Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez criticized for releasing sex offenders

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is embroiled in a political storm after a sexual consent law introduced by his government resulted in the early release of sex offenders from prison.

Sánchez is facing growing calls to change the “only yes means yes” law, which has been widely praised for seeking to prevent victims from being pressured over consent issues in court. But the law unexpectedly led to reduced prison sentences for some dangerous criminals, sparking public outrage.

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

Reduced prison terms have turned the law into liability for Sánchez at the start of an election year as he seeks re-election, fueling attacks from right-wing critics who accuse him of undermining the rule of law. The opposition People’s Party says more than 250 sex offenders have had their sentences reduced.

On Monday, Félix Bolaños, a minister from Sánchez’s Socialist Party, gave the clearest signal yet that the prime minister was ready to back the amendments. “We want to correct [law] in order to mitigate the adverse effects it produced, which we do not want to repeat,” he said.

But Podemos, whose votes need Sánchez to pass legislation in parliament, continued to obstruct, insisting the problem was not the law but how it is enforced by judges.

The consent legislation was introduced following a nationwide scandal over the lenient sentences given to five men who raped an 18-year-old woman during the bullfighting festival in Pamplona in 2016.

A lower court found them guilty of the lesser 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. Eventually, Spain’s Supreme Court overturned the verdict and ruled 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 assumed when the victim remains silent. As a result, he eliminated the previous distinction between sexual abuse and the more serious crime of sexual assault, which involves violence.

This produced harsher sentences for many offences, but by reclassifying crimes it also allowed some courts to decide that some existing sentences should be reduced. This led to the release of dozens of offenders because they had already served the required sentence.

Irene Montero, Spain’s equality minister and member of Podemos who is the driving force behind the law, said the judges who made the decisions were part of a “right-wing offensive against one of the most important advances in public policy on feminism over the past 20 years”. .

Podemos officials have said they will not agree to any changes that would take Spain back to the days when women had to prove they had resisted to be considered victims of sexual assault.

Pablo Echenique, parliamentary spokesman for Podemos, said on Twitter that the Justice Ministry — led by a Sánchez ally — and the opposition PP wanted to return “to the previous model that asked victims: Did you close legs ? How much did you drink? Did you risk your life hitting him?

The conservative PP is seeking to maintain attention on the release of sex offenders, with Borja Sémper, its campaign spokesman, saying on Sunday that Sánchez “didn’t want to confront Podemos”.

The PP proposed to vote with the Socialists – and on the sidelines of Podemos – on legislation to fix the new law. But Isabel Rodríguez, a government spokeswoman, said it was “almost impossible to imagine” the PP accepting anything.

“We’ve waited for them many times throughout this legislature and we’ve had a ‘no’ for an answer,” she said. “What they are engaged in here is political expediency.”

Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at Teneo Intelligence, a consultancy, said the furor was unlikely to break the coalition. “In general, Podemos opens fronts that create problems and tensions for Sánchez,” he said. “So there is a lot of noise. But in the end, the coalition does not collapse.

The prime minister would prefer to focus on Spain’s economic performance, Barroso said, acknowledging the country had low inflation compared to its EU peers and low unemployment by its own standards. “Spain is relatively well placed economically. He would like to talk about it. Social problems are less good for him.

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