"Only yes means yes": Parliament votes on law clarifying consent

The bill reaches the Spanish lower house and leaves the debate on prostitution for later, but prohibits advertising it

3 min
A demonstrator makes the feminist symbol with her hands in front of Congress during a protest against the Mandada ruling.

MadridVila-real or Burjassot are the most recent additions to the long list of towns and cities where girls and young women have been victims of gang rape. These cases coincide, however, with a vote in parliament on the bill written as a result of the gang rape in Pamplona in 2016 and the resulting mass demonstrations with the slogans "Sister, I do believe you" and "Only yes means yes". The bill's main objective is to address the problem of sexual violence.

The difference between abuso sexual (no consent but no intimidation or violence) and agresión sexual (no consent and intimidation or violence are used) has been eliminated, and the definition of consent is modified. The sexual freedom bill, also known as "only yes means yes" will be voted on today. If there are no surprises, the law will be backed by sovereigntist groups and also Ciudadanos. These are the main changes to a law which, finally, will not include the criminalisation of prostitution.

Definition of consent

One of the main changes involves the modification of the Penal Code so that express consent is key when judging sexual crimes. Thus, the law opens the door to a new model: if until now the victim was required to prove that she refused and resisted, from now on affirmative consent will be required. This is why the text is known as the law of the "only yes means yes". "It will only be understood that there is consent when it has been freely expressed through acts that, in view of the circumstances of the case, clearly express the person's will," the draft, to which ARA has had access, states.

With this change the difference between abuso sexual and agresión sexual is also erased. From now on, any attack on sexual freedom, if proven as such, will be considered sexual assault. Sexual assault is defined as "any act that violates the sexual freedom of another person without their consent", and it will be considered rape when there is "carnal access by vaginal, anal or oral means, or the introduction of bodily members or objects by any of the first two means".

In addition, the text includes new aggravating factors such as group assaults, the fact of being a partner or relative of the victim or use of chemical substances to annul the victim's will.

After some amendments presented this Wednesday, people prosecuted for a crime related to sexual freedom will be obliged to undergo training programs on sex education and education in equality, sources from the Ministry of Equality have explained to ARA. The aim is to add a "responsibilising rather than punitive" approach to the norm, the same sources explain.

In addition, in the case of crimes against sexual freedom or crimes related to gender violence, the conciliation measure between victims and those responsible for the crime will be conditioned to the victim's express requests that conciliation measure. In all other cases, conciliation or mediation will not be available.

Advertisements and use of images

Finally, "advertising that uses gender stereotypes that promote or normalise sexual violence against women, girls, boys and teenagers, as well as that which implies a promotion of prostitution, will be considered illicit," according to the law.

The law will also incorporate sanctions on the use of images of people without their consent for "advertisements or false profiles on social networks, contact pages or any means of public dissemination" and this involves situations "of harassment or humiliation". This point was introduced following a JxCat amendment that establishes prison sentences of between 3 months and one year or fines of between 6 and 12 months.

Prostitution left out

A week ago, however, the law hung by a thread because of the discrepancies between parties around prostitution. Specifically, over the crime that punishes owners of properties where there is a clear situation of sexual exploitation, and non-coercive pimping, two elements aimed at opening the way to the abolition of prostitution. While PSOE and PP proposed make this point tougher through fines for prostitutes, Unidas Podemos and the parties that support the government defended sanctions for pimps but leaving sex workers out of the penalisation.

In the end, neither of the two proposals went through and the entire point was deleted. Thus, the elements related to prostitution have been left aside to be dealt with in other laws. In fact, this was the intention of the coalition government.

The Zerolo law will also get the green light

This Wednesday the law for equal treatment and non-discrimination, known as Zerolo law, will be passed. The legislation, promoted by PSOE, aims to put an end to discrimination based on "birth, racial or ethnic origin, sex, religion, conviction or opinion, age, disability, sexual orientation or identity, gender expression, illness, socioeconomic status or any other personal or social condition or circumstance." In this way, historical discriminations such as anti-Gypsyism or aporophobia are now typified as crimes in the Penal Code.