During orientation for my semester abroad, we were told that the biggest danger to us here in Madrid is pick pocketing.
During orientation for my first semester at Hamilton, we were told that one of the biggest dangers to us was sexual assault.
Honestly, I’ve felt physically safer here, in a foreign city speaking my second language, than I have in many places in the U.S. To be sure, I need to be especially careful with my wallet and phone and keep extra euros hidden on my person in crowded places,1 and we were warned during orientation not to visit certain neighborhoods after dark, but for the most part, I know the worst that can happen to me won’t really happen to me–it’ll happen to my stuff. I might be robbed and lose my phone, but chances are, I won’t get hurt. I don’t have to worry that one day I might go to the movies, shop at the mall, or turn down someone for a date and get shot for it. Here, my body is safe.
This difference is not arbitrary. There’s a lot less (reported) gender-based crime, and violent crime in general,2 here in Spain because logistically, it’s more difficult to commit. Gun laws are much more stringent in Spain than in the US,3 as are laws for other weapons. It may be that it’s simply easier to turn to pick pocketing than something more violent.
It bears noting that low reported crime rates, especially for crimes of gender violence, may come from a reluctance to report rather than an actual lack of crime. However, I think Spain’s response to the crimes that are reported bears noting as well. For instance, as many as 83% of women in Spain reported seeing campaigns fighting gender violence, many more than in other EU countries where the reported rates of crimes of gender violence are higher.4 In all, here in Spain it’s harder to get a weapon to commit violent crime, and there is a thriving culture of gender violence prevention (including extensive media coverage of reported domestic assaults)–and lower violent crime rates.
Of course, these correlations don’t necessarily lead to causation. And even if they do, it’s clear that Spain’s system isn’t perfect–there are still cases violent crimes, gun abuse, and gender violence here. But it is also clear that there are other systems than that of the US–namely, its reluctance to change gun laws despite case after case of gun-related crime (see many US universities for the same reluctance for prosecuting cases of sexual assault and strengthening policies against it despite case after case of sexual violence). And as much as I would like it to change, the system (aka government/those with money/power) of a nation/people has a lot of power. It’s the system, after all, that determines what is a crime, and how crimes should be punished5. It’s the system, after all, that allowed a US administration to come into power that already has changed our culture–both in it’s apparent greenlighting of alt-right/fascist/sexist/racist/otherwise-discriminatory thought and action, and in the corresponding rise in activism against them.
And it is the system that we are trying to change when we organize and attend protests like the Women’s March on January 21. And it is the system that will change (hopefully radically) when we continue to organize, resist, and fight back.
There are a lot of differences between life here and life back home, and to me, there are a reminder to never remain stagnant, to never become complacent, with a way of life that is not serving people.
1More to feel like I’m a spy harboring important documents than to make sure I can pay for the metro if I’m robbed, but you never know.
2 Look here for some quick stats–I’m particularly intrigued that the gun crime rate in the US is 9 times higher than that in Spain–the US is ranked first in the world for it, in fact.
3Spain’s rules for gun ownership include background checks, physical and psychological assessments, and a theoretical exam. I heard, unprompted, from no less than three people during my first week here that almost no one owns a gun or a knife besides officials. For something more official, you can read this.
4Per a recent UN report.
5Again, thinking about those judges and lawmakers in university and state/federal courts who are so tough on some crimes and so dismissive of others…