The crime of sexual harassment is one of the most underhand and perverse forms of aggression.

These days, Spain is debating the modification of the Law of Integral Guarantee of Sexual Freedom, known as the “only yes is yes” law, considered one of the most advanced legal instruments on the subject. This law came about as a consequence of the case of “la manada”, when five men raped an 18-year-old girl in a doorway during the San Sebastian festivities in Pamplona. The modification of the harassment law, promoted by the Spanish government, involves establishing full consent before any sexual encounter. This means that the aggression is not necessarily surrounded by violence, as the victim may be in a state of panic, intimidation or otherwise inhibited from defending herself.

However, the new law has opened a way out for some perpetrators to benefit from reduced sentences, whose maximum sentence the new legislation reduces to a maximum of 4 years imprisonment. This scenario has brought a sensitive issue back into the balance, namely the inherent risk of being a woman, which is why, in order to criminalise sexual harassment, it is first necessary to analyse the stereotypes that mark the behaviour of men and women in a patriarchal society. Laws, although an important step forward in establishing norms of respect between individuals, do not go to the heart of the problem.

Sexual harassment is a direct consequence of cultural patterns consolidated over the centuries, even imprinted in sexually discriminatory codes and laws within a framework of patriarchal relations, predominant in almost all nations of the world. To combat this institutional deformation, hitherto accepted as an inherent element of relations between the sexes, it is essential to understand that there are no transparent mechanisms or tools to guarantee a fair application of the law.

Therefore, for ordinary people, it is a strange coercive measure that limits people’s rights, a legalistic exaggeration that aims to impose rules of conduct that only apply to those involved within the sphere of their private lives. In other words, a measure considered to be absurd and repressive due to the effect of stereotypes and macho traditions. This is because, according to ancestral customs, it is permissible to invade the intimate domain of a person who is in a subordinate position, either because of their sex or their position in the social structure.

Sexual harassment, for cultural reasons, primarily concerns women, because they have been the big losers in the battle of the sexes. From this comes the fixation of male and female roles as the dominant and the dominated, the strong and the weak, the active and the passive. And then, society accepts these rules of the game that clearly indicate its place in the social order.

To make an anti-sexual harassment law effective, the source of the conceptual ambiguities must be tackled thoroughly, because few violations of this law occur in front of witnesses. This lends itself to confusions that can be even more humiliating for the victims and places them face to face with their perpetrator – word against word – in a degrading duel that does not lead to a fair outcome and does not guarantee an advance of society against prejudice and ignorance.

The role of the sexes in the context of patriarchal societies is defined by men.