30 Jan, 2023 @ 17:15
2 mins read

Spain’s Socialist Party commits to changing controversial ‘only yes means yes’ consent law

Irene Montero

THE SPANISH government confirmed at the weekend that it will seek to make changes to its controversial ‘only yes means yes’ consent law. 

The legislation, which came into force in early October, is designed to put consent at the centre of sexual abuse cases, but has had the unintended consequence of allowing convicted sex offenders to reduce their sentences in some cases, or even secure early release from prison. 

The law was drafted by the Equality Ministry, which is run by the junior partner in the coalition government, the leftist Unidas Podemos party, and headed up by minister Irene Montero. 

It is the senior partner, the Socialist Party (PSOE), that is seeking to make these changes given the political pressure that has been piling up from the opposition over the 300 or so sentence reductions that have been granted under the law. 

Some 20 sex offenders have secured early release thanks to the law

The PSOE has announced that it will present a legislative proposal in the lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies, in order to make these changes but it will not touch the articles referring to consent. 

‘We cannot go back to a situation in trials with sexual assaults where women are asked if they resisted sufficiently or how they were dressed,’ said the minister for the presidency, Felix Bolaños, on Monday. 

Unidas Podemos is reported to be unhappy with the plan, and Podemos spokesperson Isa Serra on Monday claimed that the problem lies not with the law but rather the way that judges have been interpreting it. 

The Equality Ministry has also lamented the fact that the PSOE’s plan is the same as that proposed by the main opposition Popular Party (PP) to remedy the situation. 

The ‘Full Guarantee of Sexual Freedom Act’ was drawn up by the ministry in the wake of the infamous rape case at the 2016 Running of the Bulls fiesta in Pamplona. 

Deciding factor

Under the new law, consent must be given and cannot be assumed to have been given either by default or with silence. The legislation also removes the distinction between sexual abuse and sexual assault – i.e. rape – by making consent the deciding factor.

The problems have arisen due to the change in definition of offences, and their associated minimum and maximum prison sentences in the case of a conviction. 

Minimum sentences have been lowered, in general, in the absence of aggravating circumstances. 

The changes have led to a flood of requests by lawyers in the courts for their clients’ sentences to be reviewed. 

Under Spanish law, any change to the minimum sentence for an offence can be applied retroactively, and judges usually rule in favour of the convict in such cases. 

That means that where the minimum sentence for a sexual offence has been reduced, a person serving time for the same offence can expect to spend fewer years in prison or even be released on time served.

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Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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