MADRID (AP) — Spain’s government committed Tuesday to amend a new sexual consent law that while intended to increase the protection of women has inadvertently allowed hundreds of sex offenders to get their prison sentences significantly reduced.
The law, known as “only yes means yes," made verbal consent, or the lack thereof, the key component in cases of alleged sexual assault. But it also revised the minimum and maximum prison terms for sexual assault convictions, a move which has opened the door to judges shaving months or even years off convictions for rapists and abusers on appeal.
For the first time since the controversial law entered into force almost four months ago, the coalition government’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez publicly spoke about a correction to the text.
“The Law on Sexual Freedom has had an unwanted consequence, the reduction of sentences in some cases. This is a technical question that does not reflect the will of the Executive,” he told a Senate session Tuesday. “And those unwanted effects, of course, we are going to correct them.”
Since the law took effect, over 300 convicted sex offenders have had their sentences shortened and at least 30 who had been near the end of their sentences have been released from prison.
That has led to an outcry by women’s groups and consternation among the general public, putting pressure on the government — which plays up its feminist credentials and which has a majority of women ministers — to act.
Changing the law, however, could produce tensions during an election year between Sánchez' ruling Socialists and their junior partner, the anti-austerity “United We Can” party.
Equality Minister Irene Montero, who championed the sexual consent law, said negotiations are ongoing among coalition members to reform it.
“I am not going to hide from you that we have a discrepancy about the consent, we are going to continue working so that there is an agreement” said Montero, who is one of four ministers in the cabinet from the junior coalition member.
She blames judges for misinterpreting the law due to what she considers endemic sexism in the courts. Spain’s judiciary, along with politicians from various parties, has responded that the law was poorly crafted.
Minister and Cabinet spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez referred to technical adjustments but refused to give more details on how to match the interests of both coalition partners.
“It’s obvious there is concern, there is a social alarm," she said at the weekly Cabinet briefing. “We need to be aware of the feelings of victims ... And therefore, we understand that today the best possible way to defend the ‘only yes is yes’ law is to carry out the necessary technical adjustments.”
The law had been voted by 205 of the 350 parliament members in August, after a nearly two-year-long process of drafting.
“I am convinced that ... none of the people that took part in the drafting process wanted the undesired effects that ... have generated a social concern shared by the government," Spain's Minister of the Presidency Felix Bolaños said Tuesday.
Wilson reported from Barcelona, Spain.