Something additional in the minds of Latina migrants is the idea that in Europe there is justice, that is, in the ideal that in first world countries they will be better defended, which is not true, they are alone.

The term femicide is at once a legal, political and cultural category, defined as the murder of a woman for reasons that have their origin in the myths and stereotypes associated with her gender. Femicides occur when a woman dies because she does not meet the expectations associated with the role of women in a society, a community, a family environment, or a legal system.

Unlike men whose murders occur at the hands of strangers, murders of women are perpetrated by individuals in their intimate circle, especially husbands and family members. [2] The term “feminicide” affirms that the patterns of violence that affect women have different dynamics than the violence that affects the male gender and therefore must be studied and fought in different and specific ways. [3]

The details of Berenice and Jessica’s lives will always belong solely and exclusively to them, no one can and should not imagine being able to say with certainty what their wishes, thoughts, feelings and motivations consisted of.

However, a respectful reconstruction and analysis of the phenomena that characterized their lives as migrant women – with data provided by relatives, media and institutions – can help us understand and reflect on how to prevent domestic violence and femicide against the collective of migrant women.

In the following report to understand this fact, it is with the intention of describing and analyzing what are the expectations associated with the role of women in cultures, societies, communities and legal systems that contribute to the phenomena of feminicide and domestic violence of Latin American women in Europe, and offer alternatives to these narratives based on international treaties against gender violence. The following study of the causes and vulnerabilities to femicide and domestic violence is structured in four parts: media culture, psychology, community and law.


In some of the European countries with the highest rate of social and economic development, such as France or Belgium, 51.4% and 49.4% respectively of citizenship permits are processed for migrant women [4]. Berenice, a Mexican woman, migrated to Kasterlees, Belgium to reside with her husband Tom P. whom she had met in his native land of Jalisco, Mexico. Together they had two children and on January 9 of this year Tom stabbed her to death.

Jessica Astorga, also Mexican, migrated to Lyon, France, to reside with her husband Pierre Labastida, whom she met in Mexico and who on August 12 of this year strangled her to death and then threw her lifeless body out the window – with the intention of feigning a sudden hysterical suicide provoked in the framework of a love quarrel.

Was this just the first of the times that traditional and stereotyped concepts of “love” and “hysteria” would serve Labastida? as an alibi to escape responsibility for the femicide.

Days after the authorities discovered what happened thanks to the forensic examination, the murderer’s mother – and her alleged cover-up – sent a series of abusive messages to the victim’s family in which she blamed Jessica for her own death, arguing that this “He had become obsessed with Pierre.”

It is common to see stereotypes about the “passionate” and “irrational” nature of women and romantic love in the media and judicial treatment of femicide. These traditional concepts about romantic love and women’s mental health serve as causal and justifying elements, reducing the responsibility and guilt of murderers and abusers of women – not only in the eyes of the community but also of justice institutions.

Several studies carried out during the last decade conclude that, as a general rule, cases of domestic violence are dealt with in judicial courts for crimes of less seriousness than those cases that present a similar degree of violence between people without any “romantic” past. It has also been concluded that cases of femicide carry lighter penalties and are even exonerated more frequently than other cases of homicide that present a similar degree of violence between people without any past as a couple. [5]

The paradigm of traditional romantic love is made with ideas of inordinate passion: if love justifies any act, any act is justified by love. However, outside the collective imagination, in the reality of couples and marriages, this conservative paradigm of romance has ended up feeding a legal system where killing for “love” is justified. The intentional or unintentional use of the concept of “love” is essential to silence the violence suffered by victims of domestic violence and femicide. It is essential and necessary to rethink certain cultural elements when their existence fuels violence.

A holistic response to domestic violence requires a change in the cultural narrative regarding the traditional stereotypes and myths that fuel intimate partner violence, especially by legal institutions and the media – as envisaged in the Article 17 of the Istanbul Convention, the European treaty against gender violence with the most ratifications, including France and Belgium.

Despite institutional efforts and the consensus on the moral need to eradicate domestic violence, it is still frequent to see newspapers that shift the responsibility of the murderer and blame the victims for their own femicides.

An unfortunate example is the treatment of the local Belgian press regarding the femicide of Berenice Osorio, whom they blamed as worthy of her own death for living with a partner with a violent past – Tom P. had a history of mistreatment with his ex-partner, and supposedly he had fights with Berenice that “the neighbors were used to” and that in 2013 had manifested itself in an alleged physical violence against Berenice in which the police intervened.

It is common to see arguments according to which being in a risky relationship makes the victim responsible for what may happen in this relationship. This argument fits within the framework of cultural reference of our times where individual responsibility seems to have no limits despite the dissonance that this idea may have with the reality of the phenomenon under study.

Femicides and violence against migrant women are treated in the same way by the media, that is, Belgian women of origin are also violated and murdered under similar treatment, the only difference is that Latin migrant women are at least at 9000 km away from their relatives and they have to go through structural violence from the institutions.

Studies carried out in the last decade on the causes of domestic violence and femicide agree that the motivations behind the difficulty in escaping from a situation of violence by a partner or family member are not explained or can be reduced to one personal will.

The complex reality of the causes of domestic violence and femicides in the particular case of migrant women is due to multiple factors. Migrant women experience social, psychological and economic precariousness specific to their immigrant status: social barriers created by learning a new language and culture, racism, lack of contact with the family support system and friends [6 ], in addition to the economic precariousness of migrant women who suffer a significantly higher unemployment and labor exploitation rate than native women – 16% and 8.5% respectively in France, 13.8% and 5.7 respectively in Belgium.

These factors intrinsically linked to the migration experience create emotional and isolation problems – ideal ingredients along with alcohol abuse, educational level, and disparity of women in an abusive relationship of emotional and economic dependency. Once the survival of the migrant woman depends on her partner, it is easy for him to begin to exercise greater control over her. According to a consensus of multiple studies carried out in the last decades, in different countries and in relation to different cultures and types of couples, control and jealousy are the most frequent cause and origin of exploitation and physical, psychological and sexual violence. [ 8] [9]

To understand the femicides of Berenice Osorio and Jessica Astorga, it is essential to understand that they are part of the common fabric and mythology of migrant women, but it is also important to emphasize the relevance of the other culture that they also shared – Latin America.

The marginalization experienced by migrant women in Europe is just as relevant to understanding the causes of the phenomenon of domestic violence and femicide, as is the marginalization experienced by women in Latin American societies.

A holistic study of the causes of violence against women cannot be reduced to an analysis of legal institutions, it must also incorporate a social analysis of the inequality of education and opportunities between men and women in the communities where they develop. Specific studies on cases of violence against Latin American women focus on the social genesis of violence in traditional notions of gender in Latino communities [10]: machismo and Marianism.

Marianism is a cultural term that defines the qualities that Latin American societies promote for a woman, both in the family, as an individual and as a couple. Marianism is essentially defined by the following characteristics: absolute and unconditional loyalty and personal devotion for the benefit of the family unit, obedience and submission to the husband and other men in the family, and labor sacrifice in caring for and maintaining the home [11].

Several studies show that the majority of Latina women who have survived or continue to live in conditions of domestic violence believe and fear that their families would not support their decision to separate from an abuser and would encourage them to continue in a dangerous relationship. [12] This environment where Latin American families and communities encourage women to maintain loyalty and submission to their partners even at the risk of their health and their lives is another of the fundamental components to understand why it is not possible to explain the phenomenon of domestic violence in the individual determination of the victim to continue in a risk relationship.

Women who migrate to European countries such as Jessica and Berenice often do so for the purpose and through the legal framework of family reunification. In Belgium, the reunification process of a couple begins with a certificate of residence for temporary reunification in which the municipal authorities ensure the joint residence of the couple during the first 6 months of migration.

Under the legal protection of the residence certificate for family reunification, the migrant woman does not receive any legal, administrative or social protection in the event of domestic violence – if she decides to report some type of violence by her husband, the Belgian government considers that she should be deported immediately after she decides to separate from her partner or move to a shelter or reception center for victims of domestic violence.

Even if there is evidence of physical violence, the Belgian state is no longer responsible for providing support and justice to a percentage of women who suffer violence in its territory, if they stop cohabiting with a Belgian resident or citizen. The lack of protection of the family reunification certificate creates an atmosphere of impunity and complicity with abusers whose partners have just migrated and are in one of the moments of greatest vulnerability, isolation, and dependence of the migratory process. The Belgian government provides a legal benefit for abusers who can control their victims by arbitrarily removing them from the common housing register, denouncing their flight from home or leaving the home or territory themselves in order to ensure the deportation of the woman to the one they abuse.

Once the Belgian government has verified that the migrant woman has been able to depend economically on the man through her work, her savings and her residence – she still cannot work – for 6 months, she is given a conditional residence permit. 3 to 5 years.

With a residence permit for reunification – the last step before the delivery of an autonomous and independent citizenship – legal protection continues to depend on cohabiting with your partner. However, the circulars of 2006/3 and 2006/4, specifically sections 11 and 42 Quater of the Aliens Act, partially protect the right of migrant women to live free from domestic violence and offer conditional legal protection in cases of reunification. .

Migrant women victims of domestic violence can only access legal protection from the Belgian government if they meet the following conditions:

  1. The victim of domestic violence does not depend on any public center for social assistance (CPAS).
  2. The victim of domestic violence maintains a “stable”, “regular” and “sufficient” income.
  3. The victim of domestic violence is affiliated with a health mutual.
  4. The victim of violence has access to housing considered “sufficient” for their needs.

If some of these conditions are not met, the government justifies the deportation of a migrant woman victim of domestic violence. That is, if the victim is poor or flees in a precarious emotional state that does not allow him to carry out the bureaucratic process of notifying the Immigration Center prior to the emergency exit – frequent in vulnerable conditions and the erratic nature of a flight of a violent partner – the government stops offering any kind of protection.

The 2006 legal amendments discriminate against poor women and those in situations of unforeseen separation. The Belgian government extends legal protection only to those migrants with economic and psychological stability in order to increase the deportation of those migrants who do not reflect an “exemplary” model while suffering circumstances of violence and abuse. By prioritizing anti-immigration rhetoric in legal protection for migrant women victims of domestic violence, the Belgian government forsakes and becomes complicit in the violence suffered by these women on its territory.

To avoid deportation, the migrant woman must provide a series of evidence, however the lack of stipulation regarding the definition of evidence is used by the authorities to reject evidence of psychological or economic violence and only consider cases of women victims of physical trauma – which directly violates several European treaties for the protection of women [13] – and also creates an environment where lawyers and help centers for victims of domestic violence should advise migrant women to stay in situations of violence until they escalate physical violence [14].

If the government only recognizes the rights of migrant women to live without domestic violence in its territory provided that the violence was physical, the government places migrant women in psychologically abusive relationships to choose between deportation or waiting for physical violence.

In the event that the victim of violence is not deported, their ex-partner will not be provided with an independent and autonomous legal status of residence, as is done with victims of human trafficking. Victims of domestic violence continue to be administratively linked to their ex-partner despite not living with her, which can create problems and administrative confusion regarding their access to citizenship. This legal protocol violates the European Council Convention on preventing and combating violence suffered by women and girls, which calls for the creation of an independent emergency residence permit for victims of domestic violence.

The Belgian legal response to the cases of official migrant women victims of violence is precarious, however, irregular migrant women are never considered as subjects that Belgian law must protect from domestic violence and therefore Belgian law considers their Femicides, rapes, physical, psychological and economic abuse do not merit any help from the authorities.

In addition to running a shelter service for victims of domestic violence, below the number of shelters stipulated in European regulations in two of the three Belgian federal zones [15] [16], the Belgian government excludes victims of domestic violence without roles of the funding system of these shelters.

Given this systemic exclusion from aid services, the Belgian government creates the necessary conditions so that shelters that decide to accept undocumented women end up in precarious economic situations, leading many of them to deny their support to these victims of the domestic violence.

The government enforces a culture of impunity for crimes committed against migrant women. To combat it, it is necessary to create a legal mechanism that allows victims of domestic violence in circumstances of irregular migration to access protection against violence and legal assistance for humanitarian reasons. However, the conditions of this law do not include a specific clause for domestic violence and therefore does not tend to protect them – despite the Belgian government’s humanitarian commitments to eliminate violence against women.

Governments must respect international treaties against violence against women and ensure that authorities at all levels provide non-discriminatory support for victims of domestic violence. This must manifest itself in a culture of zero tolerance for discrimination on racial or migratory grounds. The authorities’ support protocol for victims of domestic violence must guarantee that all officers are educated about the rights of victims in order to provide support that allows them to report [17], penalize and eliminate cases of police mistreatment. the victims, both with threats of deportation, loss of custody of their children or xenophobic violence.


Domestic violence and femicide are predictable phenomena and therefore can be prevented. They do not occur in the midst of unbridled passion and spontaneity – an analysis of the level of premeditation of a large number of femicides indicates almost identical levels of planning with homicide cases that do not involve couples or families. [18] However, to prevent A phenomenon like domestic violence and femicide requires strategies and changes in the mindset of our judicial systems, our myths, our cultures, our legal system and our communities.

In conclusion, to prevent, reduce and eliminate femicides, the cooperation of different social, cultural and political actors is necessary in order to re-educate our communities so that they can provide the support that women in situations of domestic violence need to separate themselves from safe way of a violent partner.

As envisaged in the Istanbul convention, it is necessary that legal systems and police authorities – at the national, regional and local levels – are trained to recognize the multifaceted nature of violence and are educated about the reality of psychological abuse and the economic dependence. [19] [20]

It is also necessary for judicial and police actors to have a more active collaboration and coordination with civil organizations for refuge and aid against domestic violence [21], so that prevention systems can be implemented in response to the manifestation of violence – for example, evacuating and maintaining continuous monitoring with homes where some type of violence has been registered. [22]

Finally, it is essential that authorities and civil organizations take into account the specific risks to the migrant women’s community and support organizations and shelters specialized in understanding and addressing, in a respectful and empathetic way, the vulnerability of migration and migration. patriarchal mentality of the communities of which migrant women are part. [2. 3]

In the case of Berenice and Jessica, all the data suggest that their femicides could have been prevented, if their respective governments had established the policies for the prevention and elimination of domestic violence that they promised to finance in the Istanbul treaty [ 24] and would have offered greater support to specialized integration and aid centers for Latin American migrant women. [1] UN MIGRATION REPORT 2017 [2] Patterns of violence against women are different from those against men

Globally, men are more likely to die as a result of armed con ict, interpersonal violence by strangers and suicide, while women are more likely to die at the hands of someone close to them, including husbands and other intimate partners. Thus, women are often emotionally involved with, and economically dependent upon, their aggressors.-> WHY IS FEMICIDE NOT INCLUSIVE OF MEN Murder, Gender and the Media: Narratives of Dangerous Love,Jane Monckton-Smith[3]En 2013 la Asamblea Parlamentaria Euro-Latinoamericana ““El feminicidio es un indicador crítico de la realidad de la violencia contra las mujeres en los diferentes países, y su extrema gravedad exige respuestas políticas e instrumentos adecuados y coordinados en los diferentes países, incluyendo en particular el trabajo de los poderes legislativos.”[4]Eurostat, Gender and age distribution of persons acquiring citizenship in the EU-28 and EFTA, 2016[5]Cammis 2006, Dawson 2013[6]La Belgique doit protéger toutes les femmes de la violence conjugale , RTBF, Coralie Hublau est chargée des questions de séjour au CIRÉ et membre de la Plate-forme associative ESPER- La plate-forme associative ESPER regroupe différentes associations (AWSA-Be, le Centre de prévention des violences conjugales et familiales, le CIRÉ et le MRAX)[7]Foreign-born unemployment and Native-born unemployment statistics, International Migration Outlook 2018, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)[8]Homicides What issues underlie the predominant drive of DH perpetrators to seek revenge and cause harm? Of the 37 DHs here, 70.3 % occurred in the context of relationship separation, 62.2 % involved constant and violent jealousy, 54.1 % involved perpetrators who controlled most or all of the victims’ daily activities, 45.9 % involved new partners in the women’s lives, and 21.6 % occurred in the context of formal or informal child custody/access disputes. These variables appeared to be ab- sent in only 13.5 % of cases. P10 A Comparison of Domestic and Non-Domestic Homicides: Further Evidence for Distinct Dynamics and Heterogeneity of Domestic Homicide Perpetrators[9]Child and Women Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU) jealous and controlling behaviour should be considered as a critical risk factor (Coy & Kelly, 2011)[10]Counseling Latina Battered Women: A Qualitative Study of the Latina Perspective, Kasturirangan & Williams, 2003; Sabina et al., 2015[11]Latinas are often socialized to allow someone else to make decisions for them, most often the men in their lives. Women are taught to depend on men financially; they continue this cycle by raising their daughters in the same way (Kasturirangan & Williams, 2003)->[12]Counseling Latina Battered Women: A Qualitative Study of the Latina Perspective, Kasturirangan & Nutt-Williams, 2003;Klevens, 2007[13]Article 3 Definitions: Violence against women” is understood as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women and shall mean all acts of gender-based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. “Domestic violence” shall mean all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim.[14]“La loi était contre moi”Accès des femmes migrantes à la protection contre la violence intrafamiliale en Belgique, 08 nov 2012, Human Rights Watch[15]Les normes européennes recommandent que le nombre de places en refuges pour les survivantes de violences intrafamiliale soit de l’ordre d’une « place familiale » (définie comme une adulte plus le taux moyen d’enfants, qui est de 1,79 en Belgique) pour 7 500 à 10 000 habitants l n’y a pas d’administration centralisée des refuges en Belgique ; au lieu de cela, ils tombent sous la responsabilité des régions , 119 Liz Kelly et Lorna Dubois, Combatting Violence Against Women: Minimum standards for Support Services, Conseil de l’Europe, Direction générale Droits de l’homme et État de droit, 2008, http://www.coe.int/t/dg2/equality/domesticviolencecampaign/Source/EG-VAW-CONF(2007)Study%20rev.en.pdf (consulté le 6 avril 2012), p. 18[16]En 2006, la dernière année pour laquelle des statistiques sont disponibles, les deux types de refuges de femmes en Flandres ensemble furent incapables de répondre à entre 66 pour cent et 69 pour cent des demandes de refuges effectuées par des femmes cherchant un refuge pour violence conjugale. 123 Helen Blow et Gerard van Menxel, « Partner violence and homelessness » (« Partnergeweld en thuisloosheid ») in Kris De Groof et Tina De Gendt, eds., Chances to succeed. An integrated approach to intra-familial violence (« Kans op slagen. Een integrale kijk op geweld in gezinnen ») (Leuven: LannooCampus), 2007, p. 114[17]“La loi était contre moi ”Accès des femmes migrantes à la protection contre la violence intrafamiliale en Belgique, 08 nov 2012, Human Rights Watch[18]Precisely 82.8 % and “90 % of DHs and NDHs, respectively, showed some degree of instrumental violence”A Comparison of Domestic and Non-Domestic Homicides: Further Evidence for Distinct Dynamics and Heterogeneity of Domestic Homicide Perpetrators[19]Article 3 Definitions: Violence against women”[20]ARTICLE 13 – AWARENESS-RAISING, ARTICLE 14 – EDUCATION 
, ARTICLE 15 – TRAINING OF PROFESSIONALS, Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, Istanbul, 11.V.2011[21]Article 9 – NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS AND CIVIL SOCIETYCouncil of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, Istanbul, 11.V.2011[22]ARTICLE 52 – EMERGENCY BARRING ORDERSCouncil of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, Istanbul, 11.V.2011[23]Kasturirangan & Williams, 2003, Hancock & Siu, 2009; Perilla & Perez, 2002[24]Article 8 – Financial resourcesCouncil of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, Istanbul, 11.V.201

Gaby Sepúlveda is a 21-year-old Colombian woman. Her main areas of interest are epistemology. She immigrated to Barcelona where she completed her secondary studies at the French Lyceum. She lives in London, where in 2018 she obtained an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Kings College London.

She is currently a legal research and social integration fellow at Siempre and coordinator of the arts and culture program for Latin American women at Latin American Women’s Rights Services and King’s College London.
Feminist, specifically criminology and jurisprudence, and cultural analysis.

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