Woman's Murder Intensifies Spain's Gender Violence Debate

The murder of a 47-year-old woman has added to growing concern about gender-based violence in Spain. The body of Rebeca Santamalia Cáncer was found around 3:00 AM local time by police on January 25. The killer, 50-year-old Jose Javier Salvador Calvo, with whom Santamalia was having an affair, took his own life by jumping from a bridge in the eastern town of Teruel after being confronted by police.

Calvo had previously been convicted of murder in May 2003 when he shot his wife, Patricia Maurel Conte, dead. After being granted release under license in 2017, Calvo started having an affair with Santamalia, the lawyer who had defended him in his trial.  

The horrifying event has intensified an ongoing debate regarding gender-based violence in the country. Cáncer’s case represents the most recent of a string of atrocities surrounding the murder of women in Spain.

Last year, the murders of 47 women were classified as crimes of gender violence. Just last month, the brutal murder of teacher Laura Luelmo, whose partially-naked body was found near a village in the region of Andalusia, caused widespread uproar. On January 25, following news of the murder, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez noted that, just in recent days, four women had been murdered around the country. However, he did not explicitly state that those murders were examples of gender violence.  

The growing trend of brutality has rocked the nation, prompting much debate about domestic violence laws and the country’s stance on gendered violence. Reacting to the murder, Sánchez vowed to continue tackling violence against women, describing the tragedy as a “horror” that needed to be addressed.

The growing attention given to the issue, however, has not been met with universal condemnation. Spanish far-right party Vox has voiced its opposition to certain proposed items of domestic violence legislation, instead voicing its desire to halt legal aid for women beaten by men and to cut grants to groups that support victims of domestic violence, according to a party representative.

In opposition to Vox’s stance on domestic violence, women around the country marched in over 140 separate protests this week. They protested against Vox’s ascent to power, following its recent, unprecedented political win in regional elections, in which it gained enough votes to form a coalition in the region of Andalusia.