AFTER months of political pressure, the governing Socialist Party (PSOE) has announced that it will present changes to the new ‘only yes means yes’ law.
The legislation, which came into force in October, was aimed at putting the focus on consent in sexual assault cases, but has had the unintended consequence of reducing the sentences of some 400 convicted sex offenders and even seeing early release for 30 or so.
Speaking on Tuesday in the Congress of Deputies to fellow Socialist Party lawmakers, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said that the law – whose full name is the ‘Full Guarantee of Sexual Freedom Act’ – had become ‘a problem’.
The law was drafted by the Equality Ministry, which is in the hands of the junior partner in the coalition government, leftist Unidas Podemos.
Initially, Sánchez defended the legislation when the trickle of sentence reductions and early releases began, but today he said it had ‘become clear that several months after it came into force, the law has had some undesired effects in its application’.
The PSOE has stated that it wants to keep consent at the heart of the legislation but to fix the part that has led to lighter jail terms fo sex offenders.
‘No one,’ said Sánchez about the drafting of the law, ‘had as their objective for any offender to have their sentence reduced.’
Under the new law, consent must be granted 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.
Problems arose due to the change in definition of offences, and their associated minimum and maximum prison sentences in the case of a conviction.
Minimum sentences were lowered, in general, in the absence of aggravating circumstances. The changes led to a flood of requests by lawyers in the courts for their clients’ sentences to be reviewed. Under Spanish law, a lower sentence can be applied retroactively.
‘Violent robbery or with intimidation is punished with two to five years in prison while sexual assault with violence and intimidation gets one to four years,’ Justice Minister Pilar Llop told the Cadena SER radio network. ‘Since when has property had more value than the sexual freedom of a person? We have to correct this,’ she added.
Unidas Podemos, meanwhile, is unhappy about the changes and believes that they will be a step backward. The party’s spokesperson in Congress, Pablo Echenique, wrote on Twitter that Minister Llop ‘has confirmed it herself: they want to return to the former criminal code, the “did you close your legs?” one.”
The coalition government lacks a working majority in Congress and needs the support of other parties to pass legislation. Unidas Podemos has already made clear it will not back the change proposed by the PSOE, and nor will other groups that usually support the government.
The main opposition Popular Party (PP), however, has said it will back the changes, meaning they have a chance of prospering.
The PSOE will be looking to limit the damage that the sentence reductions and releases have done, given that May will see local and regional elections, while a general election is due to take place toward the end of 2023.
Explainer: why spain’s ‘only yes means yes’ consent law is seeing convicted sex abusers freed from jail
Explainer: what spain’s new ‘only yes means yes’ law means for rape victims in spain