Explained: Spain’s ‘only yes means yes’ non-consensual sex bill

Spain’s lower house of parliament on Thursday passed the Sexual Freedom Guarantee Bill, popularly known as ‘Only Yes Means Yes’, which will make consent an important determinant in sexual assault cases. The bill, which still needs to be passed by the Senate, does not require survivors to prove that they were victims of violence or sexual assault.

Spain’s Minister for Equality, Irene Montero, said on Twitter that finally the “only yes means yes” bill is on its way to becoming law. She added: “Women will finally have a law that guarantees their sexual freedom. The government and the feminist majority in Congress are here to make our country a freer place for women.

What is the “only yes means yes” bill?

If it becomes law, the “only yes means yes” bill will not require victims of sexual assault to provide evidence of sexual abuse or physical resistance. In fact, it states that any sexual act without consent will be considered sexual assault.

The bill states that through it, Spain will adapt a criminal law based on a model that will put consent at the center. The bill also specifies that consent will only be accepted as having been given during a sexual act when the person’s wishes have been clearly expressed. Moreover, silence or passive agreement to a sexual act does not constitute consent.

Current law requires victims of sexual assault to present evidence of assault, intimidation or resistance.

Under the new bill, the definition of sexual violence has also been expanded in Spain. It will be considered sexual violence in cases of “female genital mutilation, forced marriage, sexual harassment and trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Particular attention will be paid to sexual violence committed in the digital environment, including the dissemination of acts of sexual violence, non-consensual pornography and sexual extortion by technological means”.

The bill also stipulates that the crimes of rape and sexual assault would be looked at in the same light and treated with the same level of rigor.

In the event that the perpetrator used a substance, such as drugs or any other chemical substance, to achieve the will of the victim, this will also be punishable.

Regarding evidence, the bill states: “In order to minimize procedures that could discourage complaints or delay the protection of victims, it was decided: to consider other possible means of accrediting the violence, in addition to conviction for the commission of a crime of sexual violence; the taking of biological samples from the victim and other evidence will not be subject to the prior filing of a complaint or the exercise of criminal proceedings.

The bill provides penalties for anyone who addresses “another person with expressions, behaviors or proposals of a sexual nature that create an objectively humiliating, hostile or intimidating situation for the victim, without constituting other more serious crimes serious”.

Moreover, he adds that non-consensual sex would be considered sexual assault and would expose the perpetrator to a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

It makes it mandatory for minors who commit sexual violence to undergo sexual training and education on gender equality. Additionally, under the bill, sex education will be mandatory at all stages of education with a particular focus on the digital sphere so that both men and women understand the importance of sexual freedom.

Also, sharing and sharing intimate photos without consent would be punishable. Taking advertising within its scope, the bill states that “advertising that uses gender stereotypes that promote or normalize sexual violence against women will be considered illegal.” The bill also adds that all advertising about prostitution will be prohibited.

In the bill, plans were made to create 24-hour crisis centers for sexual assault victims and their families. The bill states that by 2024 there should be at least one crisis center in every province.

Apart from this, specialized centers would be created for underage victims, boys and girls, and legal, education, health and police professionals would ensure that these victims feel safe.

The ‘only yes means yes’ bill, which has been in preparation since 2020, passed the lower house of parliament with 140 out of 201 votes. Only the People’s Party of Spain and the far-right Vox party voted against the invoice.

Sexual assault and Spain

The bill that has long been backed by Spain’s left-wing coalition government has its roots in the outbreak that was sparked after the 2016 wolf pack case where five men were accused of raping an 18 year old girl.

After the incident, all five defendants were convicted of sexual assault but not rape since the victim was unable to present evidence of the rape and did not explicitly object to what was happening.

In a video of the incident, which was filmed by two men, the woman was not seen objecting and was silent and judges ruled this as consent.

As Reuters reported, the convictions led to widespread protests in Spain where protesters demanded Spain join European countries that defined rape as non-consensual sex. The Spanish Supreme Court later sentenced the five men to 15 years in prison for rape.

Recently, two cases of rape of women by two minors have raised concerns. In one case, a minor raped an 18-year-old girl, and in another, a minor raped and assaulted a 12- and 13-year-old girl.

As the BBC reported earlier this month, five teenagers have been arrested for allegedly raping two girls in Burjassot, Valencia.

In 2020, the United States Embassy in Spain warned Americans traveling to Spain of increasing cases of sexual assault in the country.

According to The Nomad Today, a Spanish news agency, last year the Spanish Interior Ministry published data indicating an increase in sexual assaults. From January to September last year, 12,638 cases of sexual assault were reported, representing a 27% increase from the previous year. The number of rapes reported in Spain was 1,601, indicating a 30% increase.

What laws do other countries have regarding non-consensual sex?

According to a report by Amnesty International, nine countries around the world have defined consensual sex in their laws. These countries consider sex without consent to be rape.

These include the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Iceland, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland.

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Apart from this, three other countries that have changed their laws to define non-consensual sex as rape are Austria, Montenegro, and Portugal.

Defining any non-consensual sexual act as rape is also part of the Istanbul Convention, which prevents and combats all violence, including domestic violence against women.

The Istanbul Convention has been signed by 34 countries around the world, of which Turkey decided to withdraw from the treaty last year.

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