HomeWorldSpanish government split as politicians fix flawed sexual consent law

Spanish government split as politicians fix flawed sexual consent law


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Spanish legislators have voted to repair a botched sexual consent law despite an extraordinary rift within the coalition government, which left Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez depending on the support of his conservative political foes to amend it.

The lower house of parliament approved reforms to the “only yes means yes” law late on Tuesday after three months of uproar over the fact that it had resulted in some convicted sex offenders having their prison sentences cut.

But the vote was slammed as “a setback for women’s rights” by Irene Montero of Unidas Podemos, the coalition government’s leftwing partner and driving force behind the original law, who castigated the Socialists for “joining hands” with the centre-right People’s party.

The law had won international praise for seeking to stop sexual assault victims from being pressed in the courts over questions of consent by saying that consent must be clearly communicated and cannot be assumed.

But by eliminating a previous distinction between sexual abuse and the more serious crime of sexual assault, which involves violence, it opened the door for some judges to rule that certain existing sentences should be reduced. Sánchez had lamented the “unintended effects” and said the law needed to be fixed.

The repairs to the law, which raised the penalties for offences involving “violence or intimidation” back to their previous levels, passed by 231 votes to 56 in the Congress of Deputies, with Podemos opposing the changes.

Earlier in the day, Andrea Fernández, a Socialist official, told Podemos politicians in parliament: “We’re tired of your ranting. Stop the hyperbole.”

Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at Teneo, a consultancy, said: “The disagreement over the law represents the most serious rift between [the Socialists] and Unidas Podemos since the formation of the government in 2020, but neither party has publicly suggested the coalition might break up.”

The spectre of Socialist and PP politicians voting on the same side was remarkable for a deeply polarised country that will have national, regional and municipal elections later this year.

But there was no pause in the ruthless criticism between the two parties, with Cuca Gamarra, PP secretary-general, blaming the law that had “generated so much pain” on the “arrogance” of the government.

Montero, Spain’s equality minister, accused the parties that backed the changes of undoing the law’s success in making consent a central question.

Podemos has consistently denied that there is a problem with the law and instead insisted that “rightwing” judges were to blame for choosing to reduce the sentences of sex offenders.

The amended law will apply to new crimes but will not alter sentences that have already been reduced for convicted offenders.

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