From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Tue Jun 6 06:51:00 2000
Date: Sun, 4 Jun 2000 21:53:52 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: RIGHTS-SPAIN: Courts Go Easy on Abusers of Women
Article: 97606
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Courts Go Easy on Abusers of Women

By Alicia Fraerman, InterPress Service, 2 June 2000

MADRID, Jun 2 (IPS)—A judge in the northwestern Spanish province of Galicia let a convicted rapist off with a reduced sentence Friday because he had offered his victim a glass of water, in the latest of a series of legal decisions in which men found guilty of abusing women have been let off lightly.

The judge in Galicia found Francisco Garriga Villanueva guilty of raping his girlfriend's 19-year-old daughter while her mother was out.

Garriga Villanueva entered the women's home wearing a hood, dragged the young woman from her hiding-place under the bed, gagged her, bound her feet and hands and, threatening her with a knife, forced her to submit to vaginal and oral penetration.

But the judge cut the 15-year sentence sought by the prosecution in half, citing as “mitigating circumstances” the fact that the rapist removed the gag and offered his victim a glass of water when she started retching after being forced to have oral sex.

A similar case occurred in the northeastern coastal city of Barcelona, where a judge cut in half the sentence of a man who raped his wife twice in the same day, considering the man's alcoholism a “mitigating circumstance.”

Women's groups cite a long list of sentences that have gone easy on men who abuse women, such as a decision handed down in November 1999, when a rapist was absolved because he did not completely remove his victim's pants.

In that case, a judge in the northern city of Oviedo found the defendant guilty of rape. But he argued that since the aggressor did not pull his victim's pants down below her ankles, he was unable to “ejaculate or to even try to ejaculate.”

In October, 1999, an appeals court in the southern province of Cordoba pardoned a father found guilty of raping his son, arguing the need to preserve family unity.

Around that same time, a court in the northeastern province of Zaragoza found a father guilty of repeatedly raping his 13-year-old son and six-year-old daughter. However, the defendant was merely fined 500,000 pesetas (around 2,800 dollars).

The judge downplayed the expert testimony demonstrating that the little girl had attempted to inflict bodily injury on herself and that she needed psychological assistance, because it came from “psychologists rather than psychiatrists.”

Concern about sentences letting aggressors off easily has even been voiced by Prime Minister Josť Maria Aznar, of the centre-right Popular Party, who has referred to violence against women as one of the most shocking aspects of Spanish society.

Back in November, Aznar criticised the fact that victims of domestic violence “do not always have the justice system as their ally, in this all-out struggle against irrationality.”

But Montserrat Comas, with the progressive organisation Judges for Democracy, warned against generalisations, arguing that most sentences handed down were stiff.

She took aim, instead, at legislators, stressing that “laws must be clear and precise, in order to reduce the margin for interpretation by judges.

“In Spain, crimes against property are punished more severely than those committed against the freedom of persons,” she added, arguing the need for reforming laws on violence against women.

A report by the Andalucian Women's Institute cited by the press Friday stated that in the southern region of Andalucia, abuse against women was not considered a criminal offence, but a misdemeanor which entails merely a fine or a maximum sentence of 20 days in jail.

But it is not only the courts that interpret the law to the detriment of women. On Wednesday, a public hospital refused medical assistance to a victim of rape until she filed a formal complaint.

The victim, who initially reported to a police station to file charges, was taken to the hospital by ambulance after she started hemorrhaging and passed out.

But when she failed to produce a copy of the complaint—which she had been unable to complete before she fainted—the victim was denied medical attention. She was forced to return to the police station and complete the formal complaint before returning to the hospital, where she was finally attended.