The five men, whose names and ages were not revealed, were accused of raping a 14-year-old girl at a party in 2016. The alleged assailants and the victim were at a party at an abandoned factory in Manresa, a town down the road from Barcelona, and the victim had used drugs and alcohol to the point that she was unconscious. The men allegedly took turns performing sex acts on the unconscious teen.
“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,” the court said in a statement.
However, the court was also constrained by Spanish law, which states that a crime doesn’t meet the definition of rape without an element of violence or intimidation.
“[The victim was] 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,” the court said.
Rather than charge the men with rape, they were instead charged with the lesser crime of sexual abuse. They will each likely serve 10-12 years in prison for this crime.
A Barcelona court cleared five men of gang raping a 14-year-old girl. It said the attack could not be considered a rape under Spanish law because the girl was unconscious at the time.— AJ+ (@ajplus) November 1, 2019
It instead convicted them for sexual abuse, a lesser charge. pic.twitter.com/kyvBNcKD6w
Additionally, the victim was awarded €12,000 (about $13,400) in damages.
Two other men who were in attendance at the party were acquitted of all criminal charges.
The outcome of the case caused widespread outrage in Spain, with protests breaking out around the courthouse, as well as demands for changes to the law.
As BBC News reports, Íñigo Errejón, leader of the Más País political party, called the ruling “shameful.” Similarly, Irene Montero, spokeswoman for Unidas Podemos (“United We Can”), called for a change to the law “so we can speak proudly of living in a feminist country.”
Spain is a signatory to the Istanbul Convention on Violence Against Women, which stipulates that sex without consent is rape; however, the law remains unchanged. Elsewhere across Europe, nations have been updating their sexual assault laws to define rape as sex without consent, with Sweden having done so last year, and Denmark currently working on changing its own laws.
Here in the United States, North Carolina has a law that says that an act of sexual assault is not a rape once the act has begun with consent. As CNN reports, the law states that, if the victim withdraws consent once the sex act has started, the perpetrator cannot be charged with rape.