Reform of the law against sexual crimes divides Spain

Spain’s coalition government showed its division on Thursday over the reform of a controversial law against sexual crimes, which the Socialists managed to pass through Congress with the support of the right and against their far-left partners.

The vote illustrates the deep divisions of the coalition in power, one month before the municipal and regional elections and less than eight months before the legislative ones in which the right appears as the favorite in most polls.

"Today is a sad day, surely the most difficult day I have experienced in this parliament as a minister"said in the Congress of Deputies the Minister of Equality, Irene Montero, of the radical left party Podemos, who opposed the reform proposed by the socialists of the president of the government, Pedro Sánchez.

"This is not progress, it is a setback in women’s rights"continued Montero, who always maintained that the reductions in sentences and releases of sex offenders that occurred after the entry into force of the law were due to its misapplication by judges "macho".

The law known as "only yes is yes"because it required consent in sexual relations to be explicit, entered into force in October 2022.

The legislation was intended to toughen the previous one by eliminating abuse, with lighter penalties, and converting all sexual crimes into assaults.

But for that, the legislators modified the sentence ranges, lowering some minimums and maximums, which had the undesired consequence that, as in Spain the new laws are applied retroactively if they benefit the prisoner, numerous sentences were revised downwards.

Since the entry into force of the law, almost a thousand convicted sex offenders have seen their sentences reduced and more than a hundred have been released, according to court data, sparking a major scandal in the country.

Sanchez asks "sorry"

Aware of the political risk weeks before the local and regional elections in May and months before the general elections at the end of the year, Pedro Sánchez was in favor of the reform approved this Thursday, which essentially provides for tougher penalties in cases of violence or intimidation.

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Podemos, whose minister Irene Montero was the main promoter of the law, opposed this reform, alleging that the existence of violence or intimidation is once again prioritized, instead of consent, as crucial elements to determine the existence of a sexual assault.

The radical left party insists that the sentence reductions have been due to a misinterpretation of the law by judges "macho" and not to an incorrect wording of the text.

For the Socialists, the reform only makes technical modifications to the law, tending to avoid future releases.

"What we have done here has been to correct what was wrong in the law, maintaining the essence"assured the president of the socialist parliamentary group in the Congress of Deputies, Patxi López.

Aware of society’s sensitivity to this issue, Pedro Sánchez asked "sorry" by the consequences of the law. "I apologize to the victims, for these unwanted effects"he said in an interview published on Sunday in the newspaper El Correo.

The reform of the law was approved in Congress with 233 votes in favor, 59 against and 4 abstentions, and now it will go to the Senate, where it will almost certainly be endorsed.

The Socialists mainly received the support of the first formation of the opposition, the conservative Popular Party (PP), which criticized that "it took so long" to correct the error, according to his spokesman, Cuca Gamarra.

"We are facing something unprecedented in democracy, facing a government that censors itself" reforming a law that he himself approved, he continued, claiming "terminations and resignations".

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