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U.S. Security Warning Issued for Travelers to Spain

As sexual assault cases rise throughout Spain, the U.S. warns visitors of the country to take extra precautions.

Editor’s Note: This story contains a description of a sexual assault and could be triggering for some.

Releasing a statement on Monday, February 3, the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Spain and Andorra put out a security alert regarding sexual assault in Spain. According to the alert, “The Spanish Ministry of Interior report[ed] a steady increase in the number of sexual assaults nationally over the past five years.” The alert specifically drew focus to young American tourists and students, where the number of reported sexual assault cases has similarly increased.

The Embassy advised U.S. citizens currently in the country and those planning a visit to “drink responsibly,” keeping beverages in hand or in sight, implement the “buddy system,” and learn the basics of Spain’s legal system. The Embassy additionally provided emergency numbers to be contacted in the case of an assault.

While the security alert did not include statistics on the rate of sexual assault in Spain, those found on the World Population Review indicate that, of the 46.7 million residents of Spain, there were 1,578 reported cases of sexual assault in 2019. This is a rate of 3.4, a number surprisingly lower than other European nations. According to that same report, France saw a rate of 16.2, Ireland 10.7, and Germany 9.4. Despite sexual assault posing a larger risk in these heavily touristed countries (France remains the most visited country in the world), there have been no Embassy-released security alerts for these nations this year, which makes us ask: Why Spain?

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The answer may lie in the law.

According to the U.S. (which has a sexual assault rate of 27.3) Department of Justice, sexual assault describes, “any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks capacity to consent.” France, where we see a high rate of sexual assault in Europe, defines it as an act, “of any nature whatsoever, committed against another person by violence, constraint, threat or surprise.”

Both of these country’s definitions are relatively broad, encompassing nearly all nonconsensual sexual encounters. Spain, in contrast, only defines it as an instance of sexual assault if violence or intimidation is used.

In the instance of a 14-year old girl who was gang-raped by five men, a Barcelona court convicted the men last year of the lesser crime of sexual abuse because the girl was unconscious and they determined that violence and intimidation were not used. Spain’s definition allows rapists to receive lesser sentences (sometimes only half of what they would receive for a sexual assault conviction) and places victims in a tough position of providing evidence of violence or intimidation.

While the U.S. Embassy’s new security alert warns of an increase in sexual assaults, perhaps what they could additionally warn is how Spain handles cases of sexual assault. In telling U.S. visitors to watch their drinks, they should follow their warning with the fact that, if someone tampers with a drink and leaves the victim unconscious or in an impaired state, the victim will not be able to file a sexual assault claim, only abuse.