Spanish woman jailed for hiding with sons to escape abusive partner

A Spanish woman has been sentenced to five years in prison for going into hiding with her two sons to avoid handing them over to their father, who had been convicted of abusing her.

Juana Rivas ran away from her Italian partner, Francesco Arcuri, in May 2016, leaving Sardinia to return to Spain, where she filed a complaint of domestic abuse against him.

Arcuri, who had been convicted of hitting Rivas in 2009, denied the fresh abuse allegations and a Spanish court ordered Rivas to hand the children over to him.

Instead, the she hid with them for a month last summer before turning herself in and relinquishing the boys.

The trial is the latest high-profile case to focus attention on violence against women in Spain and Spanish attitudes towards it.

Rivas told a court in Granada she had only been acting “as a mother” who did not want her children, now aged four and 12, to have to return to a place where she had been abused.

She said she lived through hell in Sardinia, saying Arcuri would “lock her up in a room for hours, hit her, spit in her face, pull her hair”, according to the court ruling.

She also said her children, particularly the eldest, had “suffered a lot and been witness to various things”.

The court acknowledged Arcuri had been found guilty of hitting Rivas when they lived in Spain. But it noted the couple had later decided to give it another go, Rivas had moved to Italy and they had had a second child.

There was no evidence of any abuse after the 2009 incident, the court added, saying a psychologist had examined their eldest son and found no trace of trauma linked to domestic abuse.

“The facts show that she decided to separate [from Arcuri] in the summer of 2016 and … she realised there would be a big stumbling block with custody of the two children,” the court concluded.

It decided that she had “decided to exploit the argument of abuse” to obtain custody and had committed “child abduction”.

As well as the prison sentence, the court ruled she would lose custody of her children for six years, and ordered her to pay €30,000 (£27,000) in compensation and her former partner’s legal costs.

Rivas’s lawyer said an appeal would be launched, adding that the sentence was “grossly unfair” and a “failure of the Spanish and Italian justice systems”.

The case has been deeply controversial in Spain, with many Twitter users using the slogan #JuanaEstáEnMiCasa (Juana is in my house) to show their support for Rivas’s plight.

Gender violence has become a key political issue over recent months and 23 women have been murdered by their partners so far this year.

Protests erupted across the country in April after five men accused of the gang rape of a teenager during the running of the bulls festival in Pamplona were found guilty of the lesser offence of sexual abuse.

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