Spanish minister accuses judges of ‘machismo’ in applying sex offenses law | Spain

Spain’s magistrates’ associations and main opposition party have called for the equality minister to resign after she accused judges of “machismo” for reducing prison sentences under a new law. law intended to toughen the penalties for sex crimes.

Popularly known as the “only yes is yes” law, the legislation made sexual consent, or lack thereof, a key determinant in assault cases and revised the range of possible minimum and maximum prison sentences, inadvertently making it possible for some sentenced individuals to have their sentences reduced on appeal.

The law came into effect last month and now one of Equality Minister Irene Montero’s signature projects is in danger of proving politically damaging.

Irene Montero addresses reporters
The revelations of reduced sentences in at least 15 cases outraged Spain’s Equality Minister, Irene Montero. Photo: Marta Fernandez/AP

This week’s revelations of reduced sentences in at least 15 cases infuriated Montero and supporters of the law, who argued that Spain’s judges needed more training to overcome ingrained gender biases. She accused some judges of disobeying the law, adding that the UN had said systemic sexism could lead lawyers to misinterpret laws.

“The problem is we have judges who don’t enforce the law,” she said, arguing that sexist stereotypes blind some judges from seeing gender violence as the crime it is. Judges who have reduced sentences for sex offenses argue that they were required to rule in defendants’ favor if the laws under which they were originally sentenced had changed the possible sentences.

In one case, a Madrid court recently reduced the sentence of a man convicted of sexually abusing his 13-year-old stepdaughter from eight to six years. In another case, a court in the south of Granada took two years off a 13-year prison sentence for a man who threatened his ex-wife with a knife and raped her.

Opposition parties and magistrate groups have been outraged by Montero’s comments and blame the left-wing government for passing a poorly drafted law. Two magistrate groups and the conservative Popular party called on Montero to resign.

Ángeles Carmona, a member of the general council of the judiciary in Spain and president of the government’s body dealing with gender and domestic violence, said that more than half of Spain’s judges are women and that they all have special training in gender violence should follow.

Carmona said her agency had warned lawmakers about flaws in the writing of sexual consent legislation and that Montero’s criticism of judges threatened to undermine women’s trust in the justice system.

“We had already warned in our report that what is happening could happen,” Carmona said. “[But] the justice system is not sexist; it is not part of the patriarchy. The judges apply the law impeccably.”

The Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, called for calm and urged the judiciary to agree on how such appeals will be handled.

The gender violence legislation was drafted in response to the uproar following a gang rape case at the 2016 San Fermin bull festival in Pamplona.

Initially, the five accused were found guilty of sexual assault, but not rape, as the victim was deemed not to have objected to the assault. The verdicts sparked massive protests. The Spanish Supreme Court later overruled lower courts and sentenced the five to 15 years in prison for rape. A lawyer for one of the five now says he intends to request a reduced sentence from his client.

Montero is a member of the far-left Unidas Podemos (United We Can), which is in a coalition government with Sánchez’s socialists. The coalition is struggling to stay united until Spain’s general election next year.

Some fellow government officials have recommended revising the sexual consent law, an idea Montero opposes.

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