Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of engaging in a thought-provoking conversation with one of my professors. For the purposes of anonymity, the professor wishes to remain unnamed. The discussion left an indelible impression on me, as I had the opportunity to gain insights and perspectives from an expert in the field. It was a rare and invaluable experience that I feel should be shared.
As a student of the Bachelor in International Relations program, engaging in debates and polemics is not only a crucial component of our coursework but also an integral part of our learning experience. One of the most remarkable aspects of our program is that our professors actively encourage us to express our opinions and engage in critical thinking. The atmosphere of the degree is one of open dialogue and intellectual discussion, providing us with the opportunity to strengthen our argumentative skills and develop a deeper understanding of complex issues.
“Only Yes Means Yes”
Thus, during this class session, our discussion led us to the topic of policies and policymaking processes in Spain. To be more precise, to the “only yes means yes” sexual consent law.
To understand the context of my conversation with the professor, the topic of false accusations arose because of an example our professor gave us to get a better comprehension of the Spanish politics we were talking about.
The “only yes means yes” law is an initiative of the Spanish equality minister supported by the Socialist left-wing party Unidas Podemos. It is also officially called the law of integral guarantee of sexual freedom. The law states “from now on no woman will have to prove that violence or intimidation was used for it to be recognized for what it is.” The essence of the new law is that women no longer have to give any evidence of sexual violence against them when filing charges.
The “only yes means yes” law has stirred up controversy among various Spanish political parties, including PSOE. The primary concern surrounding this law is that it may potentially lead to an increase in false accusations against men, particularly by women.
Thus, the professor pointed out that such a law is unjust towards men and does not specifically define what constitutes rape. The professor’s position appears to be that a woman can say “yes” before and during intercourse, but afterward, they may consider what happened as coercion and violence from the man. Therefore, the professor argued, it is important to justify accusations with medical evidence of rape in order “to protect men from false accusations.”
This position caused a wave of offense among my classmates. Many interpreted this view as compassion for men and a devaluation of the feelings of women who have been sexually abused. One of my classmates said that perpetrators of false accusations should undoubtedly be punished, even if these false allegations constitute a much smaller percentage of all rape allegations. The argument I mentioned myself was that a woman cannot always be expected to go for a medical exam within the first 24 hours after rape. Many rape victims are ashamed or too severely mentally frustrated to seek medical attention.
The professor emphasized that seeking medical attention after experiencing rape is not only a matter of common sense but also a crucial step toward obtaining justice. Their argument centered around the notion that allegations made without tangible evidence are often dismissed or discredited, making it imperative to document any physical harm or trauma resulting from the assault. By seeking medical attention promptly, survivors can ensure that their injuries are properly documented, which can be used as evidence in legal proceedings.
However, my classmates continued to think differently. For example, not only grown women, but underaged girls are often victims of sexual assault. If this is the case, the proceedings may change entirely.
Young girls may not be aware that the notion of voluntary consent exists. They might not even understand what exactly is actually happening to them in the moment. Furthermore, they might not be aware there is a need to see the doctor to get the medical evidence to start a police investigation later. Some girls, even if they are brought to the hospital might be against sharing private information with the police later. But what is more important, is that parents are often the ones who make decisions on behalf of their underaged daughters. They may or may not consider the opinion of their child regarding the sharing of sensitive or private information.
Following a lengthy discussion in class, the topic of seeking medical attention promptly became a highly debated issue. However, through careful consideration and open-mindedness, we were able to arrive at a consensus that this issue is complex and multi-faceted and that every case requires personalized attention and sensitivity. Ultimately, we acknowledged that there are numerous perspectives to consider in relation to this law and topic. The “only yes means yes” law is not perfect and recently was the subject of some modifications as not all parties in the Spanish parliament agree with it. As our professor mentioned, explicit consent is vital, but something must be done to avoid a wave of false accusations.
Cover image by: Raúl Caro/ EFE