Spain’s leftwing government on Tuesday unveiled draft legislation toughening the penalties for rape and requiring explicit consent for sexual acts following a notorious gang rape that shocked the country.
Under Spain’s current criminal code, evidence of violence or intimidation must exist for the offence of rape to be proved, a highly contentious legal nuance that is often tough to establish — and which played a central role in the gang rape trial.
“Until now, women have faced a string of obstacles: they had to prove there was force, violence or intimidation in order to speak of sexual assault,” said Equality Minister Irene Montero told reporters.
“Now we won’t have to prove there was force, as the idea of consent is at the heart of every legislative action,” added Montero, a member of the radical leftist Podemos that rules in coalition with the Socialists of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
According to a draft of the Sexual Freedom Act, “consent does not exist if the victim has not clearly shown by a conclusive and unequivocal outward expression… her express wish to take part in the act.”
The bill, which will likely be debated in parliament over the course of several months, also qualifies forced marriage and genital mutilation as sexual offences, and removes the distinction between sexual abuse and the more serious charge of sexual assault, the minister said.
The issue was at the heart of the so-called “Wolf Pack” rape case when five men accused of gang-raping an 18-year-old girl were acquitted of rape but convicted of abuse, triggering an unprecedented backlash that brought tens of thousands of women onto the streets.
– Only ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ –
The attack took place in July 2016 in the northern city of Pamplona during the San Fermin festival, with the men, all in their late 20s, filming it on their phones then bragged about it on a WhatsApp group called “La Manada” or the “Wolf Pack”.
The court acquitted them of sexual assault, which includes rape, instead handing them nine years for the lesser offence of sexual abuse, finding no evidence of violence or intimidation.
The case cast a harsh spotlight on Spain’s legislation on sexual violence, with vast crowds of women hitting the streets, shouting “I believe you!” and demanding changes to the law.
In June 2019, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict, finding all five guilty of rape and upping the sentence to 15 years each.
“This is the law of the women’s movement which has fought persistently and tirelessly in the streets,” Montero explained.
“If there’s no consent, that’s an assault,” she said. “This is the law that says: Only ‘yes’ means ‘yes’.”
The draft legislation was unveiled ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8 which in recent years has seen vast marches and strikes by women across Spain.
In 2004, Spain passed Europe’s first law specifically cracking down on gender-based violence, offering free legal aid and establishing special courts for victims.