Pilar Llop (Madrid, 49 years old) received a very complex assignment in November: to find a solution to the enormous wear and tear caused by the almost 400 reviews of sentences for sexual offenders based on the law of only yes is yes. After two months of negotiation, Llop has not been able to agree with Irene Montero on his technical solution to increase the sentences, but he has also put it on the table because, he maintains, the issue is very serious for the victims and something had to be done. The minister insists, contrary to what Montero says, that the law does not change anything regarding consent and only makes a technical adjustment to increase the penalties and avoid in the future —the current reductions cannot be stopped— that there are more sentences lower than before the law.
Ask. How would you explain what has happened with this law to a victim who is outraged by the reduction in sentences?
Answer. the law of only yes is yes It is a very good law, which intervenes in all aspects related to prevention, awareness, and recovery of the victim. It also establishes financial aid, crisis centers open 24 hours. It is a law focused on victims, which attends to them even when they have not denounced.
P. But how would you explain the almost 400 sentence reductions?
R. We have observed many reviews of sentences, and I don’t care if it was one or 400, because what has happened seems very serious to me. From the first moment we identified that the problem has been that there have been reductions in the penalties in the law of the only yes is yes.
Q. Should the government apologize to the victims?
R. What the Government has done is act to remedy this situation, which is very serious. The forks of the sentences were modified, and this has caused revisions, reductions in sentences, and even releases. That is why it must be corrected, because we know that this will also be transferred to the prosecution.
Q. But do you think that the victims and citizens in general deserve an apology?
R. The victims know that this government is with them. Many measures have been taken in this legislature in favor of victims of gender violence and measures in favor of equality. What this reform intends is to shield the rights, freedom and security of the victims. An adequate penalty is one that is a moral reparation for the victims.
Q. Is your apology request to change the law?
R. What we want is to send that message to the victims that this government is with them. We are shielding your rights by raising the penalties so that this does not happen again.
Q. What part of the fault does Justice have in what has happened? They were co-sponsors of the law.
R. Now, which is when I am in government, I assume full responsibility for the reform text that has been prepared and that in the end has been presented by the Socialist Parliamentary Group in the Congress of Deputies. The political decision has been that this unpleasant situation and this dramatic situation for the victims must be stopped, and that means raising the sentences.
Q. And before? When you arrived, did no one notify you that this latent problem existed?
R. When I arrived, this law was already in parliament.
Q. Do you think that a text like this should never have gone ahead in the Council of Ministers?
R. Let’s see, a good text was approved, which is a comprehensive law on sexual crimes, which is a great novelty. There has been a problem with the penalties that has caused a situation that nobody wanted.
Q. As Minister of Justice, she has to know everything that was also done before she arrived. Was there any concrete report that said this could happen? Have you spoken with the former Minister of Justice, Juan Carlos Campos, or with the former Vice President Carmen Calvo?
R. I believe that now is not the time to look for the guilty, it is the time to find solutions. And we, in the Government, this ministry, the Socialist Parliamentary Group, what we are doing is solving a problem, because we must give guarantees to the citizenry.
Q. But we will have to understand what happened. Why was the base rate lowered from 1 to 5 to 1 to 4?
R. What I imagine is that at this moment it was considered that if sexual abuse was punishable with a sentence of 1 to 3 years and sexual assault with a sentence of 1 to 5 years, by unifying the two crimes, they left it in one penalty from 1 to 4 years because punishing what was previously abuse with five years was thought to be a disproportionate penalty. That’s why it dropped in a year.
Q. And there is the heart of the error?
R. The heart of the reform that we are proposing now is to adjust the penalties according to their seriousness, maintaining the same model as that of consent, because the articles that refer to consent and the unified model of crimes are not touched. Because what has happened, which has been very serious, is that the penalties have been lowered, in minimum sections but also in maximum sections. And the aggravating factors are applied to those sections, which pivot on those limits. When a penalty is moved, you have to go see the entire Penal Code to also see how the aggravating circumstances are applied in the mitigating circumstances. And what has been seen is that they can be generated with the system that there are now very significant reductions in penalties. And that cannot happen in crimes as serious as those that violate the sexual freedom of people, mostly women, boys and girls.
Q. You have said that it is easy to demonstrate with a wound that there was violence and then consent will not have to be proven. Podemos says that his words prove him right, that now everything will revolve around whether there was violence or not.
R. No, because article 178.1 remains intact, which says that consent must be explicit. Consent cannot be presumed. The judge cannot presume on the silence of the victim that there was consent. And on the other hand, in the second paragraph what is included is that in any case there is sexual assault when there is violence, intimidation or annulment of the will of the victim. In these cases, it is not necessary to prove non-consent and that is a great novelty, which no longer falls on the victim.
Q. But you say that it is easy to prove violence, that it is enough with a wound. They have responded harshly. Minister Ione Belarra says that if it is so simple why in 2021, out of 4,000 sentences, only 500 women were able to prove it. Are you giving them the reason and the reform is going to revolve around violence?
R. No no. What I am saying is that the reform revolves around consent. And that is not touched. We are saying the same thing. The reform is done because there is a problem with penalties. We have put together a technically viable, rigorous, studied solution, with experts of different profiles so that the victims feel safe and know that this will not happen again.
Q. Sorry, but you are not saying the same thing, minister. They say, and appeal to the phrase from her wound, that now everything is going to revolve around violence and that changes the spirit of the law.
R. Let’s see, in all procedures, in all trials, it is always necessary to prove the elements that concur in the crimes, because it is a rule of law and because there is a basic principle that is the presumption of innocence. But it is that in these crimes there is an exception, that there is not in other crimes, which is that when there is violence or intimidation there is never consent. And because? Because article 178.2 says so because it is contemplated in the law del is yes, and that is the extraordinary novelty of this law and that is not touched.
Q. And if there are no traces of violence, no wounds? Does anything change now?
R. Not at all, nothing changes. Introducing an element of gravity so that the sentence is more serious, such as violence, intimidation or the annulment of the will, chemical submission, does not change the consent formula at all. It has nothing to do with it.
Q. Why couldn’t it be done, as Podemos proposes, without linking the increase in penalties to violence?
R. Because technically it’s not feasible. Because it is necessary to say why from a penalty of four we went up to five. Well, because there is something more serious. The proposal made by the Ministry of Equality was to include it as an aggravating factor in article 180. If it is included as an aggravating factor in article 180, the penalty would go from two to eight years in prison instead of one to five. That is, it is very disproportionate.
Q. In Spain, sexual crimes have higher sentences than other countries. Does raising the sentences protect women more?
R. We are talking about crimes against sexual freedom, which are very serious crimes. We have seen a very serious problem that has sometimes altered the lives of the victims, because some aggressors have been released from prison. There have been women who have had to change their residence, their schedules, their work. Well, obviously the decision that this government has taken is to increase the penalties.
Q. What other problems have you detected?
R. We have seen that there was some mismatch when minors are victims, it was important that the mitigating measures not be applied to cases in which the acts had been committed with violence and intimidation. With recidivism, the sentences had been reduced by approximately a year and a half. When we talk about minors and repeat offenders, it is extremely serious, no one understands that in these cases there could be a reduction in sentences.
Q. After listening to her all this time, it seems clear that she thinks the law is wrong.
R. Well, what we have detected is that with the revisions the penalties have been lowered and that has caused a lot of pain in the victims. There has been no social acceptance of this reduction in sentences. Logically, in the face of this suffering we have put a stop to it. From now on we hope this doesn’t happen again. Our proposal is common sense. The debate must not be blurred, consent is not touched.
Q. Who are they going to get this reform with?
R. Well, that already depends on the parliamentary groups. I am hopeful that the political forces represented in the Government can reach an agreement and also the rest of the parliamentary groups that have also requested that there be a reform of the law.
Q. At the moment, they only have the support of the PP. How is it possible that your reform of 178 is exactly the same as that of the PP? Who copied whom?
R. We presented this proposal in December to the Ministry of Equality. What surprises me is that the PP is now so determined to present this reform when the PP did not vote for the law. When there has been progress in the rights of women, in equality, or has voted against or even appealed to the Constitutional Court.
Q. And what image would it give then if they manage to get this reform out only with the PP?
R. Well, it is that we hope that this reform is carried out with all the partners of the Government.
Q. Do you think that the wear and tear caused by this law can cause the Government to lose the elections?
R. What you have to focus on is solving the problems. And in this case we had a very serious problem, which was that sentences were being lowered for repugnant crimes against sexual freedom and that in some cases they were being released from prison before fully serving their sentences. And we have to stop this. And this is what one has to do, beyond thinking about any other type of purpose. At least that’s how I conceive of public service.
Q. What has gone wrong for something like this to slip through?
R. We are not in the scene of finding guilty. But we have to learn lessons from everything. I believe that we have not failed, that now what we have done has been to act as quickly as possible to prevent this undesirable situation from continuing.
Q. What lesson do you draw from all this?
R. Obviously, when touching the Penal Code we must take into account all the consequences that a reform can have. That is why I say now that I believe that we have not failed. But we are not infallible, nobody is, there can always be an error, a failure. The important thing is that when the undesired situation is detected, as it has been in this case, action is taken in the most serious and rigorous way possible.
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