The brutal stabbing of an 18-year-old woman by her policeman ex-boyfriend has sparked anger and outrage across Argentina, prompting protests and demands that the authorities step up their efforts to tackle femicide.
On Monday night, Úrsula Bahillo was found dead in a rural area near the small town of Rojas in Buenos Aires Province. The victim has suffered at least 30 stab wounds, with severe injuries to her neck.
Bahillo's former boyfriend, Buenos Aires Province police officer Matías Martínez – who had previously been reported to the police for a string of violent attacks against women – was swiftly arrested for the fatal attack.
According to reports, when police officers arrived at the scene Martínez fled the area. He was later found with stab wounds from an apparent suicide attempt. He is currently hospitalised in Pergamino.
The 25-year-old police officer was working in the neighboring city of San Nicolás but "had leave of absence for psychiatric problems," the province’s Security Minister Sergio Berni told reporters.
Reports this week said that Bahillo was among those who had denounced Martínez for gender violence, after the end of their relationship.
The victim’s family are distraught. Bahillo’s mother, Patricia Nassutti, said in an interview that “for months we have reported the harassment of my daughter by that person [ Martínez].”
She said that they had visited a women-only police station to make a complaint, but that “they wouldn’t take a complaint because it was the weekend.”
Rojas Mayor Claudio Rossi said the authorities were looking into the claim and that officials were “reviewing the failure.”
Berni visited Bahillo’s family and assured them he would “do everything that needs to be done” to ensure Martínez’s leave of absence from work and its reasoning would not benefit him in court.
The minister, who has sparked controversy and criticism during his time in the post, added changes need to be made in the laws preventing femicides, going on to declare that “we have the best legislation, the most modern, but the results are not the best.”
President Alberto Fernández condemned the news as “outrageous” in a video published by the Militancia Feminista organisation.
“This [Femicides] must end at once throughout Argentina. We must not be flexible with perpetrators,” he said.
News of Bahillo’s death spread quickly in Rojas, where the victim’s family are well known, prompting demonstrations.
In a spontaneous outburst of indignation on Monday night, relatives of the victim and angry neighbours took to the streets, marching to the local police station to remonstrate with the authorities.
Some protesters could be seen throwing rocks at the building, while another group set fire to a parked police van. Security forces responded by firing rubber bullets to disperse the crowd as brief clashes took place. Nine people were eventually arrested, while one young woman was injured.
On Tuesday afternoon, a second march took place, this time organised by the family of the victim. The protest remained peaceful, with the exception of a few isolated incidents in which young people threw rocks at police officers, though no-one was injured or detained.
Rojas Mayor Rossi, addressing the crowd, said that “we are living a tragedy in our community.”
She continued: “We are truly very saddened because here [in Rojas] we all know each other. I knew Úrsula.”
A rise in femicides
Campaigners this week said that Bahillo’s death was another illustration of Argentina’s ongoing problem with gender violence, with the coronavirus pandemic only serving to exacerbate the problem.
In the first seven months of 2020, there were 160 femicides, 97 of which took place during the lockdown imposed to tackle the spread of Covid-19, according to the regional NGO MundoSur.
Between 1 January and 31 July 2020, gender crimes rose 15 per cent from the same period of 2019 according to government data.
Over the past 12 years, there have been 3,251 deaths of women, girls and trans-women in Argentina, according to the Casa del Encuentro NGO.