What is ‘vicarious violence’: the cruelest extreme of gender violence

Following the tragic murder of Olivia Gimeno Zimmermann, at the hands of her father Tomás Gimeno, mass protests against gender violence have multiplied throughout the country. After the girl’s body was found 1,000 meters deep off the coast of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, the term ‘vicarious violence’ has spread massively.

But what does this term mean? It is “that violence that is exerted on the children to hurt the woman. It is a secondary violence against the main victim, who is the mother. It is the woman who wants to be harmed and the damage is done through third parties, by an intermediary person. The abuser knows that harming, murdering the children, is to ensure that they will never recover. It is extreme damage”, explains Sonia Vaccaro, a clinical and forensic psychologist, and the person who coined this term, who was included in the State Pact against Gender Violence in 2017.

Continue the violence through the most vulnerable part: the children

As a definition, vicarious violence is a type of violence against women in which the aggressor uses the sons and daughters as an instrument to harm the mother or ex-partner. It is the last mechanism of the man to exert pressure towards the woman and achieve her goal, to maintain power over her.

This phenomenon occurs in cases of divorce or separation, where the abuser resorts to threats against the woman’s descendants. “I will take your children”, this is the phrase that defines this type of violence, as Vaccaro explains.

“Judicially, that individual knows that he has no rights over his wife or partner, but he does know that he retains power and rights over his daughters and sons. For this reason, he transforms them into objects to continue the mistreatment and violence. He knows that this woman will be able to remain silent, tolerate, give in and continue putting up with many things just for her sons and daughters”, points out the Psychologist.

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For her part, according to the expert, the mother will not divorce, will not report, will not ask for half of the assets and will even deliver her part of the estate as long as he lets her exercise custody and care of the minors.

44 children killed in ten years

Between 2009 and 2019, the number of minors killed due to violence against their mother amounted to 44 deceased, who were between four months and 16 years old. Of these children, 23 were killed during visitation or in the shared custody period corresponding to the man, according to the Federation of Associations of Separated and Divorced Women.

According to the organization Save the Children, in Spain, 3,349 girls and boys were victims of abuse in the family in 2014. For this reason, the United Nations Organization (UN) recognized these minors in 2014 as victims of child abuse , since they consider that they live in an environment in which violence is a daily pattern, which can affect not only themselves, but their affective and personal relationships to the point of turning them into a negative relationship model.

“Being violent is more than a behavior: it is a thought, it is an identity, it is a belief that floods all areas of the life of someone who is violent. There is no ‘not with children’. On the contrary, children and girls, those over whom he knows he has power, will be considered objects to exercise his violence,” concludes Vaccaro.

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