29th November 2023
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Spain approves draft bill on sexual consent – the ‘Only Yes Means Yes’ law

The Spanish government has approved a new draft bill regarding sexual consent this week, that is aimed at eradicating sexual violence and harassment against women.

The cabinet approved the referral to parliament on Tuesday, paving the way for a formal vote of the ‘Draft Organic Law on the Comprehensive Guarantee of Sexual Freedom’ later this year.

The government has stressed its commitment to expanding the rights of women and allowing more effective equality between men and women, a framework that is establishing Spain as world leaders in its actions to protect women and children.

The proposed legislation has been referred to as the ‘Only Yes Means Yes’ law, and essentially removes the need for victims to prove they resisted or were subjected to violence. It also proposes to categorise any non-consensual sex as an act of aggression, with punishments that include prison terms of up to 15 years.

Speaking about the proposed changes in law, government spokeswoman María Jesús Montero said that it was an important step in the right direction to enhance the protection of women, and which ‘makes us, without doubt, better as a society’.

She went on to explain that ‘we have to transform our sexual culture, placing women’s consent at the centre of how we see things’.

Existing laws do not clearly define consent, and instead establish the existence of rape by reference to proof of violence or intimidation.

Under the new proposed law, there is no specific definition of consent, but reference to ‘consent will only be understood to exist when it has been freely manifested through acts clearly expressing the individual’s will, considering the circumstances of the case’. It is this description that has led to the proposed legislation being termed the ‘only yes means yes’ law.

Women protest
‘No is no’ – an image captured during a demonstration in Valencia in June 2018, following the original verdict in the ‘wolf pack’ case. (Jose Jordan / AFP)

Montero was clear about the intentions of the new law, saying ‘any sexual conduct without consent will be considered sexual assault’.

The legislation will also allow for the establishment of a framework of crisis centres across the country, open 24 hours a day throughout the year to support victims.

Along with establishing support and care for victims, the legislation will also regulate all aspects of sexual violence, including investigation, education, training, prevention, access to justice and right to reparation.

There is also consideration, within the new laws, of digital sexual violence, genital mutilation, forced marriages and trafficking of women.

There have been increasing calls for the updated legislation, following recent controversial court decisions on sex crimes, including the sentencing in 2018 of five men accused of a sexually violent act during the 2016 bull-running festival in Pamplona, which became known as the ‘wolf pack’ case.

Initially, the men were sentenced to nine years for the lesser crime of sexual abuse, causing protestors at the time to decry the decision, saying ‘it’s not abuse, it’s rape’. The Supreme Court later increased the men’s sentences to 15 years.

The proposed tougher laws around sexual consent is expected to be formally approved in Parliament in September.

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