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Chapter 4. VioGén, the software against gender-based violence

Tags: 'Algorithms' 'Public Innovation'


When a woman in Spain goes to a police station to report that she is a victim of gender-based violence, VioGén is set in motion. VioGén is a case monitoring protocol created in 2004, as part of a law against gender violence that was at the time unprecedented in Europe. 


VioGén uses an algorithm that attempts to predict the risk faced by the woman reporting the crime and her children. The prediction is based on the information that the victim shares with the agent, along with other data that police have access to. 


Through an analysis of 37 different variables (ranging from the record of violence to the characteristics of the aggressor, also considering the degree of vulnerability of the woman and her children, among other factors), the system issues a level of risk: no perceived risk, low, medium, high and extreme. This information is used so that at first the police and later a judge decide what type of measures must be put in place to protect the plaintiff. 


VioGén is one of the oldest algorithms in the public sector in Spain. Since its first use in 2007, it has analysed more than half a million cases. There is widespread scientific consensus that attests the accuracy of the system. However, associations for victims and gender rights experts criticize several aspects of the protocol. 


For example, according to these experts, there are not enough agents in Spain that are trained in gender-based violence, which causes them to devalue the quality of the information put into the system. Nor is the risk predictor designed to detect more subtle forms of violence beyond the physical. This algorithm has evolved over the years. But along the way it has committed errors that, on occasions, have been fatal.  


In this episode, journalist, Pilar Álvarez tells us about the case of Itziar Prats and her daughters, who were murdered by their father. Furthermore, we learn how Belén Méndez, a survivor of gender-based violence, experienced the VioGén protocol first-hand. With her, we hear from lawyer Sonia Márquez her assessment of the system based on her professional experience. Lastly, Gemma Galdón, an expert on the social impact of algorithms and president of Fundación Eticas, talks about the external audit of VioGén that her foundation has carried out.  


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