Right and far-right Spanish politicians have used the controversy surrounding Spain’s new “only yes means yes” consent law to launch bitterly sexist and personal attacks on Irene Montero, the Podemos MP and equality minister who championed the legislation.
The law, introduced by Spain’s Socialist-led coalition government after the fury and revulsion that followed the so-called “wolfpack” gang-rape in Pamplona six years ago, made sexual consent a key factor in sexual assault cases.
But it also revised the scope of potential minimum and maximum prison sentences, inadvertently allowing some convicted sex offenders to have their sentence reduced on appeal.
Montero has defended the legislation, and angered many in the judiciary last week by suggesting that some judges were not upholding the law because of their ingrained sexism.
Opposition parties have accused the government of bringing in a flawed and ill-considered law that does little to serve justice, or the victims of sexual assaults. They have also stepped up their personal attacks on Montero, whose partner is the former Podemos leader and deputy prime minister, Pablo Iglesias, with whom she has three children.
On Tuesday, Carmen Herrarte, a city councillor for the centre-right Citizens party, accused the Spanish left of “devoting themselves to allowing rapists back on the streets” and said Montero “has got where she is because of being impregnated by an alpha male”.
Edmundo Bal, Citizens’ spokesperson in congress, later distanced the party from Herrarte’s remarks, calling them “absolutely disgraceful” and urging respect between political opponents.
The next day, the far-right Vox party, which has been beset by internal divisions and declining poll numbers, revisited the theme. One of the party’s MPs, Carla Toscano, called Montero a “liberator of rapists” and lamented the minister’s characterisation of judges.
“You have to have quite a brass neck to insult professionals who’ve spent years of their lives studying law, when the only thing you’ve managed is a thorough study of Pablo Iglesias,” she said, to the delight of Vox colleagues.
However, her comments met a robust response from Montero, who called them “political violence” and asked that they be included in the parliamentary record. “I want everyone to remember the political violence, and those who employ it, so that everyone can see that feminists and democrats outnumber them and that we will use more rights to put this gang of fascists in their place,” she said.
Although anger and insults are hardly rare in Spain’s parliament, fellow politicians swiftly condemned the markedly sexist and personal nature of the attacks on Montero. Ione Belarra, the leader of Podemos, said Montero was “an example” and was making history, while Spain’s socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, offered the minister his full support and described Wednesday’s parliamentary scenes as “the worst of politics; a politics of insults and sexism”.
The conservative People’s party (PP), which is seeking to reclaim the political centre-ground under the more moderate leadership of Alberto Núñez Feijóo, also expressed its distaste.
“Montero needs to take political responsibility for a law that is having disastrous effects – effects we warned her about – but no one has the right to insult her or get into her personal life,” said the PP’s spokesperson, Cuca Gamarra. “You don’t get into her life or anyone’s. Respect is essential in politics.”
Such respect, however, has not always been evident on either side of the political divide.
Feijóo’s predecessor, Pablo Casado, once stood in the chamber and accused Sánchez of being a traitor, a squatter, a villain, a catastrophe and a compulsive liar, while Iglesias made little effort to mask his feelings for Vox, suggesting they lacked the courage to perpetrate the coup they fervently desired, adding: “You’re not even fascists – you’re just parasites.”
Vox, meanwhile, has previously compared Sánchez to Hitler and said the coalition government was seeking to overturn democratic normality and replace it with “a totalitarian one based on uncertainty that has brought Spain nothing but more death, more ruin, more unemployment and less freedom”.