Sex crimes soar by 36% in Barcelona

Catalan police develop a pilot plan to prevent this kind of violence and improve police intelligence

3 min
A woman strolling along a Barcelona street at night in an archive image.

BarcelonaPartial recovery of normality during 2021 has left behind the record low crime of 2020, with the strictest lockdown in force. In the last year, crimes have grown by 10% in Barcelona compared to 2020, but still remain far from 2019, when there was talk of a "security crisis": 35% less have been recorded. Most crimes have risen compared to the first year of covid and sex crimes have increased the most proportionally. Last year, 790 sex crimes were reported in the city, while in 2020 the number was 579. Overall, these types of crimes have soared by 36%. They are also among the few that have even grown compared to 2019 with an increase of 13%.

But the head of the Catalan police fore in Barcelona, Superintendent Marta Fernández, specifies that not all sexual crimes reported in 2021 were committed in the last year. The data in the police balance sheets refer to the time when the complaint was filed but not when the crime was committed. This, in sexual violence, causes a distortion, since 48 of the 790 crimes reported last year did not happen in 2021. On the other hand, despite the fact that 2019 records include 695 sex crimes, the Catalan police fore –known as the Mossos– explain that once they add crimes reported in following years the numbers soars to 802. Fernández attributes this lag to "fear or shame" or to the fact that they might be continuous crimes that are reported at the end. With lockdown, fewer victims reported the crimes and were sometimes forced to stay at home with their aggressor.

Even so, Fernández relativises this distortion because a lot of sexual violence goes unreported: it is estimated that between 80% and 90% of the cases are not taken to the police. "We have to worry about the phenomenon itself, not its rise or fall," he warns. Thirty percent of sexual crimes last year in Barcelona were committed by current or former partners and another important part happened at night. Nightclubs were closed for most of the time but the commissioner explains that sexual violence took in place instead in illegal street parties known as botellones and at parties in homes, where the aggressor and the victim coincide and the crime is committed inside a house.

To try to further prevent this violence, as advanced a week ago by Mossos Chief Constable Josep Maria Estela, the police are promoting a pilot plan in Barcelona that they want to extend to all of Catalonia. According to Fernández, officers will offer training in schools, give talks in nightclubs and both uniformed and plainclothes officers will patrol in areas of the city where people gather. The commissioner says that it is necessary to focus on the origin of sexual crimes and to put the focus on the "potential perpetrators". The plan also aims to improve police intelligence on this violence because Fernández admits that "there is a lack of information". The Mossos have seen that 10% of the victims last year had suffered chemical submission: their drinks had been spiked.

The general director of the Mossos, Pere Ferrer, defends that police intelligence recruits several areas, such as health centres, to define strategies to reduce sexual crimes and to have "a broader vision".

Batlle hurries the State

This balance was made this Friday during the Local Security Board of Barcelona, where the deputy mayor for Security, Albert Batlle, has urgently asked the Spanish government to reform the Penal Code to toughen penalties against multi-recidivist thieves: "We do not understand this delay." Batlle believes that doing so would "take a lot of people off the street" who commit thefts and also muggings which, he says, affect the perception of security in the city. In the last year, 213 multi-recidivists were arrested on 997 occasions.

The head of Barcelona local police, senior quartermaster Pedro Velázquez, also explained that in 2021 they received more than 42,000 calls to complain about noise, twice as many as before covid, mostly over house parties. In addition, in all of last year, the officers cleared more than half a million people – 551,000 – from public spaces, as they were taking part in botellones