Spain’s ruling Socialists on Thursday secured parliamentary approval to amend a landmark law aimed at fighting sexual violence to fix a loophole that has allowed some offenders to reduce their sentences.
Known as “Only yes means yes”, that law came into force in October, reforming the criminal code to define all non-consensual sex as rape.
But the legislation paradoxically ended up reducing penalties for certain types of sexual crimes, freeing more than 100 offenders and allowing nearly 1,000 others to have their sentences reduced, court figures show.
Thursday’s amendment essentially toughens some of the penalties that had been lowered by the law by reintroducing a clause relating to violence, intimidation or overriding the victim’s will.
The change was passed by 233 votes in favour to 59 against and four abstentions in the 350-seat parliament. It will now move to the Senate where it is expected to pass without issue.
Although backed by the right-wing opposition, the amendment enraged Podemos, the Socialists’ hardline left-wing coalition partner which holds the equality ministry and had championed the legislation.
“Today is a sad day, the hardest I’ve experienced in this parliament since becoming a minister,” said Equality Minister Irene Montero, who has blamed the problem on sexist judges misinterpreting the law.
“This is not a step forward but a step back in terms of women’s rights.”
Before the new law took effect, rape victims had needed to prove they were subjected to violence or intimidation.
Without that, the offence was classed as “sexual abuse” and carried lighter penalties than rape.
But the October legislation dropped the lesser charge of sexual abuse and classed all violations as sexual assault, carrying stiffer penalties.
The aim was to shift the focus in cases of sexual violence from the victims’ resistance to a woman’s free and clearly expressed consent.
In grouping all violations as sexual assault, the range of penalties was widened to include all possibilities under that single term.
That meant reducing the minimum and the maximum punishments in certain cases, generating a loophole which Thursday’s amendment sought to close.
In Spain, sentences can be modified retroactively if a change in the penal code benefits the convicted.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had on Sunday apologised to victims in an interview with El Correo newspaper, saying: “I ask victims for forgiveness for these undesired effects.”