Spain to Allow Rape Survivors to Track Released Offenders
Spain’s Ministry of Equality has introduced a system where rape survivors can now demand their offenders wear trackers once released from prison. This follows an unintended consequence of legislation passed last year, that led to 133 convicted sex criminals having their sentences reduced. The ‘Solo sí es sí’ law (‘only yes is yes’) expanded defining ‘sexual assault’ to include “sexual violations committed without violence or coercion”, yet under Spanish legislature, prisoners must receive the “most favorable” version of the law, including sentence revision.
In response to the sudden release of hundreds of offenders, Equality Minister Irene Montero blamed the commuting of sentences on “sexist” judges “applying the law wrongly”, and consequently announced that courts around the country would accept requests for former convicts to be tracked via an electronic band around their ankle or wrist. The GPS band is linked to a device held by the victim alerting any breach of an exclusion zone of minimum 500 meters, and also to a control center run by Spanish security forces which monitors all devices. In the case of such a breach, a police patrol car will be dispatched immediately to the victim’s location.
This GPS tracking is based on a pre-existing system established in 2009 to protect women against domestic violence. The various Centro(s) Dona 24 Horas (‘24 hour women’s centers’), which maintained surveillance of about 450 tags at the time, reportedly received up to 1,200 alerts every month. For the women whose attackers roam free, the trackers provide a mixture of relief and anxiety. Maria Dolores, who was given a tracker in early 2010, told The Guardian that “nothing in the world would separate [her] from her GPS protector.”
This approach to sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV) is a key debate between feminists. On the one hand, there is the debate that harsher prison sentences help deal with GBV – anti-carceral feminists argue, however, that mass incarceration disproportionately affects women, gender non-conforming and transgender people of color, and moreover doesn’t center survivors’ needs. For proponents of ‘carceral feminism’, writes Anna Terwiel, cooperating with and relying on “policing, prosecution, and imprisonment” is a necessary evil in ensuring strident punishments and to resolve GBV. The danger in maintaining this carceral/non carceral binary is its oversimplification and dismissal of “informal, community-based justice efforts”—a spectrum of decarceration is needed instead.
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For abolitionist feminists, a heavy reliance on the state-established systems has led to “most marginalized women [unable] to leave abusive relationships and more vulnerable to criminalization”, as many pre-existing laws on GBV have been used instead to incarcerate women reacting to their abusers. Relying on these punitive measures within an inherent racist, sexist, and classist system enable laws that disproportionately affect people of color.
The expanded Spanish sex offender laws and tracking is an example of state-supported surveillance. It is a band aid struggling to seal a much bigger and deeper wound—societal attitudes towards gender-based violence and intimate partner violence (IPV) need to be addressed first at the community and family levels. For the women who have requested and received this tracking, there is, of course, relief over their safety—yet, it is a safety steeped in constant paranoia and anxiety, never knowing when the alarm would ring and threaten their security. Maria Dolores had a panic attack the first time she heard the tracker go off—a trigger for the near death experience that led to her husband’s arrest.
In India, the tension between carceral and anti-carceral feminism is complicated. According to NCRB’s 2021 report, rape is the “fourth leading crime against women.” But a low conviction rate for sexual assault and rape exacerbates the issue, wherein accused individuals have attacked survivors or their families for complaining. This was the case in 2019, when a rape survivor from Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, was critically injured along with her family members – with reports suggesting it was a move by the accused to prevent them from pursuing the case. In 2022, a man accused of rape in Madhya Pradesh allegedly raped the accuser again when he was released on bail.
Further, many technological interventions oriented toward women’s safety have been directed toward women themselves – tracking devices claim to help loved ones track a woman’s whereabouts, and policymakers often rely on installing more CCTV camera surveillance across public spaces in a bid to monitor GBV. In light of this, the Spanish intervention then subverts this idea by allowing survivors to track perpetrators too – even if they’re also tracked by the state. Albeit designed with good intentions, these inventions represent short-term risk management at best— but ultimately avoid the root causes of gender-based violence.