Spanish government to alter sexual consent law to fix loopholes

Spain's leftwing government said Monday it was looking to modify a landmark law to fight sexual violence to close a loophole that has let some convicted offenders reduce their sentences.

Spanish government to alter sexual consent law to fix loopholes
Spain's Minister for Equality Irene Montero (R). Photo: Thomas COEX / AFP

Since the law came into force in October, around 20 offenders have reportedly been released and 300 others have seen their sentences reduced.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist party has announced plans to reform the law.

“In the coming days, we will present a draft bill, a meticulous text that will provide a response and a solution to these undesired effects which we obviously don’t want to see repeated in the future,” said Education Minister Pilar Alegria, who is also party spokeswoman.

“Logically, the best way to specifically address these undesired effects would be to increase the penalties for sexual offenders,” she told reporters.

READ ALSO – ‘Only yes means yes’: Spain tightens sexual consent law

The controversy erupted barely six weeks after the entry into force of the “Only yes means yes” law, which reformed the criminal code in a bid to define all non-consensual sex as rape.

The overall aim of the law was to shift the focus in cases of sexual violence from the victims’ resistance to a women’s free and clearly expressed consent.

To this end, the charge of sexual abuse was dropped and everything was grouped under sexual assault. The range of penalties was widened to include all possibilities under that single term.

READ ALSO: How Spain is trying to fix its new trouble-ridden sexual consent law

The law effectively reduces the minimum and the maximum punishment in certain specific cases and hundreds have applied to have their sentences revised.

‘Consent must remain at the centre’

Over the weekend, reports that the government was mulling changes to the law prompted tensions between the ruling Socialists and their hard-left junior coalition partner Podemos, which has championed the legislation.

The right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) had quickly moved to offer parliamentary support if the Socialists wanted to push through the changes without Podemos.

But Podemos reacted angrily. Equality Minister Irene Montero warned that such a move would mean the law reverting to its original format and she vowed to do “whatever necessary” to ensure consent was kept at the centre.

Her stance was hammered home by party leader Ione Belarra on Monday morning. “Consent has to remain at the heart of the criminal code. We can’t go back to the evidentiary ordeal of proving we resisted enough or that we hadn’t been drinking,” tweeted Belarra, the social rights minister.

Socialist ministers insisted the planned changes would merely address the loopholes and would not touch the issue of consent.

“The correction and modification of the law is designed to avoid any undesired outcomes in the future and the issue of consent will remain at the centre of the law against sexual assault so that women avoid enduring the ordeal of proof in court,” cabinet minister Felix Bolanos, a close Sánchez aide, told reporters.

Until now, rape victims had needed to prove they were subjected to violence or intimidation. Without that, the offence was considered “sexual abuse” and carried lighter penalties than rape.

With “sexual abuse” dropped from the reformed criminal code and a much wider range of offences grouped under “sexual assault”, a broader range of penalties was required to ensure proportionality.

At the weekend, Montero said it was only a “minority” of judges who had applied the law incorrectly.

She said there were similar teething problems with Spain’s landmark 2004 domestic violence legislation, the first in Europe, which faced “almost 200 questions” about its legality in the first years after it was passed.

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Reform of Spain’s contested ‘gag law’ fails

A proposed reform of a contested security law in Spain failed Tuesday after Catalan and Basque parties voted against it in a parliamentary commission, arguing it did not go far enough.

Reform of Spain's contested 'gag law' fails

Dubbed the “gag law” by those who oppose it, the legislation passed in 2015 by a previous conservative government allows authorities to impose hefty fines against unauthorised demonstrations or in case of attempts to block home evictions.

The law was seen as an attempt by the government to curb social unrest and protests against its austerity measures.

Critics, including Amnesty International and other rights groups, argue it limits free expression and violates the right to protest.

A reform of the law put forward by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s minority coalition government proposed several changes, including lowering some fines and slashing the time suspects arrested at protests may be held in custody.

READ ALSO: What are the proposed changes to Spain’s controversial ‘gag law’?

But Catalan separatist party ERC and Basque pro-independence party Bildu – which usually help the government pass legislation – opposed the reform because the law would continue to allow police to use rubber bullets.

The two parties also objected that the law would still allow pushbacks of migrants at Spain’s borders by security forces.

Bildu lawmaker Jon Inarritu told Basque television his party voted against the proposed reform because it maintains “the repressive corpus of the previous ‘gag law'”.

It seems difficult for the government to propose another reform of the security law and get it approved by parliament before a general election expected in December.

“This reform would have been desirable,” government spokeswoman Isabel Rodríguez told a news conference following a weekly cabinet meeting. “It is a shame that a law that was expected by citizens could not be adopted,” she added.

Thousands of Spanish police officers protested in Madrid earlier this month against the planned to reform the security law.

They were especially angered that under the proposed reform, the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations would no longer be classified as a serious offence.