Thousands of protesters took the streets of Spain after a Spanish court cleared five men of gang-raping a 14-year old girl.
The Spanish court justified their decision to convict the men on the lesser charge of sexual abuse rather than rape on the basis of the victim being inebriated. Under Spanish law, the perpetrator must employ the use of violence or intimidation against the victim in order for the act to qualify as rape. However as the victim was unconscious, she “could not accept or reject the sexual relations” and that the men “could carry out those sexual relations without the use of violence or intimidation”. Thus, the resulting sentence was 10 to 12 years in jail.
However, this decision naturally sparked outrage throughout Spain with many protesting against the ‘outdated’ nature of sexual-offence laws and their failure to protect victims and uphold the sanctity of consent. Demonstrations were held across Spain, including the capital city; Madrid, with protesters gathering outside the Ministry of Justice. Social media was also at the forefront of these protests with Twitter erupting with hashtags such as #JusticiaPatriarcal [‘Patriarchal Justice’] and #NoEsAbusoEsViolación [‘It’s not abuse, it’s rape’].
The incident itself took place in October 2016 when the men (aged 19 to 26) took turns having sex with the intoxicated teenager at an abandoned factory in the town of Manresa. Spanish periodical El Pais reported that the one of the defendants knew the victim and was aware of both her age and that she was intoxicated. The defendants denied all charges. However, eleven witnesses came forward and reported witnessing the assault and being threatened by the defendants to prevent them from coming forward with their evidence.
The defendants have been labelled the ‘Wolf Pack of Manresa’ in Spain as demonstrators compare this case to the ruling of another in 2016, in which five men known as the ‘Wolf Gang’ allegedly raped an 18-year old. Originally, the men were convicted of sexual assault and sentenced nine-years in jail. However, Spain’s Supreme Court upgraded the sentence to 15 years after concluding that the men were guilty of rape.
The controversial decision making by the courts regarding the distinction between sexual abuse and rape has led to women’s rights campaigners calling for amendments to the law. Activists such as Graciela Atencio summed up the call of the protests, stating that ‘it’s important that they introduce the term rape into the penal code for all attacks that involve penetration and that any sexual behaviour without consent be considered sexual violence.’
Otra indignante sentencia de la #JusticiaPatriarcal que no quiere entender que solo SÍ es SÍ.
Una niña de 14 años inconsciente fue violada en grupo.
No soy juez y no sé cuantos años de prisión merecen, lo que sí sé es que ¡No es abuso, es violación!https://t.co/ojteXw36J9
— Ada Colau (@AdaColau) October 31, 2019
(Above: Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau expresses her dismay on the outcome of the Manresa trial)
Female officials within the Spanish Government have also expressed their shock and discontent with the ruling. Ada Colau stated the verdict to be ‘outrageous’, tweeting: “I’m not a judge and I don’t know how many years in prison they deserve, but what I do know is that this is not abuse, it is rape!”. Deputy Prime-Minister Carmen Calvo has prioritised a change in law for her Government in order to make it clear that consent is necessary for sexual relations to occur legally. However, the upcoming general election in November jeopardises her ability to keep this promise. The lack of parliamentary support for the current administration led to its collapse with the political deadlock remaining unresolved, even after the election in April.
Nevertheless, protestors are determined not to let the outcome of the election overshadow the shocking nature of this verdict. No matter who comes to power, the pressure to bring about a change regarding Spain’s sexual offence laws will remain in order to ensure that this issue remains a priority.