Parliament backs ‘Only yes means yes’ consent bill

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s parliament voted on Thursday to approve a bill that makes consent a key determinant in sexual assault cases, freeing victims from having to prove that the violence or intimidation was used against them.

The bill, popularly known as ‘Only yes is yes’, aims to tackle the nebulous definition of consent in Spanish law. In the absence of a codified definition, the law has long relied on evidence of violence, resistance or intimidation to decide whether a criminal sexual act has taken place.

The new bill defines consent as the explicit expression of a person’s will, clarifying that silence or passivity are not synonymous with consent. Non-consensual sex can be considered assault and punishable by prison terms of up to 15 years.

The change was announced by the Minister for Equality, Irene Montero.

“From today, Spain is a freer and safer country for all women,” she told parliament. “We will trade violence for freedom, we will trade fear for desire.”

The bill had long been championed by Spain’s leftist coalition government, with only the conservative People’s Party and the far-right Vox party voting against it. The bill will now face a vote in the Senate before it can become law.

It includes a range of other measures, from requiring minors who commit sex crimes to undergo sex education and gender equality training, to creating a network of 24-hour crisis centres. out of 24 for victims of sexual assault and their family members.

The legislation has its roots in furor over a gang rape case at the San Fermin bullfighting festival in Pamplona in 2016.

Initially, the five defendants in the case were convicted of sexual abuse but not rape, with the victim not deemed to have objected to what was happening. The convictions sparked widespread protests across the country and called on Spain to join the dozen other countries in Europe that define rape as sex without consent, according to a 2020 analysis by Amnesty International.

The Spanish Supreme Court later overturned two lower courts and sentenced the five men to 15 years in prison for rape.