After several weeks of controversy, Spain’s left-wing government announced on Monday that it would modify its flagship law against sexual violence which had the perverse effect of getting some convicts out of prison by reducing their sentences. “In the coming days we will present” a reform project “which will provide an answer and a solution to these undesirable effects which we obviously do not want to see repeated in the future”, declared the Minister of Education and carries -Spokesman of the Socialist Party, Pilar Alegria.
“Logically, what we envisaged is that the formula to correct these undesirable effects punctually (…) takes the form of an increase in the sentences for sex offenders”, she added. Nicknamed “only a yes is a yes”, the law against sexual violence, which came into force on October 7, introduced the obligation of explicit sexual consent, a promise made by the government after a gang rape which had outraged the country.
The text abolished the distinction between the offense of “sexual abuse”, with lower penalties, and “sexual assault”, which included rape and required the presence of violence or intimidation to be retained. From now on, all sexual violence is “sexual assault” in the Penal Code.
The implementation of this law has however led to a lively controversy, the text having paradoxically lowered the sentences for certain types of sexual violence, which has had the perverse effect of getting some convicted prisoners out of prison. In Spain, the sentences are modified retroactively if a modification of the Penal Code benefits the convicts. According to Spanish media, 20 people have been released from prison in recent weeks, while 300 others have received reduced sentences.
“Consent must remain at the heart” of the law
The desire of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s socialists to reform this law has given rise to heated battles with their radical left partners in Podemos within the ruling coalition. The People’s Party (PP), the main opposition party on the right, has heightened tensions by rushing to offer its parliamentary support to the Socialists if they want to make the changes without the support of Podemos.
“Consent must remain at the heart” of the law. “We cannot return to the ordeal” consisting of having to “prove that we have resisted enough or that we had not drunk”, reacted on Twitter the number one of Podemos, Ione Belarra, who is Minister of Social Rights . The Socialist Party assured for its part that the change envisaged was only intended to fill the gaps in the text, and would not call into question the key point of consent.
The aim is “to avoid adverse effects in the future”, while leaving the question of consent “at the heart” of the law, “to avoid that women have to undergo probation in sexual assault trials “, summarized Felix Bolaños, Minister of the Presidency and right arm of Pedro Sanchez. Until now, rape victims had to prove that they had suffered violence or intimidation. Without it, the offense was considered “sexual abuse” and carried lesser penalties than rape.