In Spain, a law against sexual violence sparks an explosive controversy

Irene Montero, Minister for Equality, in uproar over the law’s failure

A year before the elections, a new law by the Spanish left-wing government is sparking explosive controversy. And with good reason, this law, rumored to fight sexual violence, could allow certain convicts to have their sentences reduced.

In Spain, the law provides for a retrospective modification of penalties when an amendment to the penal code benefits the offender. Which is partly the case with this emblematic law entitled “Only a yes is a yes” (“only a yes is a yes”) (“Solo si it si” in the original version), which came into force on October 7th.

In general, this law aimed to strengthen the anti-rape arsenal to reinforce the need for informed consent. However, it also had the effect of lowering penalties for other types of sexual violence. Several hundred convicts have been able to submit requests for review, and the courts have started to grant some of them.

At least four people exempt

For example, a man who sexually abused his underage stepdaughter had his sentence reduced from eight to six years in prison, while a teacher convicted of having sex with four underage students for money was released from prison like most of his six -Year, nine months imprisonment was lifted.

According to the Spanish press, at least four people have already been released. This controversy put the government of socialist Pedro Sánchez, and in particular his minister for equality, Irene Montero, member of the radical left Podemos party (minority ally of the socialists within the governing coalition), on the defensive, which made this law its workhorse.

On Wednesday, Irene Montero accused the judges who validated sentence reductions of “machism” and questioned their lack of “training.” A member of his party, Javier Sánchez Serna, went so far as to describe these judges as “fachos in robes”. “Intolerable attacks,” according to the body representing the judges, the General Judicial Council (CGPJ), who reminded the government that it had warned them in February of the legal risks of this text, then under consideration in Parliament.

The springs of a mechanism

This law, nicknamed “Only a yes is a yes,” therefore specifically abolished the distinction between the offense of “sexual abuse,” with lower penalties, and that of “sexual assault,” which included rape and previously required the presence of violence or intimidation to be shy. Award at the center of a case that shook the country in 2016, with the rape of a woman in Pamplona by five men who nicknamed their band “the pack”. Lawyers say the current reductions in sentences come as a result of the mechanical reduction in the minimum sentence, now that all sexual violence has been qualified as “assault”.

In detail, as Euronews reminds us, the mechanism is as follows: in the event of the introduction of an amendment to the criminal law, lighter penalties can be imposed, provided that the case under investigation does not present any aggravating circumstances. Manuel Cancio Melia, professor of criminal law at the Autonomous University of Madrid, told the news site: “In some cases, sentences can be reduced if the judges consider that there is no violence or bullying.”

Therefore, if they believe that their client can benefit from it, the convicted person’s lawyers can ask for the adjustment of the judgment of which they are the subject. That’s exactly what happened here. These sentence cuts were not inevitable, however, as the General Council of the Judiciary warned or this BBC article.

However, in this case, the legislator forgot to include a so-called transitional rule making it possible to limit the number of files that can benefit from such a review.

Government trapped?

In any case, from Bali, where he had just attended the G20 summit, on Wednesday Pedro Sánchez defended his law, one of his government’s key texts, the aim of which is to “give more guarantees to women in the face of any type of sexual assault”.

However, he is not at the end of his troubles. In fact, the executive branch must face one final trap. A reform of the new law, as some ministers have suggested, would serve no purpose, since retroactivity does not apply if the new provision is unfavorable to the convict.

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