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Set on Fire - Femicide in Argentina

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Twenty-four year old Fatima Catan of Argentina was set on fire by her partner, Martin Santillan, and then died of severe burns to her body. Fatima was pregnant at the time.

Her death, six months ago, was one of 260 femicides that has been documented by La Casa del Encuentro (Meeting House), a civil society association of Argentina that has produced an annual report of femicides since 2008.

In these murders of women, the assailant is the woman’s partner or ex partner 65 percent of the time. The murders often occur after the partner has been ordered to leave the home or has been given a restraining order.

Fabiana Tunez, who is the head of La Casa del Encuentro said that last year, “We saw a veritable epidemic of women who accidentally caught on fire.”

A year ago, a famous musician in Argentina doused his wife with alcohol and set her on fire. Since then there have been copycat crimes. Domestic abuse hotlines have lately received many calls from women saying that their partners or exes have threatened to burn them. There is the case of the former drummer of an Argentine band who was not arrested after he set fire to his wife. She died 11 days later, and then he was arrested.

Catan’s mother said that her daughter had been beaten by her boyfriend several times in the past.

For a while Catan and Santillan were separated, but he managed to persuade her to get back together again. Catan’s mother said, “She wanted to give him a chance. But I told her: ‘He’s not going to stop until he kills you.’ I think he killed her because she was pregnant.”

Tunez said that there is not enough money to implement a law passed in 2009 to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women. She also said that the government and the judicial system has to send a clear political message so attitudes can change regarding sexist violence.

Argentina’s Supreme Court’s office on domestic violence stated that 40 percent of murders of women stemmed from domestic abuse.

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