11th December 2023
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Spanish government seeks to close loophole in sexual consent law

The Spanish government pledged on Tuesday to amend a new sexual consent law that was passed in August last year, since it has since allowed hundreds of sex offenders to get their prison sentences significantly reduced, despite the law’s main intention being to increase the protection of women. ALSO READ: Spanish minister accuses judges of ‘machismo’ after loophole in Spain’s new rape law used to reduce sentences.

The law, known as ‘Only Yes is Yes‘, made verbal consent the key issue in cases of alleged sexual assault. At the same time, however, it revised the minimum and maximum prison terms for sexual assault convictions, a move that led to many judges reducing the sentences of convicted rapists and abusers on appeal by months and even years.

For the first time since the law entered into force, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez publicly spoke about a correction to the text.

‘The Law on Sexual Freedom has had an unwanted consequence, the reduction of sentences in some cases. This is a technical question that does not reflect the will of the Executive,’ he told the Senate house on Tuesday. ‘And those unwanted effects, of course, we are going to correct them.’

Since the law was passed, over 300 convicted sex offenders have had their sentences reduced and at least 20 who had been near the end of their sentences have been released from prison.

That has led to an outcry by women’s groups and criticism from the general public, putting pressure on the coalition government to act.

Changing the law, however, could produce tensions during an election year between Sánchez’ ruling PSOE socialists and their junior coalition partner, the Podemos group.

Equality Minister Irene Montero, who championed the sexual consent law, said negotiations are on-going among coalition members to reform it.

‘I am not going to hide from you that we have a discrepancy about the consent, we are going to continue working so that there is an agreement,’ said Montero, who is one of four ministers in the cabinet from Podemos.

She has blamed judges for misinterpreting the law due to what she considers endemic sexism and ‘machismo’ in the courts. Spain’s judiciary, along with politicians from various parties, has responded that the law was poorly crafted.

Minister and Cabinet spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez referred to technical adjustments in a press briefing on Tuesday but refused to give more details on how to match the interests of both coalition partners.

‘It’s obvious there is concern, there is a social alarm,’ she said. ‘We need to be aware of the feelings of victims … therefore, we understand that today the best possible way to defend the ‘only yes is yes’ law is to carry out the necessary technical adjustments.’

The law had been voted by 205 of the 350 parliament members in August, after a nearly two-year-long process of drafting.

‘I am convinced that … none of the people that took part in the drafting process wanted the undesired effects that … have generated a social concern shared by the government,’ Spain’s Minister of the Presidency Felix Bolaños also said on Tuesday.

ALSO READ: Spanish government secures its ‘Only Yes is Yes’ sexual consent law.

Isabel Rodríguez, Spanish government spokeswoman, after the cabinet meeting on 31 January 2023. (Pool Moncloa / Borja Puig de la Bellacasa)

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