‘It’s not abuse, it’s rape’: protesters denounce Spanish assault ruling

A protester with her mouth covered with tape takes part in 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. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Hundreds of people protested in Spain’s capital on Monday against a court ruling last week that cleared five men of gang-raping a 14-year-old girl and instead found them guilty of the lesser charge of sexual abuse.

Barcelona’s High Court sentenced the five on Thursday to 10 to 12 years in prison, saying the 2016 assault was not rape because the victim, who was drunk and unconscious, could neither “agree to (nor) oppose the sexual relations”.

A similar ruling in the so-called Wolfpack case sparked mass protests across Spain last year over chauvinism and sexual abuse and it was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court in June.

“It’s not abuse, it’s rape” and “Enough with patriarchal justice” chanted the crowd made up mostly of women gathered in front of the Justice Ministry in Madrid.

Many were wearing purple scarves, a colour associated with feminist movements, while others carried purple umbrellas or wore purple gloves.

“No one deserves something like that,” 44-year-old designer, Pilar Villanueva, said. “One way or the other, the government must do the criminal code reform they had promised.”

The judge said that the attack on the 14-year-old girl in the city of Manresa, near Barcelona, “was extremely severe, especially denigrating, and what’s more, was against a minor in a situation of distress”.

But Spanish law doesn’t legally recognise rape unless physical violence or intimidation is employed.

The Socialist government has appointed a panel to review the penal code, particularly the laws relating to sexual abuse and assault. The latter is the Spanish equivalent of rape and carries prison sentences of 15 to 20 years.

Many European countries have revised sexual violence laws to recognise the importance of explicit consent and take non-physical forms of coercion and abuse of power into account.