Sexual violence: should the concept of consent be added to the law, as in Spain?

“Only a yes is yes!” On May 26, Spanish delegates passed a crucial law against sexual and gender-based violence by a majority vote. From now on, “explicit consent” is required by law in the context of sexual relations. A novelty that could disrupt subsequent sentences, especially in rape cases. But will enshrining consent in law be enough to eliminate the problem? Should we hope for similar progress in French law? For Clémentine Roul, prevention officer and lawyer of the Consentis Association, the answer is not so simple.

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Only a yes is a yes

On May 26, the text of the law passed for two years by the member of the Podemos party was passed in first reading with 201 votes “for” to 140 votes “against” (and three abstentions). This piece of legislation puts the concept of consent at the heart of rape law.

“Today is a great day for all women. The Assembly passed with a large majority the law ‘Only a yes is a yes’. We owe it to all victims of sexual assault, leaving a better present and future for our daughters, sisters and friends.” welcomed Irene Montero on her social networks, the Spanish Minister for Equality at the cradle of the project.

“The incorporation of consent into the law in itself is very good news because it makes it possible to consider this notion of consent from a more institutional point of view, which is not the case in France, Clementine Roul responded. In our law, in the case of assault or rape, we are more likely to have to prove ‘non-consent’ by coercion, force, threat or surprise.

Since 2018, the lawyer has been working with the Consentis association created in the wake of #Metoo to spread a culture of consent in festive settings (concerts, festivals, parties, etc.) and actively fight against sexist and sexual violence.

“Not all laws are created equal”

“At Consentis, we believe that consent is the cornerstone in the fight against gender-based and sexual violence. But incorporating consent into law is not enough, it has to be defined.”

Clementine Roulo

To be complete, the consent must: “enthusiastic, free and informed, specific and informed”, according to the Consentis Association. And it is precisely the issue of the definition of consent that is likely to pose a problem, the lawyer recalls. Spain is indeed not the first country to adopt the concept in law. However, according to its definition, it is interpreted in a way that is more or less unfavorable to the victims.

“We especially remember the much-discussed case in Ireland in 2016. In a rape case, the victim’s lawyer waved the victim’s thong during the hearing and explained that she had to consent because she was wearing ‘sexy’ lingerie”regrets the activist.

“We hear a lot that more and more European states are talking about consent in their laws and that we should be happy about that, but we have to be careful because not all these laws are created equal. In Cyprus, for example, the definition is so gender-based that a man cannot be a victim of rape…”

“It’s so much more than just saying yes…”

Including the concept of consent in the law therefore promotes understanding at institutional level. But in fact the rest of the work is more instructive. “The law is not always the most appropriate response in the context of gender-based and sexual violence”confirms Clementine Roul.

In general, there is a misunderstanding about the concept of consent in France and almost everywhere else, and that needs to be corrected. Because when there is a better knowledge and definition of consent, people are both better able to identify when they don’t agree and those who oppose each other, when they are made aware of the subject, can no longer say “oh I did not know”.

The concept of consent in a semantic way is therefore not sufficient in itself to solve the problem of sexual violence, it must be clearly defined. “Because it’s so much more than just saying yes…”, the lawyer remembers.

“That’s why we at Consentis strive to explain that consent can take different forms, that it should be free and informed, that if a person has drunk too much alcohol, they may not necessarily be able to give consent, that you can say yes to one act and no to another, that you have the right to change your mind halfway through…”

Faced with major challenges such as sexual and gender-based violence, looking at what is being done elsewhere always gives us a concrete picture of the road ahead. If the new law passed in Spain has anything to inspire the French legislature, it is the awareness work of associations such as Consentis that fosters the mindset. To learn more about the association and discover the workouts it offers, it’s here.

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