I can only be grateful

1 Dec 2022 13:33 | ITZIAR ALTUZARRA ALONSO (Administrator)

The first phase of the Oñati International Master's in Sociology of Law had not even finished and we had already begun the second one; my classmates and I had chosen a research topic and were clear about the research questions we would try to answer. Moreover, all of us had already had a chat with our supervisors. It was time to write the final Master Thesis. After one of the craziest, strangest, most exhausting, most intense, most enlightening and most precious experiences of my life, it was time for the final touch; I had more than 3 months to work on the research and writing process, although at that starting point I didn't know it would happen so fast. After accumulating books from the library, downloading potentially useful PDFs almost compulsively, reading less than a quarter of all of them, and getting over the blank page anguish, I began to write my research project that would eventually be called "Problematising sexual consent in Spanish rape law: gender norms and the manifestation of sexual will". In the following I generally explain the topic, the methodology and the main findings of the cited work:

Since the second half of 20th century, feminist legal and socio-legal scholars have revised the relations between the law and women's sexuality. Indeed, prolific feminist endeavours continue to question the potentialities of the law in taking due account of women's claims about sexual violence nowadays. In the current legal and political Spanish context, last October the Ley Orgánica de garantía integral de la libertad sexual entered into force in order to reformulate the crime of rape on the basis of consent. Nonetheless, this legal amendment raises questions about its capacity to respond to the spectrum of patriarchal sexual violence. To what extent is the element of consent in the legal redefinition of rape capable to capture women's sexual will? To address this main issue, I answer the following subquestions: How is sexual consent constructed and represented in the criminal policy discourse underpinning the legal amendment? In which way does the central role of consent shape the criminal justice response to women?

In order to answer these questions my work adopts a feminist methodology, which primarily implies the pretension of a non-androcentric epistemology and the fact that my methodological decisions do not look for abstraction or neutrality, but are made from situated knowledge. Working from a qualitative research informed plan, predictably the research work begins with an exhaustive literature review. In particular, I resort to the argumentation of emblematic feminist authors who have addressed and revolutionised the understanding of women's sexuality and the web of power relations imbued in it, as well as the linkage of all this with the law. This literature informs the elaboration of an empirical analysis that examines the criminal policy discourse around the legal amendment of the Spanish criminal code towards a consent-based rape law. Additionally, feminist poststructuralism informs my empirical analysis. Thus, my concern is to identify assumptions that underpin discursive practices around sexual consent. In line with this, I use Carol Bacchi's What's the Problem Represented to be? approach in order to "disrupt taken-for-granted truths" and I put the focus on what is presumed and unexamined. For this criminal policy analysis my primary sources are the preparatory works underpinning the legal modification, as well as the interventions of the political parties and groupings that took place in the Equality Commission and the Congress of Deputies.

The research work's contribution to socio-legal feminist studies is exposing the patriarchal assumptions upon which the element of sexual consent is currently sustained in the Spanish political and legal context. That is, the project provides theoretical and empirical knowledge base about the potentialities and constrains of this legal element to reflect women's sexual experiences. Moreover, my work shows how this policy contradicts many crucial arguments of the feminist theory in relation to women's lived experiences of sexual violence and rape. Nevertheless, by relying on broader discourses of human rights and international law and repeatedly alluding to the feminist movement, as well as due to the functionality of consent in neoliberal democracy, the legislative process enjoyed high level of acceptance in the country.

Finishing and defending the mentioned work last September was an enormous liberation but also a great emptiness, since it also meant the end of the master's degree that had opened my eyes so much. However, my surprise came a few weeks later, when Susana Arrese announced to me that the prestigious jury composed by Vincenzo Ferrari, Teresa Pincontó Novales and Joxerramon Bengoetxea had decided to award me the Manolo Calvo 2022 prize for my Master's dissertation. This award came at the perfect moment for me; my insecurities have always conditioned me and the prize provided me with a great source of motivation and self-confidence to move forward in my professional path, for which I am very grateful indeed. Additionally, this acknowledgment was even more special due to the fact that it was given in honour of the professor Manolo Calvo, who passed away in 2020 and dedicated a great deal of work and effort to research on violence against women. As those who know me best will know, this is a topic that moves me, angers me and stimulates me as a researcher. Furthermore, despite not having had the opportunity to know Manolo personally, the affection with which his colleagues and friends remember him leaves no doubt about his human quality. If that was not enough, this award gave me the visibility for participating in the conference called Juntas contra las violencias machistas organised by Instituto Aragonés de la Mujer on the occasion of 25N, an experience that I enjoyed enormously and that I am still assimilating.

In short, I can only be grateful to this wonderful community of people, who every year - and every day - show how collaboration between individuals is always a synergistic relationship in which the collective action of two or more components has a greater effect than the sum of their individual parts.

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