How interactive play gives teens in Spain insight into gender violence

An interactive theatre workshop in Madrid is immersing teens in dramatised scenarios of inequality and abuse to raise awareness about conflict and gender-based violence.

How interactive play gives teens in Spain insight into gender violence
Spanish actors Ana Merchante (R) and Manu Chacón play a scene during interactive theatre by El Teatro Que Cura (The Healing Theatre) to raise awareness about domestic violence among teens, at El Olivo high school in Parla, south of Madrid on November 11, 2022. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

The row started with something minor: ‘Edu’ was laughing at something on his phone but refused to show it to his girlfriend ‘Ali’. She got upset and they started arguing.

Angry words turned into shouting and insults and suddenly a furious ‘Edu’ grabs her phone and hurls it to the classroom floor where it shatters, the violent gesture shocking the group of watching teenagers.

The confrontation between the two characters, played by actors, is part of a play by Teatro Que Cura (The Healing Theatre) visiting a high school in the town of Parla near Madrid to raise awareness about domestic violence.

November 25th is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and in Spain, which passed Europe’s first law against it in 2004, experts agree education is key to reducing the problem.

In May, official figures showed gender violence was growing fastest among the under-18s, with the number of female victims up nearly 30 percent from 514 in 2020 to 661 in 2021.

It was unclear if this was due to an increase in violence or a rise in the number of incidents reported.

The play at El Olivo high school starts with the couple getting ready for their first date, Edu wining over the 15- and 16-year-olds with a humorous monologue worrying over his looks, what to wear and his chances of getting laid.

But the laughter dies as their relationship develops — and the teenagers are encouraged to reflect on their arguments and what they would do differently.

“The aim is to help adolescents build relationships based on equality and prevent domestic violence,” says Susana Martín Cuezva, a therapist who directs Teatro que Cura and moderates the discussions.

“The idea is that the students experience a situation of tension or conflict in the here and now and that they resolve it in a different way to how the actors are approaching it, which is always through violence.”

Teenagers take part in interactive theatre by El Teatro Que Cura (The Healing Theatre). (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

‘Pretty realistic’

“It’s good to show it like this. If you see it in the street, it’s just a couple fighting. But seeing it in this context you realise it is actually violence and that you can do something about it,” says 15-year-old Patricia Garcia.

As the plot develops, the audience is invited to voice their thoughts directly to Edu or Ali, with each actor improvising a response.

“I lost my head, I’m not really like that,” Edu explains to a student after the phone-smashing incident.

“Yeah right. First, give me some space and don’t try to intimidate me,” she says calmly. As he starts arguing, she walks off — to cheers and applause from the students.

What affected Mario Carmona, 16, most was the insults and the pushing and shoving.

“Unfortunately, it was pretty realistic, and it happens more often than you’d expect,” he told AFP.

“It’s not easy to understand what’s happening even though these arguments are pretty normal. But it’s good to have someone to support you, who can give you a wake-up call if things get a bit out of hand.”

Set up in 2017, Teatro que Cura uses interactive theatre to immerse teens in dramatised scenarios of inequality and violence to raise awareness about conflict and gender-based violence.

Over the past five years, they have worked with some 9,000 teenagers aged 14-19, mostly in the Madrid region.

Studies show education is crucial, with a 2021 Spanish government report finding sex education classes focused on equality and violence “reduce the risk of resorting to gender-based violence in boys, and of suffering it in girls”.

As the plot develops, the audience is invited to voice their thoughts directly to Edu or Ali, with each actor improvising a response. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

‘Detecting cases of risk’

“Adolescents who are taught about gender-based violence are at less risk,” educational psychologist Maria José Díaz-Aguado told El País newspaper.

“If you get this sort of education at school, you can become aware of such things much earlier,” agreed 16-year-old Maryam Calderón.

Silvia Serrano Martin, El Olivo’s school psychologist, said the sessions were very effective.

“It’s really helped raise awareness about domestic violence because seeing it in such an experiential way reaches them more directly,” she told AFP.

“This is a useful prevention tool but it’s also good for detecting cases of risk.”

Sometimes students come forward to privately share their experiences, which in some cases has involved situations of “real urgency,” Susana Martín Cuezva says.

“Once a boy came to talk to the actor and said he identified with Edu, that he was starting to be violent with his partner. He was in tears and told us he needed help and didn’t want to repeat what was happening at home,” she said.

The case was immediately referred to a regional gender violence unit.

“I’ve learned I need to put myself first,” 15-year-old García told AFP when asked what she had taken from the session.

“If a relationship is starting to become aggressive, you have to walk away for your own good.”

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What to do if you’re in an abusive relationship in Spain

Aside from physical violence, emotional abuse, intimidation, stalking and deprivation of freedom are also forms of violence. What steps can you take if you're in an abusive relationship in Spain?

Love shouldn't hurt abusive relationship spain
If you've been a victim of gender violence in Spain, here are the steps you can take. Photo: Sydney Sims/Unsplash

Men’s violence against women is one of the biggest crime and societal problems in Spain. But combating it isn’t easy, not least because it often happens behind closed doors.

According to the Spanish government, 38 women have been murdered in 2022, adding to a total of 1,171 since 2003.

And they’re not the only victims as 26 minors have become orphans as a result this year, 360 over the past decade. A survey by Spain’s Ministry of Equality estimates that 1.7 million children in Spain witness gender violence at home. Forty-eight children have also been murdered in the last ten years by their mothers’ partners or ex-partners.

November 25th marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a day which usually sees thousands of protesters march through the streets of Madrid, Barcelona and other cities in Spain demanding “urgent and firm action” to combat men’s violence against women.

A staggering 78 percent of women over the age of 16 who have been victims of physical violence don’t report it to the police.

If you’ve been a victim of gender violence, here are the steps you can take.

What should I do if I’m in an emergency?

Firstly, if you are in an emergency situation you can contact the police and emergency services at the following numbers:

Emergency services: 112

Policía Nacional (National Police Corps): 091

Guardia Civil (Civil Guard): 062

Where can I seek help and advice?

If you are not sure what kind of help you need, the first thing to do if you are in an abusive relationship is call the free confidential helpline 016, a public service available 24/7 where you can speak to professionals with guaranteed confidentiality in 53 different languages. You can also email [email protected] or WhatsApp 600 000 016. 

The service is provided by the government’s committee against gender violence (Delegación del Gobierno contra la Violencia de Género), which has a dedicated website with information and resources. 

You can also get free legal advice and information by calling 061.

If you are a minor and you think family member may be a victim of gender violence you can call ANAR (Ayuda a niños y adolescentes en riesgo), on 900 20 20 10.

The Equality Ministry’s WRAP website (web de recursos de apoyo y prevención ante casos de violencia de género), has a search tool for finding all the NGOs, women’s associations, police stations and courts closest to you.

For a guide of your rights as a victim of gender violence in Spain, the Ministry also provides a document in several languages including English, HERE.

‘Only yes means yes’: Spain moves to tighten consent laws against rape

What happens when I report someone to the police?

Making a formal complaint (denuncia) for gender violence is considered a significant threat to safety and should therefore result in the immediate detention of the aggressor.

The detention can last up to 72 hours until a formal judicial deposition is made. After this period, the judge can then either let the accused go or issue a restraining order. Breaking the restraining order will result in a new complaint with more serious legal consequences.

If you live with your aggressor, the restraining order means they will not be able to return to the shared home and will be deprived of the custody of any children you have together. He will not be able to claim joint custody until a criminal trial ruling is issued, which can take several years.

It will also result in the loss of the right to obtain public subsidies, and they will be included in the Central Registry of Abusers.

Can I get financial support?

The Comprehensive Law of Protection Measures against Gender Violence (Ley Integral de Medidas de Protección contra la Violencia de Généro) includes financial support for women who have been victims of gender violence.

Women who are not able to find a job or participate in training courses can have access to financial support provided in the form of a single payment, representing the equivalent of six months of unemployment benefits.

These benefits are currently managed by the different autonomous communities.

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How do I ask for help without my abuser knowing?
If you want to call for help without attracting the attention of your abuser, you can make the hand gesture indicated in the photo below on a video call, so the person you a talking to can call for help. 
The 016 helpline, as indicated below, doesn’t leave a trace on your phone so you can call without worrying about it appearing on your call history.