New 'only yes is yes' law passes in Congress with harsher prison sentences

Bill approved with votes in favor of Catalonia's PDeCAT, after previous legislation led to sentence reductions

Festive atmosphere in central Barcelona during the annual International Women's Day march on March 8, 2023
Festive atmosphere in central Barcelona during the annual International Women's Day march on March 8, 2023 / Cillian Shields
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Madrid

April 21, 2023 11:39 AM

April 21, 2023 11:48 AM

The Spanish Congress has approved a new version of the 'only yes is yes' law, which had drawn controversy since being passed less than a year ago after various criminals had sentences lowered due to a loophole in the legal text.

The new legislation includes harsher sentences for sexual assaults committed with violence or intimidation.

The changes, driven by a deal between the Socialists, the senior coalition partner in the Spanish government and the conservative People's Party (PP), were passed in the chamber with the votes in favor from Catalonia's PDeCAT, while Esquerra and CUP voting against it and Junts abstained.

For the new reform to succeed, the Socialists left behind their junior coalition partner, anti-austerity Unidas Podemos, who were the original leaders of the law and who were against these newly approved changes.

The new bill will now continue the parliamentary procedure and go to the Senate, Spain's equality minister and member of Unidas Podemos, Irene Montero, already considered it to be a "sad day."

"It took years of demonstrations, feminist action, and work in government and Congress to make consent central," she said during a speech to Congress.


Return to 'wolf pack' penal code

According to data released by the Spanish Head of Judiciary (CGPJ), since the new law came into force, almost 1,000 sentences have been reduced to give more lenient sentences to people already convicted. Over 100 people sentenced to prison have also been released.

Despite these numbers, Unidas Podemos, vocally in favor of the bill in its original form, considered the revamped version a return to the "wolf pack penal code," Lucía Muñoz, Podemos MP said before adding that Spain is returning to a model of "injuries instead of consent." 

For them, consent should be at the center of the legislation, something they claim is not the case in this new reform.

The anti-austerity party also criticizes the Socialists for rejecting all the proposals made by the equality minister and for "handing out women's rights to the reactionaries," referring to the conservative PP. 

Meanwhile, PDeCAT MP Genís Boadella justified their greenlight to the reform due to the "undesirable effects" seen because of the previous law and the lowering of sentences.

"This reform, regardless of who is in favor or not, makes a very needed technical correction to the Penal Code," Boadella said.

Sexual consent and sexual assault

The previous version of the law set a new definition of sexual consent as it considered "consent when only it is understood when it has been freely shown via acts that clearly show the desire of a person, depending on the case," the bill reads. 

The Spanish Congress, back in May 2022, also greenlighted getting rid of the difference between sexual abuse and sexual aggression

A little girl on her father's shoulders at the 2022 International Women's Day protest in Barcelona
A little girl on her father's shoulders at the 2022 International Women's Day protest in Barcelona / Martí Rodríguez

The text considers sexual assault as any circumstance when "any action against the sexual will of a person without their consent has taken place." The attack will be considered rape, with higher sentences in jail, when the aggression "involves vaginal, anal or oral access, or entering bodily members or objects inside one of the first two holes." 

Violence or intimidation

The reformed text differentiates between sexual assaults committed with violence or intimidation and those without it. Lawmakers also added a new crime when proven that the victim had been annulled of their will.

If passed in Senate and officially comes into force, perpetrators of sexual assault could be sentenced to between one and five years, one more than in the 2022 bill. In the cases of rape, sentences will now be between 6-12 years, while before, it was between 4-12.