Spanish coalition clashes over controversial sexual assault law
Tensions in Spain’s left-wing coalition have opened up with just four months to go before the municipal elections as the two coalition parties disagree on a bill which, if approved by parliament, would seriously change the way the law punishes sexual offences.
After the law on the comprehensive guarantee of sexual freedom was approved on 7 October, following two years of work led by the Spanish Equality Minister Irene Montero of Unidas Podemos, the two parties in coalition failed to agree to the “only yes means yes” proposal, intended to reform the criminal code.
After taking note of the serious discrepancies, Sanchez’s socialist PSOE party decided to file on Monday a reform proposal before parliament, for which it failed to have Unidas Podemos’ support, undermining the unity of the left-wing coalition, and exposing in public their opposed points of view on many sensitive “dossiers”.
PSOE filed the proposal just after the president of Unidas Podemos in the Spanish parliament, Jaume Asen, defended the robustness and unity of the progressive ruling coalition on Monday in an interview for Spanish public television (RTVE)
“It is a discrepancy, but it can be easily resolved”, Asens told RTVE, adding that there is room for agreement between Unidas Podemos and the socialist party PSOE (S&D) on the disputed law, but warned that “the PSOE must decide whether to look to the (centre-right) Popular Party (PP) or to the left” to obtain the necessary support.
Definition of “consent”
Unidas Podemos’ proposal to alter the Spanish Criminal Code would have re-classified any sexual act without consent as a crime of “sexual aggression”, Spanish media reported.
Under the new text presented by PSOE, “consent shall only be understood to exist when it has been freely expressed through acts which, in view of the circumstances of the case, clearly express the will of the person”.
While the aim of the new text was to toughen sexual abuse crimes, it has somehow led to the reduction of sentences for sexual offenders. “Anyone who carries out any act that violates the sexual freedom of another person without their consent shall be punished with a prison sentence of one to four years, as the person responsible for sexual assault,” writes Article 178 of the law published in the Spanish State Gazette (BOE).
And although the law also includes aggravating circumstances that would increase the years of imprisonment, for example, when “sexual aggression consists of carnal access by vaginal, anal or oral means, or the introduction of bodily members or objects by any of the first two means”, many of those convicted of sexual aggression, including minors, have already benefited from the new law, radio station Onda Cero reported.
The bill, which still needs to be approved by parliament, would significantly alter the law. Once approved, a sex crime will be defined by a woman’s explicit consent, but not so much by the victim’s attitude – whether she put up resistance or was passive. The criminal code does not provide a specific definition of consent, though there needs to be proof of violence or intimidation to determine the existence of rape.
No massive release of sexual aggressors; fake news
“Consent will only be understood to exist when it has been freely manifested through acts clearly expressing the individual’s will, considering the circumstances of the case”, the text of the new draft reads.
In fact, the PSOE filed the proposal on Monday to correct the effects of the law promoted by the Equality Ministry, which in some cases, has led to reduced sentences and the release of a few rapists.
Due to the massive amount of messages circulating on social media claiming that with the reduction of sentences for rapists in the new law there will be a “massive” release of sexual aggressors, RTVE has recently published a fact-checking report to clarify the situation and debunk media hoaxes.
Municipal elections will be held in May in Spain – a vote many view as the first litmus test for Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s governing coalition with Unidas Podemos.
General elections will be held in December when Spain is in the final month of its EU Council presidency, which starts on 1 July for a period of six months.
(Fernando Heller | EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es)