Spaniards are voicing outrage after a Barcelona court ruled Thursday that five men accused of gang-raping a 14-year-old were not guilty of rape because their victim was unconscious at the time.
The court ruled that the men were instead guilty of the lesser crime of sexual abuse; they were sentenced to 10 to 12 years each and fined 2,000 euros ($13,300). A conviction of sexual assault would have carried prison sentences of 15 to 20 years.
The requirement for a rape conviction in Spain is the use of violence or intimidation, and since the girl was unconscious after consuming drugs and alcohol, such force was not used. Therefore, the court ruled their crime could not be considered sexual assault, the equivalent of rape in Spain.
A debate is taking place over whether to define rape as sex without explicit consent. Spain’s deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, said though her government does not comment on court decisions, it has prioritized modifying the law to make it clear that consent is necessary for sexual relations to occur legally.
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In 2016 the girl and the five men went into an abandoned factory to drink in the town of Manresa, near Barcelona. Two Spaniards, two Cubans and one Argentine each took their turn with the drugged and intoxicated minor. One of the defendants was said to have told each of them, “It’s your turn. Fifteen minutes each and no delay,” according to the BBC.
At a previous court hearing, the girl said she remembered very little of what happened but recalled one of them was holding a gun. All of the defendants denied the allegations, but the DNA of one of them was found on the girl’s underwear.
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The court said that since the victim was unconscious and “could not accept or reject the sexual relations,” the men “could carry out those sexual relations without the use of violence or intimidation.”
Barcelona’s mayor and other left-wing politicians and feminist groups condemned the ruling and called on the law to be strengthened.
“Another senseless verdict by the patriarchal Justice that doesn’t want to understand that only a Yes means Yes,” Mayor Ada Colau wrote on Twitter. “An unconscious 14-year-old girl was gang raped. I am not a judge and I don’t know how many years of prison they deserve, (but) what I do know is that this is not abuse, it is rape!”
A similar ruling occurred in 2017 when five men were convicted of sexual abuse for a gang attack on an 18-year-old woman who was dragged into the hallway of a residential building. Since a police report said she appeared “passive or neutral,” the court decided that no intimidation or force had been used, according to the BBC.
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In June, the Spanish Supreme Court overturned that ruling and decided the men were rapists, increasing their sentences from nine years to 15 for sexual assault.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.