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Spain advances bill to tightens rape law

Spain’s Senate on Tuesday backed a bill toughening the rape laws by requiring explicit consent for sex acts, a reform the government promised following a gang rape that sparked widespread outrage.

It calls for Spain’s criminal code to be reformed to define rape as sex without clear consent. Crucially, that removes the need for rape victims to prove that they resisted or were subject to violence or intimidation.

“Consent is recognised only when a person has freely demonstrated it through actions which, in the context of the circumstances of the case, clearly express the person’s will,” says the bill.

The proposed reform comes after of a notorious 2016 gang rape of an 18-year-old woman by five men at the bull-running festival in Pamplona, northern Spain.

The men — who called themselves the “wolf pack” – were initially convicted of “sexual abuse” and not rape. That lesser offence will disappear from the criminal code if the bill becomes law.

Two of the men filmed the assault, during which the woman is shown silent and passive — a fact the judges interpreted as consent.

That ruling, which highlighted how under Spain’s criminal code rape had to involve violence or intimidation, led to huge protests across the country to demand reform.

In 2019, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict, convicting all five of rape and increasing their sentences from nine years to 15 years each.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez — a self-described feminist — vowed to introduce a law on consent aimed at removing ambiguity in rape cases when he took office in June 2018.

“We don’t want any more ‘wolf packs’, neither for us, nor for our daughters,” Donelia Roldan Martinez, a senator with the Socialist party, told the Senate before it approved the bill.

The lower house of parliament adopted the text in a first reading in May.

But the bill — dubbed the “Only yes is yes” law — still has to go back to Spain’s lower house of parliament after the Senate unexpectedly backed an amendment.