New child abuse bill approved for Senate review

by Deborah Cater
James Rhodes, British pianist and campaigner for child abuse law reform
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MADRID – A new bill enables survivors of child abuse to report the violation for up to fifteen years after turning thirty-five. British pianist James Rhodes was behind the campaign to change the law.

The bill, which will now go to the Spanish Senate, allows survivors to report abuse for up to 15 years after turning 35. At the moment, the clock starts running when they turn 18.

The vote followed a public campaign headed by British pianist and Spanish resident James Rhodes and a number of charities.

James Rhodes, survivor of abuse, drives reform in Spain

The musician described the law as “fantastic”. He spoke out about having been raped by a teacher while at school in the UK. He told Spanish news channel RTVE, “This law is an enormous step – not just for Spain, but for the world.”

Limits on reporting sexual assault vary from country to country. In the UK, for example, no statute of limitations exists for serious crimes. However, that is not currently the case in Spain.

Campaigners argued child abuse cases rarely go to court in Spain as victims may take years before they are ready to discuss their experiences.

“I was about 35 before I was able to speak about my experience because there’s so much shame and blame with issues like this,” Mr Rhodes noted in his interview with RTVE.

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Comprehensive reform of law

The bill is comprehensive ranging from child protection in families, online, in school and health care.

Parliament’s lower house passed the bill Thursday last week with more than 200 amendments.

Minister of Social Rights Ione Belarra said the law “must continue to be improved” when debated in Spain’s upper house. “The objective of the law we are passing today is to understand that violence against children is not acceptable in any form,” she said.

As well as extending the period during which abuse can be reported, the bill will create special courts for cases of violence against children. In addition, courts will minimise the number of times children testify, in order to the trauma of reliving the experience.

Cristina Sanjuan, policy and advocacy advisor on violence against children for Save the Children Spain told the BBC: “We know that usually a child who suffers violence has to repeat their testimony on average three times and the judicial process can take up to five years.” 

The law should be passed in early June.

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