Why this story matters:
More than “no means no,” this change could build awareness that “only yes means yes.” In the midst of the heated social debate on sexual assault, the Spanish government has proposed a legal reform to make it clear that in sexual relations “if a woman does not expressly say yes, that means no.”
The proposal from the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez opens an important debate that was stirred after five men were sentenced to sexual abuse but not assault in the gang rape trial known as La Manada (the wolf pack), named after the men’s WhatsApp group. The sentence given to the men, who were accused of gang raping an 18-year-old woman at the 2016 edition of the Running of the Bulls, sparked a wave of mass protests that continue till this day and have led to important debates on what defines consent.
The debates have not just been political and the proposals have not just been about reforming Spain’s criminal code. There has also been growing awareness that to end gender violence and sexism in Spanish society, gender equality programs need to be included in school curriculums. There also needs to be tougher punishments for all offenders. And greater support for the women who report offenses.
Sánchez’s proposal has received a lukewarm response from legal experts, who defend the current legislation. They argue that the criminal code makes it clear that any sexual relation without a consent is a crime, but the Spanish government believes this is not enough.
Details from the story:
- The Spanish criminal code already considers that relations without consent are a sexual crime. But the law differentiates between sexual assault -- a crime where there is violence and intimidation which is subject to up to 15 years in prison -- and sexual abuse -- where there is no intimidation or violence and offenders can be sentenced to up to 12 years.
- The Spanish government wants to widen the legislation to include expressed consent.
- Spain’s deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, proposed the change to the country’s criminal code so that rulings in sexual assault cases are not left open to a judge's interpretation.
- Consent is at the center of sexual assault laws in countries like Sweden, Germany and the United Kingdom. It is included in the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, which was ratified by Spain in 2014.
- The government announced that it would create a group of “feminist” legal experts to study the legal reform.
- The political party Podemos has also proposed in Congress that a specific and aggravated crime be created for gang rape.