Spanish law stipulates that perpetrators must use violence or intimidation for sexual assault to be classified as rape. Critics have slammed the definition.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
A court in Barcelona acquitted five men of rape because judges deemed that the victim, only 14 years old, did not fight back. However, lawyers pointed out several times that the teenager was unconscious during the attack, CNN reports. The judge claimed that the incident did not fit into the "legal definition" of rape. Instead of charging the group of men with rape, the court convicted them of a lesser charge of sexual abuse and handed them 10 to 12 years in prison. The case has reiterated the need for serious changes to Spain's law when it comes to protecting all victims of sexual assault.
At present, Spanish law classifies a sexual assault as rape only when the perpetrator uses violence or intimidation. Because the young victim was unconscious, neither violence nor intimidation was required. Nonetheless, any individual would argue that this is both illogical and inhumane; any sexual acts committed without consent, especially when the victim is unconscious, is rape. This is an especially alarming verdict as Spain has signed and ratified the Istanbul Convention on Violence Against Women, which clearly states that sex without consent is rape.
The incident took place almost four years ago, in 2016, at a party in Manresa, a town northwest of Barcelona. As per both parties' lawyers, the group was partying at an abandoned factory in the area. There, the victim consumed "alcohol and drugs" and thus became unconscious. The men found the victim lying in the factory unconscious and took turns performing sexual acts on them. As per a statement published by the court, "The sexual attack on the victim was extremely intense and especially denigrating, and in addition, it was produced on a minor who was in a helpless situation." Despite this, the court argued the victim was found "in a state of unconsciousness... without being able to determine and accept or oppose the sexual relations maintained with defendants, who could perform sexual acts without using any type of violence or intimidation." Therefore, the perpetrators did not technically violate Spanish law.
The victim was, nonetheless, awarded $13,400 in damages. This will, however, never make up for the traumatic experiences they had to undergo. Critics of the court's decision have highlighted the similarities of this case to a previous one involving the "Wolf Pack," a group of five men who were originally acquitted of rape and convicted of abuse. The Barcelona court claimed at the time that the attack "cannot fit into any other criminal typology" as the attackers "could perform sexual acts without using any type of violence or intimidation." Protesters, infuriated by the decision, congregated in front of the court during the months-long hearing, placing pressure on the court and demanding changes to the law. The Spanish Association of Women Judges, too, has urged the government to bring Spanish law up to date. Unfortunately, it appears that it will take more time and pressure to inspire real and tangible legal change in Spain.