VioGén domestic violence system
A new report (pdf) by algorithmic auditors Eticas Consulting and gender violence campaign organisation Ana Bella Foundation has concluded that the Spanish government's VioGén system underestimates the risk of women being subjected to domestic abuse.
Inaccurate, unfair, and damaging
Launched in 2007 by Spain's Ministry of Interior to help local authorities across Spain protect women and children from domestic gender violence, and to co-ordinate their activities, VioGén evaluates the degree of risk of aggression to women and assigns a score which determines the level of police protection they should receive.
According to the Spanish authorities, VioGén has been a success, resulting in a 25% reduction in repeat attacks.
By contrast, Eticas' audit finds that only 1 out of 7 women who contacted the police for protection received help in 2021, and that a small minority of women received a risk score of 'medium' or higher, thereby qualifying them for police protection.
But while risk scores can be changed manually for those perceived to be at greater risk than the model suggests, a 2014 study discovered that Spanish police offficers stuck to the automated outcome in 95% of cases.
The tendency to over-rely on VioGén has resulted in a rash of cases deemed to have 'low' or 'non-specific' risks ending in suicides, physical assaults, and the murder of women and children - something compounded by the low level of human oversight of the system, according to Eticas.
Opaque and unaccountable
The Spanish Ministry of the Interior has not opened the VioGén system to third-parties for review, audit, or investigation, leading critics to accuse the authorities of inadequate transparency. The system also appears to be largely unaccountable.
As Eticas' report points out (pdf), women and womens' organisations were not involved in the design of the VioGén system at any stage. 80% of women users of the system surveyed by the audit company view it negatively.
Furthermore, the fact that VioGén is more or less fully automated means it should be subject to Spain's tougher Régimen Jurídico de la Función Pública, Eticas argues.
Operator: Ministry of the Interior; Spanish National Police
Developer: Ministry of the Interior; SAS
Sector: Govt - police
Purpose: Assess domestic violence risk
Technology: Risk assessment algorithm
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Fairness
Opacity: Governance; Black box