This article originally appeared on VICE US
Outrage is bubbling over in Spain after five men accused of raping a drunken teen were acquitted of sexual assault — because the victim was in an “unconscious state” and thus didn’t fight back.
The men were convicted Thursday in a Barcelona court of the lesser crime of “sexual abuse,” and sentenced to between 10 and 12 years jail. Under Spanish law, sexual assault — the legal equivalent of rape — carries a prison sentence of between 15 and 20 years.
Although the public prosecutor had called for the defendants to be charged with sexual assault, the court ruled that out. It said that, as the victim was in an “unconscious state,” the accused had not used violence or intimidation against her — a prerequisite for a sexual assault charge under Spanish law.
In its verdict, the court said the victim “did not know what she was and wasn’t doing, and consequently, did not have the ability to agree to or oppose the sexual relations most of the defendants had with her.”
The Thursday judgment over the attack, which took place during a party at an abandoned factory in the town of Manresa in October 2016, has sparked renewed protests over Spanish sex crime laws.
The ruling has drawn a wave of criticism, including from senior political figures. Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, tweeted that the sentence was “outrageous.”
“An unconscious 14-year-girl was raped by a group,” she wrote. “I am not a judge and I do not know how many years in prison they deserve. What I do know is that it is not abuse, it is rape!”
Íñigo Errejón, leader of the Más País party, called the sentence “shameful,” while Spanish writer Eva Piquer described it as “the height of judicial indecency.”
Spain's deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, was more circumspect, saying the government respected all court decisions. But she said her party planned to reform sex crimes laws so that any act of non-consensual penetration would be considered rape.
The case has drawn comparisons to another recent gang-rape trial in Spain which sparked a widespread protest movement against sexual violence and inadequate rape laws. In that case, five men — widely known as “La Manada,” or “the wolf pack” — were initially acquitted of rape, and convicted of sexual abuse, over an attack on a teenager in Pamplona in 2016, after a court ruled that violence and intimidation were not involved.
But following nationwide protests, Spain’s Supreme Court over turned the decision in June, ruling that the defendants were guilty of rape and increasing their sentences to 15 years. The strong parallels with the Pamplona case has led to the perpetrators in Thursday’s case, who were aged between 18 and 21 at the time of the attack, to be dubbed “the wolf pack of Manresa.”
Activists are planning a march against the ruling in Manresa on Saturday.
Cover: Women protest in the rain at the Puerta del Sol square during a demonstration under the motto "Feminist Emergency" against gender violence in Madrid, organized by several women's groups across the country on September 20, 2019. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP/Getty Images)