Spain’s government approves tougher laws on sexual consent and harassment

Spain’s government approved legislation that aims to crack down on sexual violence and harassment with new punishments.

The bill — known as the “Only yes means yes” law — has also set out offences related to sexual consent.

“Consent is recognised only when a person has freely demonstrated it through actions which, in the context of the circumstances of the case, clearly express the person’s will,” the bill says.

Government spokesperson María Jesús Montero said the proposed law is “a decisive step forward” in the protection of women, which “makes us, without doubt, better as a society”.

“We have to transform our sexual culture, placing women’s consent at the centre of how we see things,” Montero said during a news conference.

The law approved by Spain’s cabinet on Tuesday will now go to Parliament for a vote, likely in September.

The changes in legislation follow outcries in recent years over court decisions in certain sex crime cases.

In 2018, five men were sentenced to nine years in prison each for the lesser crime of sexual abuse for the alleged gang rape of a woman during the 2016 running of the bulls festival in Pamplona.

“It’s not abuse, it’s rape!” protesters shouted at demonstrations following the court sentencing. The defendant’s sentences were later increased to 15 years by Spain’s Supreme Court after prosecutors appealed.

Spanish law punishes non-consensual sex but it is not clearly codified and relies on evidence of violence or intimidation to decide both whether a criminal act has occurred and the degree of punishment.

The government hopes the new bill will remove the need for victims to prove they resisted or were subjected to violence.

Any non-consensual sex will be regarded as aggression under the proposal and can be punished with prison terms of up to 15 years.

The bill also addresses for the first time sexual harassment in the street, identifying it as a minor offence that can be prosecuted on the evidence of the offended person and punished with voluntary work or fines.

The legislation also would establish nationwide crisis centres for women that are open 24 hours a day year-round.

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