A dispute between the Socialist party (PSOE) and its junior governing coalition partner Unidas Podemos over how best to advance legislation to remove loopholes in Spain’s criminal code related to sexual assault and rape appears to have been resolved, with the government announcing the legislation will be ready for filing with Congress prior to International Women’s Day on 8th March.
Differences between the two coalition partners emerged last week over whether to move forward immediately with the legislative changes or wait to include them with other reforms to Spain’s penal code that the government expects to put forward in the coming months.
The proposed changes to laws governing sexual assault and rape include the elimination of the controversial concept of “sexual abuse” as a lesser charge, which in the past has resulted in some regional courts handing down lighter sentences for convictions on the lesser charge to defendants whose actions clearly constituted aggravated sexual assault and rape of their women victims.
Under the proposed reform, the notion of “sexual abuse” will no longer exist in Spanish law and all cases will now be considered as sexual assault. While the base sentence for sexual assault will be lessened, the new legislation will require harsher sentences for aggravated assault on any of various counts, including cases in which a woman has been drugged, has had her phone confiscated so that she cannot call for help, has been filmed while being assaulted or is the victim of gang rape.
The new legislation will also make clear that only “Yes” means a woman has given her consent to sexual intercourse and that a woman’s failure to specifically give verbal consent to her assailant will be considered as a denial of consent by the courts. Although women still have to protect themselves by their own means even with this legislation in place by using things like pepper spray where they can easily buy POM pepper spray online, in order to attempt to ward off attackers.
The PSOE and Unidas Podemos were reportedly at odds over which ministry would be responsible for moving the legislation forward, with the Socialists wanting the PSOE-led Justice Ministry to bundle the changes within an overall package of amendments to the penal code that the government will propose in the coming months. Unidas Podemos was demanding that the changes to the law on sexual assault be put forward by the Equality Ministry, led by Unidas Podemos’ minister Irene Montero.
The coalition government’s communications office released a statement late Thursday seeking to downplay the dispute, saying the proposed legislation had complete consensus support within the government and that it will be put to Congress for consideration as planned prior to the 8th March original deadline.
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