11:45, March 03 244 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-03 11:45:04
Spain approves draft law to strengthen rape convictions

Spain’s left-wing government has approved a bill that would define all non-consensual sex as rape, acting on a pre-election promise to strengthen laws in defence of women’s rights.

Combating gender violence has been high on Spain’s political agenda since the 2016 “wolf pack” trial, in which five men were jailed for sexual abuse, but not rape, after gang-raping a young woman at the Pamplona running of the bulls festival.

Mass protests against that conviction, which attracted international attention in the wake of the global #MeToo movement, led to an appeal in 2019 in which the supreme court ruled the men had committed rape, not sexual abuse.

The equality minister, Irene Montero, told a news briefing on Tuesday: “Spain will be a safer country for women with the approval of this law. Women’s rights and sexual freedoms will never again be stranded down a blind alley.”

The socialist-led coalition government announced the bill’s approval in the run-up to International Women’s Day on Sunday, with rallies to be held in Spain this weekend to mark it.

The draft law, which faces months of debate in parliament, also seeks to establish specialised courts for dealing with sexual offences and 24-hour recovery centres for victims. It would increase jail penalties for work-related sexual harassment to up to two years and make street harassment a criminal offence.

Maria Solanas, a director at the Elcano Royal Institute thinktank, said the proposed legislation would make Spain the first country to implement in a single bill all the recommendations of the 2014 Istanbul convention on preventing and combating violence against women.

Nine European countries, including the UK, Sweden and Germany, have laws that define rape by the absence of consent, rather than by other measures, such as whether violence or the threat of violence was used, as is still the case in Spain.