“The law has had some undesirable effects in its application. Undesirable effects is an understatement.” That is the conclusion of the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on a law from his tenure. In October, his left-wing minority government led by Equal Opportunities Minister Irene Montero implemented a small revolution: The “Only yes means yes” law reformed Spanish sexual criminal law based on the Swedish model. If both sides do not expressly consent to sexual intercourse, a perpetrator can be punished for sexual aggression. This means that the often traumatized victims no longer have to prove that they have expressly defended themselves. But the law also has a side effect: Dozens of convicted sex offenders have been released earlier. The governing party could initiate a reform today, against the will of the junior partner.

Other penalties are also anchored in the revised sexual criminal law. Higher penalties apply for rape, but minimum penalties have been lowered for other sexual offences. This led to courts reducing the sentences of more than 700 inmates. Around 70 convicted sex offenders have been released from prison earlier than expected. The General Council of the Judiciary, which represents the judges, had previously warned of these “effects,” as Sánchez called them.

A convict who had raped 17 women only had to serve nine instead of 15 years and was therefore released. A teacher who paid four underage students to have sex had his sentence reduced drastically – he was also released. A treat for the conservative and right-wing populist opposition – because it’s a super election year in Spain.

At the end of the year, the Spanish parliament will be re-elected, with regional and local elections taking place in May. Actually, the government around Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez wanted to gain impetus for the elections with laws like these. But the parties in the minority government keep clashing, especially since cases like the ones described have come to light. Prime Minister Sánchez of the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) now wants to reform the law, if necessary with the votes of the opposition and bypass his junior partner.

The Equal Opportunities Minister Irene Montero from the Unidas Podemos (UP) is primarily responsible for the sex criminal law that has been in force since October. She fears that reforms will bring old conditions back to normal: “We don’t want a return to a patriarchal system in which victims were asked whether their legs were properly closed.” Her party therefore accuses Sánchez of giving in to “pressure from the right”. Sánchez himself says he wants to maintain that the sexual partners have to agree that he only wants to go back to the previous minimum penalties.

The issue isn’t the first on which the government is at odds. Only in February did the Spanish parliament pass groundbreaking rules: easier access to abortion, days off in the event of menstrual problems (the so-called “menstrual leave”) or the right of self-determination for trans people aged 16 and over. Montero presented herself as a feminist Minister of Progress, but the votes also caused criticism among the population, for example from employers’ associations.

In any case, the quarrels are not well received by the electorate in Spain. In recent polls, opposition leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo’s conservative People’s Party (PP) leads with around 27-32 percent, depending on the institute, with Sánchez’s PSOE trailing behind with 25-28 percent.

Sources: “Mallorca Zeitung”, “FAZ”, with agencies