Widespread criticism of a Spanish law aimed at clamping down on sexual violence has led the governing Socialist Party to propose changing the legislation, putting it at loggerheads with its coalition partner.
The Guarantee of Sexual Freedom law, more commonly known as the “Only yes means yes law”, came into effect last October. It places greater emphasis on consent in sexual relations and under it, victims of assault no longer need to prove that they suffered violence or intimidation.
However, the law has inadvertently allowed dozens of convicted sex offenders to have their sentences reduced and, in some cases, allowed them to walk free from prison. That is because the legislation broadens the definition of sexual assault, increasing the range of jail sentences for the crime and making minimum prison terms lower.
According to media reports, nearly 300 offenders have benefited so far from the loophole. The opposition has attacked the law, with the conservative Popular Party (PP) accusing the left-wing government of “protecting rapists”.
After months of pressure to modify the legislation, the Socialist Party of prime minister Pedro Sánchez has now said it plans to do so.
“The ‘Only yes means yes’ law is positive for women and for the country,” said the minister for the prime minister’s office, Félix Bolaños, who added that “there have been undesired effects which nobody wanted in the application of the law” and that the government will “correct the law in order to ease those unwanted effects”.
The PP has offered its parliamentary support to the government to overhaul the law and the justice ministry, controlled by the Socialists, is examining possible changes which could be made.
However, Podemos, the junior partner in the left-wing coalition and which controls the equality ministry that created the law, has defended the legislation throughout the controversy. Equality minister Irene Montero has said the law is technically sound, while accusing judges of misinterpreting it with a sexist slant.
On Monday, her ministry issued a statement saying “there is no penal reform that can put a stop to the reviews” of jail sentences. Instead, it proposed a series of other measures, including strengthening free legal aid to women in gender violence cases and giving prosecutors more powers.
According to reports, both parties are willing to seek a solution that would, for example, once again increase minimum and maximum jail terms for sexual assault. However, Podemos has warned that its coalition partner is threatening to undo the spirit of the law, which is to remove the need to prove that violence was used in an attack.
“The previous model, which the justice ministry ... and also the PP want to return to, is that which asked victims: ‘Did you close your legs? How much did you drink? Did you try like mad to fight [the assailant] off?’, said Pablo Echenique, spokesman for Podemos.
This is the latest of several clashes between the coalition partners. Previously, they have had public disputes over the sending of weapons to Ukraine, the monarchy and transgender legislation.