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HomeWorldSpanish PM faces criticism over 'unintentionally' release of sex offenders

Spanish PM faces criticism over ‘unintentionally’ release of sex offenders


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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is in the midst of a political storm after a sexual behavior law passed by his government resulted in the early release of sex offenders.

He faces calls to change the so-called “yes only means yes” legislation, praised for trying to stop victims being pressed with questions about consent in court. But the rule has unexpectedly led to reduced prison sentences for criminals, sparking public outrage.

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Sánchez’s ability to react is limited by his coalition ally, the leftist group Podemos, which sees the law as one of its ministers’ main achievements and resists significant changes.

The reduced sentences have turned the law into an issue in an election year as the prime minister seeks another term, fueling attacks from right-wing critics who accuse him of undermining the rule of law. The opposition Popular Party claims that more than 250 sex offenders have had their sentences reduced.

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On Monday (30), Félix Bolaños, minister of Sánchez’s Socialist Party, gave the clearest sign that the prime minister is ready to support the amendments. “We want to fix [a lei] to mitigate the unwanted effects it generated. We don’t want them to be repeated,” he said. But Podemos, whose votes Sánchez needs to pass the legislation through parliament, continued to get in the way by insisting the problem isn’t the legislation but the way it’s being applied by judges. .

The consent law was adopted after a scandal over the lenient sentences given to five men who raped an 18-year-old girl at the Pamplona bullfight party in 2016.

A lower court found them guilty of the crime of sexual abuse, which does not involve violence or intimidation, after defense lawyers claimed the woman had consented. The prosecution said she was too scared to move. Ultimately, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict and ruled that the men had committed rape, increasing their sentences from nine to 15 years.

The new law states that sexual consent must be clearly communicated and cannot be presumed when the victim remains silent. As a result, it eliminated the previous distinction between sexual abuse and the more serious crime of sexual assault, which involves violence. The change led to tougher sentences for many offences, but by reclassifying the crimes it also opened the door for some courts to rule that some existing sentences should be reduced. This led to dozens of convicts being released from prison because they had already served the required sentence.

Irene Montero, Spain’s minister of equality and a member of Podemos, said the judges who made those decisions were part of a “right-wing offensive against one of the most important advances in public policy for feminism in the last 20 years”. Podemos officials said they would not accept any changes that would take Spain back to the time when women had to prove they resisted to be considered victims of sexual assault.

Pablo Echenique, spokesman for Podemos, posted on Twitter that the Ministry of Justice – headed by an ally of Sánchez – and the PP wanted to return “to the previous model that asked victims: “Did you close your legs well? How much had you been drinking? You risked your life by punching him?”

The conservative PP is trying to keep the spotlight on releasing sex offenders, with Borja Sémper, its campaign spokesman, saying Sunday that Sánchez “didn’t want to confront Podemos.”

The PP has offered to vote with the socialists and promote what they define as correcting the new law. But Isabel Rodríguez, a government spokeswoman, said it was “almost impossible to imagine” that the opposition would agree to anything. “We’ve waited for them on so many occasions throughout this parliamentary term and taken ‘no’ for an answer,” she said. “What they are doing here is political opportunism.”

Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at consultancy Teneo Intelligence, said the furor was unlikely to destroy the coalition. “In general, Podemos opens fronts that create problems and tensions for Sanchez,” he said. “So there’s a lot of noise. But in the end the coalition doesn’t fall apart.”

According to Barroso, the prime minister prefers to focus on Spain’s economic performance, recognizing that the country has low inflation compared to its European Union peers and low unemployment by its own standards. “Spain is in a relatively good place economically. He would like to talk about that. Social issues are less good for him.”

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