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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

You know, everyone's talking about Ohio and Texas, Ohio and Texas. They're not the only ones holding primaries next week. The view from Vermont in a few minutes. First though, we go to Spain. That country's judicial system has long been criticized for its macho attitudes. And so three years ago Spain set up special courts to handle domestic violence cases. As Jerome Socolovsky reports, that made a huge difference.

Tens of thousands of men have been convicted of abusing their wives or girlfriends. And before we start with this report, a quick warning, the descriptions in this story could be disturbing to some listeners.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: A woman walks into the offices of the Foundation for Separated and Divorced Women. It offers help to victims of gender violence. This woman seems poised and confident, but she refuses to be named on air. She takes a seat in a small room, lights a cigarette, and explains why. She fears that when ex gets out of jail, he might try to finish what he set out to do four years ago.

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking in Spanish)

SOCOLOVSKY: On June 4th, 2004, I was walking down the street with my daughter when he pulled up in his car, she says. By then they'd been together several years. He was a baker and she was working in a bank. He'd started beating her after she got pregnant. She tried leaving him twice. Once he tried to run her over. On this occasion he took a hunting knife out of the glove compartment of his car and went for her.

He says, if you won't belong to me, you won't belong to anybody. He stabbed her 11 times as she cowered in the street. Their daughter, who was two at the time, saw it all. He just kept stabbing me and stabbing me, the woman says. If it weren't for a passerby who stopped him, I'd be dead now. At the trial three years ago, the court said it accepted that the man had been moved by passion, and said her accounts of previous abuse were inadmissible.

The man got a nine year sentence, which the Spanish Supreme Court upheld. He will probably be released early for good behavior. Still, this woman was fortunate that her case was even considered. Before the domestic violence courts were created, victims could not count on justice, says Magistrate Montserrat Comas - she oversees the court's dealing with violence against women.

In most instances the case was thrown out or the victim was brought in too late, or it simply wasn't investigated, she says. But now things are different. Comas says the new courts have already convicted more than 40,000 men. In these courts for violence against women, the evidence is taken seriously, the victim's testimony is valued correctly, and the prosecution collects all the proof needed for a conviction, she says.

When the courts were first proposed as part of gender violence law, some judges said they amounted to positive discrimination for women. But the law passed parliament unanimously, and now the main criticism is that they're not doing enough. Ana Maria Perez del Campo is the president of the Separated and Divorced Women's Foundation. She helped draft the gender violence law.

Ms. ANA MARIA PEREZ DEL CAMPO (President, Separated and Divorced Women's Foundation): (Through translator) The law is very good, but the implantation has been awful, just awful, she says. There are exceptions, of course, but the majority of these courts have been staffed with judges who don't accept the law. Perez del Campo says many restraining orders are not enforced and many men are set free with suspended sentences. Spanish media have also joined the campaign against domestic violence.

(Soundbite of News Clip)

Unidentified Female (Newscaster): (through translator) This is a drama we all have to stop, this news reader says, as she reports on a recent murder. But the government says the media is part of the problem and wants mandatory restrictions on TV shows. The trigger was a recent case in which a woman was found dead after she turned down her ex-boyfriend's televised plea for her to marry him. The man was allowed to surprise her on a chat show despite a court restraining order because of his history of domestic violence.

Back at the shelter, the woman recovering from the stabbing attack still fears for her life. A year ago they started letting her ex leave prison on weekends.

(Soundbite of Woman)

She says she spends those weekends holed up in her apartment.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.

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