It’s everywhere lately: “Spain decriminalizes bestiality as long as there’s no harm done to the animal.” “Great news for Spanish zoos!”
From the headlines, it looks like the Spanish government has settled on following the steps of Germany in terms of stopping zoophile prosecution and finally allowing mutually-consensual interspecies sex for humans. However, I hate to say it, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, this whole issue may soon end up making life harder for our fellow Spanish animal lovers, by formally criminalizing bestiality for the first time since, perhaps, the Spanish Inquisition.
Wait there! (I hear you exclaim) Didn’t Spain ban bestiality in 2015? Well yes… and no. The answer is kind of nuanced, but we’ll get to that. First, let’s go back to the current time.
This whole frenzy originated from a misinterpretation of the new Spanish animal protection bill, which is set to be in force sometime in 2023. This bill was approved by the Spanish Congress on February 9 of this same year, but it still needs to go through the Senate in order to be officially enacted. The misreading in question led some to believe (or to wilfully misinterpret) that this law would decriminalize bestiality, triggering a chain reaction of accusations and disinformation in the Spanish political sphere that ended up making international (fake) news. But the truth is that sex with animals was never punished by the Spanish law in the first place. Hence, let’s take a look at the laws at issue.
A look at the Penal Code:
Before we begin, it’s important to note that there is a lot of disinformation being thrown around regarding the wording of the current and the proposed penal code reform. This is why I’ve decided to take a close look at both of them in this article, comparing them in order to hopefully clear up what’s going on. In the case that you’re not feeling like dissecting Spanish legalese with me here (trust me, I get it) I wrote a concise TL;DR at the end of this section. But if you want to know all the details, here we go:
In the current version of the Spanish Penal Code, we can read:
“1. A prison sentence of three months and one day to one year and special barring from carrying out a profession, trade or commerce related to animals and for the keeping of animals for the term of one year and one day to three years shall be imposed on those who, by any means or procedure, unfairly mistreat, causing injuries that seriously damages [a domesticated animal’s] health or by submitting it to sexual exploitation.”
Taken from the Penal Code, Article 337, Paragraph 1
In the newly proposed version, the former highlighted text is replaced by this:
“1. [The new punishment] shall be imposed on those who, including acts of sexual nature, cause [a domesticated animal] injury that requires veterinary treatment to restore its health.”
Taken from the proposed reform of the Penal Code, Article 340 bis.
So, let’s focus on the first (and currently in force) version. First of all, there’s no mention of the words “bestiality” or “zoophilia” here. We just get the words “sexual exploitation”. And the problem is that the phrase “sexual exploitation” can be interpreted in two very different ways:
⦁ As defined by the Diccionario panhispánico del español jurídico (DPEJ), promoted by the Real Academia Española (RAE): “The action of treating another person as a commercial sexual object.”
⦁ As most people decided to interpret it: “Sex with animals”.
Now, we know all too well that it’s very common for non-zoos to equate bestiality to something bad, in this case, “sexual exploitation”. However, you don’t need to be a zoo activist to give this idea a second thought and realize that, by definition, sex with animals has nothing to do with “dealing with somebody as a sexual object”. This means that currently in Spain, bestiality is only punished when there’s an economical incentive at play. And this isn’t some tricky loophole I found out about, for we even have legal precedent! In this case in 2019, a judge in the autonomous community of Navarra acquitted a man after ruling that
“[mistreating an animal or making them undergo sexual exploitation] is not the same as simply having sexual intercourse with animals”.
Now, that’s my kind of ruling!
It’s important to note that in my research I came across many cases where, as the articles claim, any given subject was “arrested for engaging in bestiality”. But anytime that a sentence was received, it was because the act came along with physical injury to the animals. So the crime was never the sex, but the harm. And that’s not the kind of bestiality that proper zoophiles engage in, anyway.
So, in short, bestiality is legal in Spain and thus the new animal protection law won’t change anything, since you can’t decriminalize something that just isn’t criminalized. Case closed!
And this should be the end of the story. But the problem here is that most people still thought that bestiality was punished by law thanks to the magic words “sexual exploitation” being in the penal code. In fact, this is what tricked the entirety of the Spanish press, who celebrated the end of interspecies sex in Spain back in 2015, when this law was passed. But the newly proposed version doesn’t have these two words. Instead, it says that Spain will
“punish those who, including acts of sexual nature, cause injury that requires veterinary treatment [to a domesticated animal]”,
effectively making “acts of sexual nature” only illegal when they bring about injury to the animal.
And while those who understand both versions will know that the new one doesn’t introduce any changes in regards to bestiality, (if anything, it decriminalizes animal sexual exploitation (yikes)), some people took it as some sort of “official legalization of human-animal sexual intercourse”. And they went to town with it. It’s too good of a headline after all. Yet this mistake wasn’t only used as mere clickbait. It also served a political purpose for the Spanish far-right party VOX, who aren’t fond of strengthening animal welfare laws, and so decided to perpetuate the bestiality falsehood in order to win people over against the new bill.
As a result of this confusion, Spain’s Social Rights Ministry, who wrote the bill, recently told the press:
“Now, instead of sexual exploitation, all sexual acts with animals will be typified. If they cause injuries, they will be considered crimes; in the rest -more minor- they will be typified as physical abuse.”
If they really follow through with this promise, it will mean the official criminalization of bestiality in Spain. Alas, it’s pretty much the opposite of what everybody is raging about on Twitter.
Contrary to what many people think, bestiality is currently legal in Spain. The confusion comes down to an issue with semantics that leaves the current law “up to interpretation”. The new animal welfare bill, (which is not yet finished nor in force) changed the wording, unintentionally making it clear that sex with animals is legal, beyond any shadow of a doubt. This was picked up by the Spanish far-right, who falsely promoted it as the “decriminalization of bestiality.” As a result, Spain’s Social Rights Ministry responded by saying that all sexual acts with animals will be punishable. If true, this would officially make bestiality illegal in Spain.
Aside from bestiality:
With the introduction of this new law, the criminalization of mutually-consensual human-animal sexual intercourse in Spain is a very real possibility. However, does this mean that zoophiles will unanimously oppose it? Probably not. At the end of the day, this new bill is supposed to improve the lives of animals: This law will, among many other things, ban cockfighting, disallow the use of animals in circuses and put an end to unjustified euthanization (a very common practice in dog shelters, which are often saturated and have to resort to this practice). It will also dissolve the very hated “PPP” label, which blacklists certain dog breeds as “potentially dangerous”. This means that a dog’s friendliness will instead be examined on a case by case basis, which is much more fair.
And this is the eternal paradox of zoophiles and animal rights groups. We both want what’s best for the animals, yet our relationship is antagonistic since animal welfare laws often prosecute zoos in a misguided attempt to protect animals’ health.
On the other hand, this new animal protection bill isn’t perfect by any means: It will make, for example, castration rules much more strict for cats and dogs. Another point that makes this bill controversial is the amount of animals that it very specifically chooses not to protect, like hunting and working dogs, animals used in lab experiments, factory farms or those used in the infamous practice of bullfighting. These, along with many other questionable guidelines and omissions, is what have made this bill so controversial in Spain, as many believe it to be half-assed and unfinished.
Where we are at:
While it may seem that a dark future looms ahead for Spanish zoophiles, the truth is that we can’t be sure of anything just yet. The claims of criminalizing bestiality have only been thrown around, and there are no guarantees that this will be included in the final version of the law. Besides, we still don’t know what the next version of this bill will look like, or even if it will be given the green light by the Spanish Senate.
For now, all we can do is wait and hope that the problems that this bill comes with will get figured out, or that it will otherwise ultimately collapse under popular pressure or the scrutiny of the Senate. However, in the case that the Social Rights Ministry follows through with their promise of criminalizing bestiality, it might be time for Spanish zoos to speak out, perhaps in a similar fashion that Zeta Verein did in Germany 10 years ago.
Disclaimer: Many terms translated from Spanish may not be legally accurate, since I’m not a professional translator.
Código Penal Español: https://www.boe.es/buscar/act.php?id=BOE-A-1995-25444
Propuesta de reforma del Código Penal:
Declaraciones del Ministerio de Derechos Sociales:
Article written by zipwok, 23/02/23
Find him at https://twitter.com/zipwok
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