by Ambra Visentin

Although the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) says it is merely reforming the law on sexual offences, it has once again provoked a deep clash between the government’s coalition partners. With the votes of the opposition conservative People’s Party (PP) and the right-wing liberal party Ciudadanos, the PSOE has approved the correction of one of the most important laws of the left-wing minority government – the so-called ‘Only a yes is a yes’ law. Opposition partner Unidas Podemos and other allies have spoken of a ‘step backwards’ and a ‘return to the La Manada Penal Code’, referring to the Navarre court ruling that shocked international opinion in 2016 with a nine-year prison sentence for the ‘minor’ crime of sexual assault, five young Sevillian men, aged between 27 and 29, nicknamed ‘La Manada’ (the gang during the San Fermin festival in Pamplona), who had raped an 18-year-old girl from Madrid during the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, for the ‘minor’ crime of sexual assault. The court ruled that there was not enough evidence to convict them of rape.

“Today is a sad day, probably the most difficult I have experienced as a minister in this Parliament and for all feminists in this House and outside it,” lamented Equal Opportunities Minister Irene Montero, who was responsible for the original ‘Only a yes is a yes’ law. This reform, she said, represented “a reversal of course” in women’s rights. Montero was the only government minister to speak in the debate, although Justice Minister Pilar Llop (who was behind the socialist reform) was present.

‘Only a yes is a yes’ is the central sentence of the penal code that came into force last autumn and aims to better protect women. Due to a technical error, however, the sentences of almost a thousand sex offenders were reduced and almost 100 have already been released. After months of clashes between Justicia e Igualdad and between the PSOE and Unidas Podemos, the Socialist proposal was approved, creating an aggravated sub-category within the crime of sexual assault, so that the penalties are higher when there is violence or intimidation. A proposal that, for Unidas Podemos, means putting the focus back on ‘injuries’ and not on consent to determine whether there has been aggression. Most of the spokespersons who spoke recalled that the reform does not prevent the review and reduction of sentences committed before the new text comes into force.

The spokesman for the opposition conservative People’s Party (PP), Cuca Gamarra, spoke of the ‘repeal’ of the ‘yes is yes’ law with a return to the penalties of the Penal Code ‘of democracy’ (in response to those who speak of the Penal Code of La Manada). In his opinion, ‘it is not understood’ that it has taken so long to achieve this, but also that ‘the great absentee’ in this plenary session is ‘the person most responsible for what is happening, the guilty one’, referring to the head of the executive, Pedro Sánchez. He also criticised his ‘false forgiveness’ towards the victims, which he said was not motivated by ‘repentance’ but solely and exclusively ‘for electoral effect’. He went on to say that it was ‘something unheard of in a democracy’ for a government to ‘censor itself’ and ‘repeal’ its own law.

Cover image: Associacio Ciutadania Comunicacio on Flickr