Protests in Spain Draw Attention to Injustice Surrounding Sexual Violence after Five Men Are Acquitted of Gang Rape

Protest outside Justice Ministry in Madrid BELatina
Protesters hold placards as they attend a demonstration against a Spanish court which sentenced five of six men accused of gang-raping a 14-year-old girl to 10 to 12 years in prison for sexually abusing the minor, but acquitted them of rape, outside the Justice Ministry in Madrid, Spain, November 4, 2019. The placards read: "You're not alone" and "It's not abuse, it's rape." REUTERS/Sergio Perez

On Monday night, hundreds of protestors gathered in Madrid as well as in dozens of cities all over Spain in a stand against patriarchal justice and sexual violence. The aggrieved protests were organized in response to last week’s acquittal of five men who were arrested in 2016 for gang-raping an unconscious 14-year-old girl at a party in a Manresa factory in the Catalonia region of the country. Due to a glaring mischaracterization in Spain’s legal definition of rape, the men were instead convicted of a lesser charge of sexual abuse. These protests come less than two years after a separate but similar case in which five men, accused of gang-raping a teenager, were acquitted of rape but convicted of sexual abuse because the victim had been too fearful to fight back.

In Spain, the inaccurate definition of rape led the presiding judge in Barcelona’s High Court to decide that the attack could not technically be defined as rape, since the sex was not accompanied by any violence, per se, or intimidation. In other words, because the victim was unconscious at the time, there was no reason for any of the criminals to resort to violence or intimidation in order to enact their crimes… so, legally speaking, it was sexual abuse rather than what it clearly was: a rape.

Protest Spain Gang Rape BELatina
These protests come less then two years after a separate but similar case in which five men, accused of gang raping a teenager, were acquitted of rape but convicted of sexual abuse because the victim had been too fearful to fight back.

This definition was clearly drawn up by menlawmakers who hold the dangerous misconception that unwanted sex is only an act of rape when a victim fights back or has a gun pointed at their head, a misconception that prevails here in the U.S. too (though our country’s definition of rape is much more expansive). Consider the defense that Harvey Weinstein’s lawyers are hoping will sway the jury in his upcoming trial. One of his lawyers, Donna Rotunno, recently told CNN, “There’s a difference between sins and crimes. You may think that you don’t like the way Harvey conducted himself at times or choices that he’s made, but that doesn’t mean he’s a rapist.” Going back to Brock Turner’s case, Turner’s lawyers insisted that he merely was attempting to have “outercourse” with Chanel Miller rather than rape her. As one law professor explained to the Guardian last year, “It’s a throwback to olden times when sexual assault was defined very narrowly and in archaic ways.”

Barcelona’s High Court ultimately determined that the young victim in Manresa had not been raped by the men who violated her without her consent, acquitting them of these charges despite seeming to understand what took place in the attack. ”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,” wrote Barcelonas High Court in a statement. It’s baffling that, despite allowing that the victim was in a helpless situation, the acts of sexual violence were still not considered rape. The five men now face 10 to 12 years in prison as sexual abusers, while they would have faced 15 to 20 years in prison had they been convicted as rapists.

This sentence is a stark contrast to the consensus among the protestors that sex without consent amounts to rape and that the countrys laws reflect an utter disregard for real justice for rape victims. Critics of the acquittal have been circulating the hashtag #JusticiaPatriarcalon social media to highlight the injustice woven into the country’s laws. Also referencing the 2018 gang rape case in which the rapists were acquitted of rape, Mayor Ada Colau of Barcelona tweeted the hashtag last week, adding “Another outrageous sentence. [The judge] doesn’t want to understand that only YES is YES.”