A Spanish court sentenced five men charged with gang-raping a 14-year-old-girl to 10 to 12 years in jail for sexual abuse Thursday, concluding that it wasn't rape, which carries a harsher sentence, because the victim was unconscious and therefore wasn't forcibly assaulted.
The case in Manresa, in the northeastern region of Catalonia, had sparked protests in Spain over the country's sexual-offenses laws, which critics say are outdated and fail to adequately protect victims. Under Spanish law, the perpetrator must use violence against or intimidate the victim for the act to qualify as rape or sexual assault.
While the public prosecutor had called for the defendants to be charged with rape, the court ultimately ruled that it was only sexual abuse because the teenager was in an "unconscious state" and didn't fight back as the legal definition requires.
Advocates for victims of sexual assault argue that the law needs to take into account that "involuntary paralysis" or "freezing" is a common response to sexual assault, according to the Independent, as well as that victims can't give consent when unconscious. People in Spain outraged over Thursday's ruling took to Twitter with the hashtags #JusticiaPatriarcal [Patriarchal justice] and #NoEsAbusoEsViolación [It's not abuse, it's rape].
Barcelona erupted in protests earlier this month after the Supreme Court found nine Catalan separatists guilty of sedition and sentenced them to nine to 13 years in jail - ultimately a harsher sentence than the "Wolf Pack of Manresa," as the defendants in the rape case have come to be called in Spain.
The incident - in which five men aged 19 to 26 were accused of taking turns gang-raping the minor while another man watched and masturbated - took place in an abandoned factory in October 2016 during a party that involved drugs and alcohol. The victim was reportedly intoxicated and told the court she only remembered parts of the alleged assault. The public prosecutor said that one of the defendants knew the victim, as well as her age and that she was intoxicated at the party, according to Spanish media El Pais.
Eleven witnesses testified in court that they witnessed the alleged assault and that some of the defendants repeatedly threatened them and warned them not to speak about what they saw.
The victim, now 17, also testified in court.
El Pais reported that three years after the incident, the victim remains traumatized and continues to see a psychologist for counseling.
Spanish activists dubbed the case the "Wolf Pack of Manresa" because of the similarities to another high-profile rape trial in 2018, in which five men accused of gang-raping an 18-year-old were initially sentenced for only sexual abuse. The Supreme Court overturned the ruling that year and sentenced them for rape.
After the 2018 ruling the government formed a commission, which advocated revising the criminal code's definition of sexual violence, though there's been no further progress.
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